Halfway to a Happy Ending
The climate denier is gone at the World Bank; now we need a climate champion
David Malpass brought underwhelming credentials to his role as head of the World Bank: his highest profile former gig, as Wikipedia put it with deadly understatement, was “as Chief Economist at Bear Stearns for the six years preceding its collapse.”
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He’s leaving his current job in unplanned fashion too—though appointed by Trump in 2019 to a five-year term, he announced last week that he’ll be gone by June. In truth, he’s been a dead man walking in his post since last fall when New York Times reporter David Gelles questioned him at one of those sit-on-a-stage symposia appearances that are usually the occasion for softball queries and bloviating answers. Earlier that day, though, Al Gore had called for his ouster on the grounds that he didn’t care about the climate, and so Gelles asked him if he thought climate change was real. Malpass hemmed and hawed and couldn’t bring himself to say so, through several excruciating rounds of the same question. (Credit to Gelles; too many reporters would simply have moved on). Finally, pressed beyond his endurance, he blurted out “I’m not a scientist.”
This is the kind of answer that’s no longer very useful even in right-wing American politics (more with-it oil industry shills have moved on to newer variants, designed to delay action but not outright deny the fact that we’re cooking the earth). And in the rest of the world (a planet that the World Bank putatively serves) this was viewed as the rank stupidity it is.
No one that I saw rose to his defense—the silence from John Kerry and Joe Biden was deafening, since the president of the World Bank is by custom a job awarded by the U.S. Much credit to Gore, who seems ever less willing to abide by diplomatic nicety (check him out at Davos last month) and also to excellent activists who pressed the case hard (I got to join in a particularly inspired protest, where actual scientists gathered outside World Bank headquarters to read scientific studies through a bullhorn) and also to Ed Markey, who—as readers of this newsletter were the first to know—promised to rally Democratic Senators to get him bounced. As Markey told me during the Egypt climate talks:
“Malpass has to go. He’s a Trump guy and a climate denier. My attempt is to organize the Democrats in the Senate to call for the removal of Malpass and to send a very strong signal that while it’s unprecedented that the World Bank president is removed, it’s also unprecedented that the world would face such a catastrophe, and that a climate denier would be in charge.”
I don’t know the inside story of how precisely his departure was arranged, nor do I know who has the inside track for the job. But I will say that, given the circumstances, it should be someone whose primary focus has been climate change.
And by ‘the circumstances’ I don’t mean just his boneheaded comments about science. I mean that the number one job of the World Bank for this century has to be helping get the planet through the greatest single challenge our civilizations have ever faced. The World Bank is still ponying up for fossil fuel projects, which has to stop. But far more, it has to figure out how to open the spigot of climate finance so that the nations of the global South can quickly build out renewable energy.
That’s a task with an enormous price-tag: a couple of trillion dollars a year by most estimates. The World Bank will never have anything like that kind of cash. But it can use its relatively small endowment to take the risk out of those investments so that private cash can do the job. Basically, you have to make it safe for pension funds in Seattle to invest in solar farms in Senegal, with a small dose of public money and a certain amount of financial wizardry. As I was wandering those conference corridors in Egypt, I ran into Nicholas Stern, the British economist who wrote the original report on the financial peril posed by climate change. Here’s how he put it: “With money at 6 or 7 per cent, solar in Africa can outcompete anything and turn a profit. At 15 per cent you can’t make a profit, and so it won’t happen.” So a key job of the World Bank is to get that price down.
Stern would be a good choice for the job, but it traditionally goes to an American. (Happily, there’s at least some noise about opening up that process, which does seem the definition of neo-colonial). People have been talking about John Podesta—but he seems crucial to implementing the climate provisions of the IRA. Rachel Kyte, now dean of the Fletcher School of International Diplomacy and a climate finance expert? Also at Tufts: the indefatigable Kelly Sims Gallagher, one of the smartest climate minds ever. Gore or Kerry, as former vp and secretary of state, would bring the necessary gravitas—and in a sense it’s the job that Kerry has been informally doing for the past couple of years, wandering the planet as Biden’s climate envoy and trying to stitch together decarbonization deals. Hell, the UN Secretary General might consider it a lateral move—but Antonio Guterres has been doing such a good job as planetary spokesman that I’d hate to see him go.
