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Kind of weird giving request here:

I'm looking to internalize my most impactful negative externalities (primarily by giving to effective charities). The clearest negative externality I have is my carbon footprint, so I'm offsetting my carbon by donating (~$15/year to CfRN).

What are the other high impact negative externalities I have, and how can I donate to offset them?

(For context, the macro idea here is to experiment with how individuals can have, at the worst, a "net neutral" impact on the world.)





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You might enjoy this post Claire wrote: Ethical Offsetting is Antithetical to EA.

Boom, thanks! Dig the push back here. I generally agree with Scott Alexander's comment at the bottom: "I don't think ethical offsetting is antithetical to EA. I think it's orthogonal to EA."

(Though I also believe there are some "macro systemic" reasons for believing that offsetting is a crucial piece to moving more folks to an EA-based non-accumulation mindset. More detailed explanation of this later!)

I actually wrote up a survey a bit ago pulling together negative externalities with estimates in the literature: https://www.col-ex.org/posts/pigouvian-compendium/. From (estimated) largest to smallest, they are:

  • Driving
  • Emitting carbon
  • Obesity
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Agriculture
  • Municipal waste
  • Smoking
  • Antibiotic use
  • Debt
  • Gun ownership

Awesome resource, thanks for the link! (Also, I had never heard of Pigouvian taxes before—thanks!)

Given your list, I'd group the "categories" of externalities into:

  • Environment (driving, emitting carbon, agriculture, municipal waste)
  • Public health (driving, obesity, alcohol, smoking, antibiotic use, gun ownership)
  • Financial (debt)

And, if I understand it correctly, it's tough for me to offset some of these. This is because:

  • Luckily, I just happen to not do many of them (e.g. driving, obesity, alcohol, smoking, debt).
  • But even if I did, it's not clear to me how to offset. i.e. Given your research in this area, could you help me answer this question—if I (or people in the developed world generally) were to offset the externalities our actions, what should we offset? 1st clear answer is paying to offset our carbon emissions. What would be "#2", and how would we "pay" to offset it? (e.g. If I was obese, who would I pay to offset that?)


I don't think it makes sense to donate to an "effective charity" in the typical sense when it comes to obesity because your externality is only affecting taxpayers in your own healthcare system.

Given that the table listed the cost of obesity as affecting socialized medicine, you would presumably donate to something local and medical, like a hospital. You could also potentially donate to (eg diabetes) research or a charity that makes healthy eating easier in your area.

you dont need to specifically offset that, just donate to the best charity. you already have a net positive impact by being ea anyway

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