An outcry followed World Bank president David Malpass’s refusal to make a profession of faith in climate change. The New York Times reported (“World Bank Leader, Accused of Climate Denial, Offers a New Response,” September 22, 2022):
The uproar began on Tuesday when Mr. Malpass refused to say during a public event at The New York Times whether the burning of oil, gas and coal was driving climate change.
Speaking onstage during a discussion about what industrialized nations owe developing nations grappling with climate problems, Mr. Malpass was asked to respond to a remark made earlier in the day by former Vice President Al Gore, who called the World Bank president a “climate denier.” Pressed three times, Mr. Malpass would not say whether he accepted that man-made greenhouse gas emissions had created a worsening crisis that is already leading to more extreme weather.
“I’m not a scientist,” he said.
As the NYT title above indicates, Mr. Malpass’s burst of dignity was short-lived. He rapidly got in line and confessed his social heresy. But, like for witches in the 16th and 17th centuries, confessing that he slept with the devil did not win him a pardon. (See also “World Bank Head under Pressure to Quit over Climate Change Doubts,” Financial Times, September 22, 2022; and “World Bank’s David Malpass Says He Isn’t Resigning Amid Criticism of His Climate Views,” Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2022.)
His answer “I am not a scientist” does make some intellectual sense. Whether the climate is changing due to human activity is a valid question, but we should not necessarily accept for cash the answer of politicized scientists. Their professional future and perhaps daily bread depend on their compliance with the reigning political vulgate pushed by power-hungry governments and complicit activists all over this dear earth of ours. Agnosticism may be the best attitude.
“Science” can make mistakes. As Karl Popper argued, the obsession of any scientist is, or should be, to falsify hypotheses. A scientific theory or “law” remains a tentative conclusion. (See Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery [Harper & Row, 1959, 1968]). And social engineering in the name of science is a recipe for disaster. In the early 20th century, for example, mainstream biologists and medical scientists, including public-health experts, supported eugenics. Under the American states’ eugenic laws, in force between 1907 and 1980 depending on the state, 65,000—mainly poor—women were forcibly or fraudulently sterilized under the mantle of science (see sources in my post “Economic Reflections on Abortion”).
A Wall Street Journal op-ed (Steve Milloy, “David Malpass’s Climate-Change Lesson for GOP Candidates,” Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2022) mischievously recalls that
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson declined to define the word “woman” in her confirmation hearings, pleading, “I’m not a biologist.”
To keep our heads cool, we should also remember that climate change followed the “population bomb,” the “hole in the ozone layer,” and “global warming,” among other scares. But we should of course keep our minds open (see my review of Tyler Cowen’s Stubborn Attachments, where I was perhaps not critical enough).
Another thing to remember is that the World Bank is already helping governments of poor countries mitigate, or adapt to, the presumed consequences of climate change. A World Bank report published in 2021, under Mr. Malpass’s watch, The World Bank NDC Support Facility: Impacts and Lessons Learned Supporting NDC Implementation (NDC stands for Nationally Determined Contribution under the 2015 Paris Agreement), boasted:
The World Bank Group is the largest multilateral funder of climate investments in developing countries, having committed $83 billion to climate-related investments over the last five years.
In a scathing editorial on the attempts to deepen the submission of the World Bank to the environmental activists’ agenda, the Wall Street Journal reminds us what is the main function of the World Bank (“A Gore-Kerry Political Climate Hit,” September 25, 2022):
The World Bank’s main job is to alleviate poverty. This requires energy, which today is still most efficiently and affordably provided by fossil fuels. Yet Mr. Kerry [Joe Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate] recently cautioned African leaders against investing in long-term natural gas production, as if they have an alternative if they want to develop. …
The World Bank has had enough problems over the years lending to corrupt governments and failing projects. But if it is going to exist, it should stay focused on its mission of promoting growth in poor nations to alleviate poverty. It shouldn’t be hijacked by rich-country climate lobbyists for their own political ends.
It does seem that the attack on Mr. Malpass is neither scientific nor rational.
We may add that if all poor countries had had laissez-faire governments and proper legal institutions like Hong Kong benefited from after 1945, they would likely now be at least as rich as Hong Kong (which has a real GDP per capita equivalent to 92% of the US level, according to data from the Maddison Project) and would not need the World Bank’s handouts to face any possible catastrophe.