Quickly sharing because this seems relatively well written and well-intentioned and probably worth reading for at least some forum readers. It offers an interesting introduction to the ideas of 'Ecomodernism' (a movement I hadn't heard of) and where these ideas overlap and come apart from the ideas of EA. Also poses some relatively interesting/sophisticated critiques of EA (at least by the standards of what I have come to expect from critics).


I am an ecomodernist, not an effective altruist. And it’s funny because, over the last few years, I have met many self-identified effective altruists, often themselves quite inclined towards ecomodernism, whose views and habits of mind I also really admire.

Your typical ecomodernist and effective altruist each believe in the liberatory power of science and technology. They are both pro-growth, recognizing the robust relationship between economic growth and human freedom, expanding circles of empathy, democratic governance, improved social and public health outcomes, and even ecological sustainability. Notably, every effective altruist I can recall discussing the matter with is pro-nuclear, or at least not reflexively anti-nuclear. That is usually a litmus test for broader pro-abundance views, which effective altruists and ecomodernists both tend to espouse. Ecomodernists and effective altruists both attempt an evidence-based analytical rigor, in contrast to the more myopic, romantic, and utopian frameworks they are working to displace.

All that said, there are distinctions in both practice and worldview between the two communities that I think are worth grappling with. Obviously, I don’t speak for every ecomodernist out there, and I am writing this partially to my effective altruist friends in the hopes they will validate or invalidate my premises. But broadly speaking, some distinctions come to mind:

  • Ecomodernists are anthropocentric deontologists, while effective altruists embrace a kind of pan-species utilitarianism.
  • Ecomodernists are more meliorist, while effective altruists are more longtermist.
  • Ecomodernists are institutionalists, while effective altruists evince a consistent skepticism of institutions.

Despite the commonalities and opportunities for collaboration, I think it would be a mistake for ecomodernists to overlook these gaps. Buying into what even effective altruists call the more fanatical commitments of their movement risks abandoning what makes ecomodernism necessary in the first place: reinforcing the role of human institutions in democratically creating a better future for humans and nature.


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I wrote this as a reply to the author, as I thought there were a couple of misunderstandings in the piece , sharing here as it might be useful for others (lightly edited). I was at Breakthrough , where the author works, in 2012:

* The point on prioritizing animals v biodiversity/valuing nature is indeed a key difference between ecomodernists and many effective altruists.
* The other distinctions seem less fitting. 

* (1) Will's What We Owe The Future is just one particular perspective within effective altruism, there are many effective altruists that are skeptical of the ability to shape the long-term future, see e.g. Kelsey Piper here 

* (2) Effective altruists do not have a commitment to crypto as an institutional form of social organization -- so the move from "SBF was a crypto guy and an EA" to "EA is anti-institutionalist" seems wrong. SBF was excited about crypto because he wanted to get really rich fast, not because he believes in decentralized anti-institutionalism in the way that many crypto ideologues do.

* (3) Insofar as effective altruists work on climate, it is all about fixing institutions -- the primacy of policy and improving policy through funding advocacy charities (see e.g. here, here).

* (4) A lot of other EA work is institutionalist also, such as work to ensure governments take risks from engineered pandemics and advanced artificial intelligence more seriously."

Ecomodernists are more meliorist, while effective altruists are more longtermist.

Admittedly, "meliorism" is a new concept for me, but I'm confused how it is in conflict with longtermism. Aren't most EA-proposed solutions to longtermist problems based on human technological/social progress?

I am writing an invited reply to be published on the site hopefully published later this week.