At any rate: there’s no way to meet the other crucial goals of development on a roasting planet; it’s clear that slowing the rise in temperature is required to address hunger, public health, and all the other SDGs. So having worked behind the scenes to get rid of a troglodyte, the Biden administration needs to find someone a visionary. A pragmatic visionary, to be sure, but unless she is thinking big she shouldn’t even be considered.
In other climate and energy news:
+Great Santana remix focused on the Big Four banks that are funding the fossil fuel industry. Read it as you work on your banners for the 3/21/23 day of action
+Tired of losing money, Arizona has decided it won’t keep playing along with the right-wing rejection of ESG funds as ‘woke capitalism.’ Newly elected attorney general Kris Mayes said that “it is not the place of government to tell corporations and their investors that they cannot invest in sustainable technologies and practices or improve their governance processes.”
+Fine reporting from Kate Yoder in Grist on why the big oil companies are backing off their pledges to do something or another about the climate crisis that they caused:
The war in Ukraine, and the ensuing fuel crunch as Europe and the United States sought to end imports of Russian oil and gas, has created more cover for BP and other companies to ramp up oil production in the name of energy security, said Trey Cowan, an oil and gas analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “They got the political will following what their will is at this point,” Cowan said. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Looney said that BP’s goal wasn’t just to deliver clean energy, but “affordable energy, secure energy.”
+Tesla’s Supercharger network—the one thing that really sets Musk’s enterprise apart from the rest of the EV field—will soon be made open to everyone, thanks to new federal efforts. As Canary Media reports:
Tesla and other companies hoping to access federal funding for EV charging must adopt the “combined charging system” standard, which is the dominant U.S. standard for charging connectors, and they must use standardized payment options. They also can’t be exclusive to one type of EV brand.
And speaking of e-mobility, Denver’s new E-bike subsidy scheme is going great
+Antarctic sea ice has set a new record low. And truly dire new data from unmanned subs exploring the bottom of the giant Thwaites Glacier:
Using an underwater robot at Thwaites Glacier, researchers have determined that warm water is getting channeled into crevasses in what the researchers called “terraces” — essentially, upside-down trenches — and carving out gaps under the ice. As the ice then flows toward the sea, these channels enlarge and become future potential break points, where the floating ice shelf comes apart and produces huge icebergs.
The results from overlapping teams of more than two dozen scientists, published Wednesday in two papers in the journal Nature, reveal the extent to which human-caused warming could destabilize glaciers in West Antarctica that could ultimately raise global sea level by 10 feet if they disintegrate over the coming centuries.
And no ice in Ottawa either, where the world’s biggest outdoor skating rink has yet to open.
+Reliably fantastic interview with Naomi Klein in the Guardian:
I don’t believe we have the luxury of throwing up our hands and saying: “We’re doomed, let’s just go Mad Max on this.” I think there are ways of preparing for those shocks, that build a way of living with one another that is significantly kinder and more generous than the way we currently live with one another, which is really quite brutal. That requires investing in the labour of care at every level, and guaranteeing basic economic rights, like the right to housing, food and clean water. If we build out that infrastructure, we can weather shocks with far greater grace. That’s where I place my hope.
+The American edition of Greta Thunberg’s new climate book is out
+In Vermont this morning, the dog and I gathered maple sap amid a pouring February rain with booming thunder. It’s not supposed to be this way.
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Great minds lyricize alike - I "adapted" Santana's Evil Ways lyrics on Dec 19, 2019 when 350Marin.org joined other protesters and sang the song to Jamie outside of the Chase bank in San Anselmo, CA:
You’ve Got to Change Your Oily Ways, Jamie
Before I Start Banking With You
You’ve got to Change, Jamie, and Every Word that I Say is True –
You Lend to Frackers, and Pumpers, All over Town,
We’ve Got to Keep... Tar Sands Oil, Deep in the Ground,
This can’t go on,
No, no you’ve got to change!
I liked the comment about SAP. Is that a Climate acronym? Does it mean Save A Planet activist? If so, I am calling all SAP people to join me in Vermont this June for the inaugural Bernie Sanders SAP Lovefest and 2024 Presidential fundraiser.