We are undergoing a major species extinction on planet earth, the 6th in the history of the planet. The biodiversity of life that has taken billions of years to evolve is rapidly disappearing. https://earth.org/data_visualization/biodiversity-loss-in-numbers-the-2020-wwf-report/

Yet Effective Alturism organization neglects to include this as an issue worth funding. There is an allocation of funding for climate change of which biodiversity loss is partly included, but climate change is not the current driver for much of the preventable species extinction nd biodiversity loss occurring on the planet right now.

Myself and other concerned EA members would like to know what rational is used to justify this arguably huge important issue from being excluded from EA work? And what work would need to be done to demonstrate the importance of this issue in order to persuade EA organization this is worth directly including as part of the funding and resource allocation?

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I suspect this answer will not be very satisfying to you, but it is in some sense the true answer so someone should provide it:

There are a great many possible causes in the world, and EA is focused on things which are (plausibly) the most effective in the world. By their nature only a small fraction of all causes are plausible candidates for the most effective, so we should expect most causes to not be EA causes. If you had some concrete arguments for why biodiversity might meet such a stringent standard, people could consider them, but in their absence the 'default' is for something to not be an EA cause.

In particular, in addition to some argument as to why having many species is very important, you might want some sort of comparison to:

  • Existential risk work, which aims at preventing the irreversible extinction of all species.*
  • Wild Animal Welfare work, which regards wild animals as maybe having net negative lives, and hence their extinction might be good (if this was by reducing the total number of animals).

* as a first approximation

For the second point, I think it's a controversial position whether wild animals have net negative lives, and I think the field overall (that is people, working on wild animal welfare) does not have a strong position on it. 

Thanks, added a 'maybe'.
Harrison Durland
I'm still not a huge fan of the way it is written—it sounds almost like a strawman description of wild animal welfare work. In particular, I don't think adding "maybe" does enough blunt/caveat the second part of the sentence, which is not presented very delicately.

I think the first dot point deserves fleshing out. I have done a very preliminary analysis of getting prepared with resilient foods for agricultural catastrophes such as nuclear winter, and it appears that this is a very cost-effective way of saving species. This is because if many people were starving, not only would they generally not care about preventing other species from going extinct due to the climate impacts, but they would likely actively eat many species to extinction. It would not take that much more work to turn this into an actual paper, and ... (read more)

Upvoted because I think that this should not be downvoted without comment. However I think OP will get more engagement and generate a fuller respose here if:

  • The arguments that there is a mass extinction going on are summarized rather than linked to.
  • Some facts about funding levels are given. E.g. how much £ overall goes to eco / wildlife / conservation charities overall versus EA causes. Otherwise some may respond that funding from EA sources is not required, or there are more neglected priorities.
  • The case for impact and why biodiversity loss is worse than other causes the community focuses on. E.g. there will be those happy to concede that it is bad, but meaningless in the event of x-risks coming to pass.

Note: I am sympathetic generally to the need for a diversity of causes, I'm just pointing out some elements I'd expect to see in an argument which proved persuasive.

Partially the answer to this question is that biodiversity protection involves a wide variety of interventions, some presumably effective, some not, and across all those interventions it is not clear how neglected the cause area actually is.

However, a bigger reason might be the inherent conflict between traditional environmental protection, focusing on biodiversity, and the animal welfare/liberation movement. The latter is a lot more prevalent in effective altruism, through organizations like Animal Charity Evaluators and Wild Animal Initiative. There are some sources I can recommend to help clarify the nature of this conflict, starting with "A Triangular Affair" by J Baird Callicott, and "In Nature's Interests?" by Gary Varner, but briefly: if wild animals are moral patients with rights, it is not clear that their status as this-or-that-endangered-species matters very much, and vice versa. In EA, we tend to focus on the experience of animals as a neglected source of suffering, and that does trade off against biodiversity concerns.

Finally, the philosophical case for why we should value biodiversity isn't clear-cut, although I certainly share your intuitions about it! This is an essay from a biologist in the community about what might be valuable about biodiversity and how mainstream environmentalism might be getting it wrong: https://eukaryotewritesblog.com/2018/05/27/biodiversity-for-heretics/


I was hoping to see some more answers by now, but seeing none I'll provide some initial points that I expect people who are more familiar with the field could flesh out much better than I. I'm not familiar with the full case for biodiversity, but just based on generic reasoning about cause areas in general, I'd suspect some of the major reasons EAs do not seem to consider it as important as factory farming, wild animal welfare, or even climate change (to name a few environmentally-oriented cause areas) include:

  1. It's unclear how significant the extrinsic, welfare-oriented value of biodiversity even is. Put most bluntly, "if some random frog species goes extinct, so what?" I understand there are arguments like "what if this species proves to be very useful for e.g., pharmaceuticals or the broader ecosystem",  but I'd want to see some quantification and comparison with other cause areas. Is it worse for the last 100 fish of some random species to die (=> extinction) than for 100 chickens to suffer factory farming conditions? Maybe, but I could also definitely make the case for the opposite conclusion. And as a few other answers/comments pointed out, it definitely seems to be much smaller in significance than human X-risks.
  2. (On a smaller note since I am not very familiar with this field, I'll add that it's a bit difficult to understand what all of the charts, figures, and bullet points on the link you shared amount to. Lots of things may qualify as endangered, but how many things actually go extinct? How is this impacting the environment? It's all just much more difficult to neatly quantify the situation than it is to put a probability estimate on X-risk, preventable mortality estimate for malaria, number of animals in factory farming conditions, etc.)
  3. It's unclear whether there are cost-effective interventions (in conjunction with point 4): if you would like to propose/list some, that would help, but if it's the case that vast numbers of these species are going extinct/becoming endangered due to a wide number of environmental changes, it seems more difficult to identify highly cost-effective interventions (in contrast to, e.g., bed nets for malaria, surgery for trachoma).
  4. Some (non-EA) organizations are already working on the field of biodiversity and conservation. This certainly doesn't mean that it's already fully saturated, but in order to determine whether there are cost-effective interventions that need funding, one must also consider what kinds of efforts/funding already exist.

