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What should EAs interested in climate change do?

by Louis_Dixon1 min read10th Jan 202018 comments



With climate change the #2 priority reported by EAs in the most recent survey, what should these EAs think about doing?

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Some related links:

More speculative questions (my own personal uninformed thoughts):

  • Regarding the tree planting option, can we breed trees which are less vulnerable to wildfires?
  • Regarding the marine cloud brightening option - could you make it doubly useful by going to areas which experience periodic flooding and spraying floodwaters up into the air? Maybe you could even get municipalities to pay you and make a business out of it.
  • Kelly and Zach Weinersmith wrote a book called Soonish which says (among other interesting things) that robots which automatically build buildings are on the horizon. To what extent could easy, cheap construction of new buildings and cities help mitigate sealevel rises and other global warming effects?
  • My brother has a physics degree and finds this to be a bit implausible: http://superchimney.org But it does make me wonder if there's a way to make money by buying land, terraforming it in a way that's good from a climate perspective, and selling the land after it's increased in value.
4FlorentBerthet1yClean meat could also have a huge impact on CO2 levels. According to Vinod Khosla (source [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgUhxe_850w]): * about 30-50% of all land area is used for animal husbandry * clean meat and plant-based alternatives could allow us to take back most of it * restoring this land would solve the carbon emissions problem by carbon capture (~100 out of 110 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s scenarios for carbon reductions on the planet involve freeing millions of acres of land for reforestation)
3John_Maxwell1yIn terms of plant-based alternatives, I think nutrition research could be high-impact and neglected. It seems like people are focused on trying to replicate the taste of meat, but when I experimented with veganism, I found myself wanting meat more the longer I'd gone without it, and experiencing it to be unusually satisfying if I hadn't had it in a long while, which seems more compatible with a nutritional issue -- the same pattern doesn't seem to manifest for other foods I find tasty. I'm imagining a study which feeds participants a vegan diet along with some randomly chosen nutritional supplements to see which are correlated with reduced desire to eat meat or something like that. Or maybe just better publicizing already known nutrition research / integrating it into plant based meat substitutes -- for example, I just found this article [https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-nutrients-you-cant-get-from-plants] which says iron from red meat is absorbed much more easily -- I do think I was craving red meat specifically relative to other animal products. (Come to think of it, I was also experiencing more fatigue than normal, which seems compatible with mild anemia?)
2Khorton1yThere might be something in soil, perhaps from a research or policy angle? https://www.gatesnotes.com/Energy/We-should-discuss-soil-as-much-as-coal [https://www.gatesnotes.com/Energy/We-should-discuss-soil-as-much-as-coal]

Founders Pledge is about to start a major research project on this soon and some of us are also thinking about writing a book on the topic fyi

2shaybenmoshe1yGood to know! Is there any information about Founders Pledge research project?

The Effective Environmentalism group on Facebook compiled an Effective Environmentalism Resources page which contains an (almost) comprehensive list of EA-related climate change resources with charity recommendations, articles, posts by EA organisations, many with summaries.

Anyone can suggest resources directly to the page, if there are any missing recommendations please feel free to do so! Many (but not all) of the links in the comments are included on the doc.

The Effective Environmentalism group itself is a useful place to have EA related climate discussions.

I think the most obvious thing is prioritization; i.e. "figuring out what to do". My impression is that there's a considerable amount of interesting work to do to apply an EA-mindset to climate change and get a better sense of the opportunities and their effectiveness.

I wrote a bit that's related: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Df2uFGKtLWR7jDr5w/ozziegooen-s-shortform?commentId=ZT5ArGKSWsctoWrZF

See also: What can a technologist do about climate change? (a)

Which also happens to be one of the most beautiful websites I've ever seen.

I'm curious about the work that Citizens' Climate Lobby is doing. They push for a carbon tax that comes back as a public dividend. They're doing lobbying now, but I'd be curious about how their odds might improve if tackled as a series of ballot initiatives.


A post from EA at Harvard from 2017 recommends the following:

  • Working with local partners to advocate against coal power in China, India and Southeast Asia
  • Growing capacity and coordination at state and local levels in the U.S
  • Contributing to one or more climate philanthropy bodies that strategically target climate finance interventions
2Khorton1yBy "working with local partners", do they mean "give money to Asian lobbying groups that are already successful"?
4 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:00 PM

It can be difficult to figure out where the biggest marginal benefit will be, or even how to fully grok the landscape, when there's already quite a lot happening in different domains. A few of us at CSER have been thinking of organising a workshop or hackathon bringing together climate researchers (science, policy, related tech) and leading EA thinkers to explore in more detail where the EA skillset, and interested individual EAs with a range of backgrounds, might best fit in and contribute most effectively. Would be interested in sounding out how much interest/value people would see in this.

I think personally, I'd expect that some marginal experiments could be pretty high-value for the information value (i.e. testing the waters). I'd be curious about OpenPhil's investigations into the issue and what new information, if any, they would find most useful.

I think that sounds like a great idea. You could put forward a proposal on the EA forum, with a form for people to express interest, and share it to other places where the EA survey respondents expressed an interest. If the EA survey data is accurate, I'd expect you'd have a decent level of interest to get it running.

I know I'm a bit late to this topic, but at Giving Green (www.idinsight.org/givinggreen) we are trying to answer specifically this problem. We're building on excellent previous work (like that at Let's Fund and Founder's Pledge) to do a comprehensive analysis on giving, investment, and volunteer options to fight climate change. The work is still very early, but there is a lot coming in the pipeline so stay tuned. For now, we have a few recommendations in the offset market.