mark hertsgaard

Independent Journalist & Author

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World Bank, Meet the Environment

(Host intro)
As the World Bank holds its bi-annual meetings this weekend in
Washington, it faces a momentous decision: whether to accept an official
recommendation to stop financing oil and coal projects in Third World
countries. Commentator Mark Hertsgaard says the World Bank has the chance
to lead an energy revolution, and not a moment too soon.

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(Mark Hertsgaard)
In dollar terms, the World Bank provides only a
fraction of the funding for coal and oil projects. Yet its influence is
immense.

That’s because private corporations see the Bank’s stamp of approval as a
guarantee their own investments will be safe. So if the Bank pulls out,
many coal and oil projects probably won’t happen.

Activists are hoping for exactly that. They complain that such projects
accelerate climate change while extracting a terrible toll on the poor and
their environment.

But opponents of the oil and gas ban, including the World Bank’s management
and the U.S. government, also cite the plight of the poor. If you rule out
the cheapest forms of energy around, they say, you keep poor countries
poor.

But that argument doesn’t wash. According to some analysts, four fifths
of all World Bank energy loans have gone to projects whose oil and coal
were exported to the United States and other wealthy nations. So, the poor
end up subsidizing the rich.

There’s a better solution. The World Bank should fund energy efficiency?
No, it’s not sexy. But insulating drafty apartment buildings, replacing
old furnaces, and installing super-efficient light bulbs is the fastest and
cheapest way to create new energy today.

Take China. It could burn half as much coal by installing currently
available efficiency technologies. The Chinese people would breathe a lot
easier, and the planet’s atmosphere would absorb half as many greenhouse
gases.

Energy efficiency is no silver bullet, but it can buy us time in
confronting the great challenge of this century: helping half of humanity
escape from crushing poverty without ruining the ecosystems that make life
on earth possible. The World Bank could lead this crusade, if it does the
right thing.

In San Francisco, this is Mark Hertsgaard for Marketplace.

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About Mark

Independent journalist Mark Hertsgaard is the author of seven books that have been translated into sixteen languages, including Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden; HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth; and A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles. He has reported from twenty-five countries about politics, culture and the environment for leading outlets, including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Time, Mother Jones, NPR, the BBC and The Nation, where is the environment correspondent. He lives in San Francisco.

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