“Plumbers” science to save the climate

“Plumbers” science to save the climate

The fight against climate change should take the example of fighting global poverty, says the Nobel Prize-winning economist Esther Duflo, that is, beware of hoping for “miracle solutions” and instead multiply the most modest, but very tangible measures, having proven effective in reality.

Over the course of 30 years, tremendous progress has been made in reducing poverty in the world, the expert in this field said Friday during a conference at the University of Montreal. Not only has the global population living in extreme poverty (less than $2 a day) halved from 2010 to 2019, from 15% to 8%, but many other indicators of well-being, such as infant and maternal mortality rates, have followed suit. same path.

She points out that this remarkable achievement is not only due to the extraordinary economic awakening of China and India as is often said. It also stems from the fact that governments and major international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have stopped focusing on the single variable of economic growth and have instead targeted progress in multiple areas of development, such as education. health, poverty, women’s rights, or the environment. To help them, they were able to draw on lessons learned from a new scientific approach that is firmly rooted in pragmatism and use control and experimental groups to test the effectiveness of different measures in the field.

In 2019, Esther Duflo received the “BoSK Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel” along with her Indian-American husband, Abhijit Banerjee, as well as the American, Michael Kremer.

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The youngest laureate (at 46) and only the second woman (after Elinor Ostrom in 2009) to win this prestigious distinction, more commonly known as the “Nobel Prize in Economics,” the Frenchwoman has become an economics star through her humanistic approach and firmly rooted in reality, which she often What disturb the ideas received.

The jittery little economist in particular was in Montreal to receive the Lumières Prize on Inequality, awarded jointly by the Quebec Observatory of Inequality and the international literary festival Blue Metropolis. Quebec anthropologist Francine Silant, politician Christian Taubira, and another economist, American Joseph Stiglitz, have all received the same honors in past years.

Facts first

Unlike ideologists, who are not interested in facts, or theorists, who are looking for simple and elegant models, Esther Duflo likes to compare her work with that of a “plumber” who seeks above all to understand the situation without preconceptions. in detail and uses a fair amount of trial and error.

With 400 researchers associated with Anti-poverty lab (J-PAL in English), which she co-directs with her husband, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and thus, over the years, has contributed to the improvement of policies and programs affecting more than 600 million people, mainly in developing countries, But also in rich countries.

At one time, for example, it was a popular theory that providing the poor with free bed nets to prevent malaria reduces their value to them, to the point of reducing their long-term use. Thus, we introduced mosquito nets in villages and sold them for a small sum in other villages, only to realize in the end that the theory was wrong. Since then, we have begun to abandon bed nets, which has helped 70% of families maintain the habit of having them, as well as reducing the number of malaria cases by 450 million.

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We can also talk about this ambitious project to connect poor families to the network of water canals, which no one seems to want in Tangiers, Morocco, until researchers in this field showed that it is sufficient to simplify registration procedures so that more than two-thirds of the targeted families request it.

If the expert had to cite one misconception that she would like to uproot it first, it wouldn’t look long. She said in an interview: “The idea that we’ve found among public policy makers and among many academics – in poor countries as well as in rich countries – is that helping people financially makes them lazy. duty. this is not true. Experience after experiment proves this wrong. However, social policy is still completely inspired by this misconception. »

“If we can get this idea out of the way, it will make a lot of progress with better designed, more effective, and more equitable policies,” she continues. She used to say, “We have to stop being suspicious of the poor.”

Esther Duflo has warned that the progress made in recent years on the frontline in the fight against poverty is today threatened to be “partially erased” by global warming and its disproportionate impact on developing countries. But in this case, “there is nothing that poor countries can do” to significantly reduce the problem of greenhouse gas emissions “which is mainly associated with the consumption of rich countries.”

Unfortunately, “today’s climate ecosystem is a bit like the poverty ecosystem of 15 years ago. And that means an absolute search for the miracle solution, whether it be nuclear power, electric cars, carbon capture. While I am deeply convinced that, as with poverty, [la solution] It will be many things. Nothing particularly remarkable or unusual, individually, but looking back 30 years later – I hope – would have allowed progress.”

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