In the end, this isn't to say that biodiversity is necessarily "unimportant" and completely intractable, but given the combined issues surrounding comparative importance, tractability, and neglectedness I don't know if it's really an area where EA would have a comparative advantage in relative to e.g., AI safety/alignment (which itself may prove very impactful for the environment and many other problems), cost-effective health interventions (e.g., bed nets, deworming), and general long-termism. I would be willing to read an argument for why it is overly neglected, but I haven't seen that argument made yet.

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I think this definitely is something that should be considered more under the lens of effective altruism. Currently, the vast majority of EA efforts are coming from a welfarist perspective and if I understand correctly biodiversity loss should be mostly neutral from that perspective. I guess that this is the main reason here, other than simply having no one picking up the glove.

It's definitely important to optimize "doing the most good" in moral frameworks other than welfarist. In particular, I'd be very happy to see an analysis of what'd be the best ways to contribute to preventing biodiversity loss and a good explanation of the moral framework involved (and why it's reasonable, and whether indeed biodiversity loss seems like the most important cause in that framework).

Broadly speaking, I think that there are two main ways of actually going about it in the EA community. One would be to develop this idea more and engage with the "intellectual" effort of figuring out how to do the most good. This could be done by, say, writing more about it, or by reaching out to people to discuss this (perhaps at the upcoming EAG). The other would be to set up an EA project around these lines, and try to secure funding from EA Funds or Open Phil or elsewhere. I'd expect both to be very challenging and to take a long time.

I agree. I'd like to see more diversity of ethical frameworks in EA and attract people with diverse ethical outlooks, since EA is theoretically compatible with frameworks other than utilitarianism. 

I'm interested in writing about this with someone; anybody interested in writing arguments with me about why biodiversity matters? I don't expect it to make the leaderboard of urgent problems, but as a slow important problem I think it's a contender.

Here's a sketch of the argument that convinced me: we want our life support system to handle as many challenges as it can on its own, with as little maintenance as possible. Nature is not a closed system, so the challenges are multi-factor and co-occurring. High biodiversity provides already established stabilizing loops, redundant pathways of nutrient cycling, adaptive strategies, and a variety of pre-existing species and ecosystems which can colonize new niches as conditions change. The more parts are available, the more complex and robust nature's networks can be, hopefully thereby requiring less human management in order to continue to provision and protect life. Loss of biodiversity is a loss of information, resilience, redundancy, and other resources all at once.

I think biodiversity hasn't gotten as much attention as people might be willing to give it. I don't know why, but here are some guesses. Maybe...

  • more clarity is needed about how biodiversity contributes to other goals.
  • "biodiversity" is at the wrong level: maybe it's a subproblem or tool, and the cause area has a different name.
  • "biodiversity" as a concept is too vague or poorly connected to evoke mental imagery or motivate action.
  • the principles and how they fit together haven't been articulated clearly/succinctly enough.
  • it's hard to get really good at thinking about "biodiversity" because it contains something mentally costly, like patience, perspective-taking, predicting, counterfactualizing, or systems thinking.
  • more true causal stories are needed explaining how biodiversity contributes to ecosystem services, which lead to personal everyday benefit.
  • building biodiversity is an upfront investment with a long payoff horizon, so it may not be financially competitive as other projects, except in specific cases with a fast, easy-to-capture payoff.
  • we've still got some biodiversity, so it may be less urgent than other cause areas despite being important.
  • more post-mortems of failed interventions are needed to address disappointment, counteract the appeal of non-intervention, and reassure funders that ecological interventions can be cost-effective.
  • more here-now-small-doable localized intervention recommendations are wanted, with a tangible signal for whether the intervention is working (such as water quality, or return of an indicator species). For instance, planting milkweed for monarchs was clear, tangible, and doable, so lots of people planted milkweed (at least suboptimally, possibly counterproductively).
  • more practice and guiding examples would help about how to compare very different interventions' possible expected value, and select ones that pay for themselves. For instance, I wonder whether oyster seeding or herbivore exclosures around oaks would support more biodiversity 30 years later per $1,000 spent? Per 100 volunteer hours spent? Which interventions include a way to economically capture part of the increased value of ecosystem services provided? Could beaver reintroduction be paid for with almond futures?

I found this comment (and the post by Danny) really interesting and helpful. I am new to EA and have been persuaded by its arguments to donate to the Malaria Consortium. But I am also an environmental economist and an surprised by the EA communities apparent lack of interest in biodiversity (while acknowledging that some of the other commenters' points re comparative importance and whether it is overly neglected may have some validity). 

One issue that interests me is the potential to make environmental interventions (both investments and regulations) more effective. EA examples like it being 1,000s of times more effective to donate to preventing or curing blindness than donating to training guide dogs are important. I think this scale of improvement in effectiveness is possible with environmental interventions. In both areas wildly inefficient interventions can be supported because people are sometimes satisfied by things that sound good or signal their concern, with little or no thought to maximising impact. 

In short, I think that:

  •  the EA community should consider rating the importance of biodiversity more highly
  • EA-type  thinking could be used to make biodiversity interventions much more effective .

I am not sure what would be involved in writing arguments with you about this or whether I would be suited to doing this, but I'm happy to talk .