Giving Green - Updates on US climate policy recommendations

by Kim Huynh, Dan Stein11 min read25th Nov 2021No comments

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Giving GreenClimate changePolicy
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Our purpose and people

  • At Giving Green, we use an effective altruism-informed approach to recommend the best ways to use your money to fight climate change.
  • In 2021, we investigated three different areas:
    • Policy change – We believe that the most effective giving opportunities are organizations working to enact systemic policy change. We therefore investigated organizations that work towards shifting federal climate policy in either the US or Australia.
    • Carbon offset and removal – We developed carbon offset and removal recommendations to help businesses and other organizations meet their net-zero goals. We searched for a causal and verifiable link between the purchase of a carbon credit and decreased atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) within a few years.
    • Sustainable investments – We expanded our work this past year to include an investigation into “sustainable” investments such as ESG (Environmental, social and corporate governance) funds and impact investing.
  • In 2021, we hired two full-time employees and three consultants, equating to about 4.5 full-time equivalent employees in total. We estimate that we spent about $225,000 this past year.

Why we’re posting

  • To share updates on our process and US climate policy recommendations
    • We’ve spent the past year revamping our research process and developing new recommendations. We are excited to engage with the EA community and share updates on our work, especially our recommendations for the 2021 Giving Season.
    • This post focuses primarily on US policy. We will update the EA community on our other work streams in future posts.
  • To welcome feedback – Our research process and recommendations were informed by feedback we’ve received from members of the EA community. We encourage feedback so that we can continue to improve our work over time. Note that our research is funded by an EA Funds grant, whose main purpose was to improve our research on activism.
  • To make a case for supporting Giving Green – As a nonprofit, our work relies on donations from our readers. If you would like to support our growing operations, you can donate to us here.

Summary

  • How we recommend policy organizations
  • Where to give to combat climate change through US policy
    • Insider policy advocacy groups
    • US climate activism
    • How we addressed critiques of our 2020 approach and recommendations
      • Developed cost-effectiveness analysis models
      • Investigated activism’s marginal effectiveness
      • Improved the way in which we talk about carbon offsets and removal
  • Future work on policy
  • Future EA Forum posts
  • Interested in supporting Giving Green?

How we recommend policy organizations

  • Focus on insider policy advocacy and activism – We used the Importance, Tractability, and Neglectedness framework to identify insider policy advocacy and outsider activism as two priority areas for influencing climate change policy in the US. We focus on the US because it is a leader on the global stage and as the world’s second-largest emitter, holds immense power and responsibility to shape the global fight against climate change. The US is also the largest global funder of research and development, so its actions can have global impact.
    • Insider Advocacy – Advocacy refers to engagement in the policymaking process to shape priorities and influence specific pieces of legislation and regulation.
    • Outsider Activism – Activism seeks to influence political outcomes by mobilizing citizens to take actions that generate public attention around specific issues or demands.
  • Selection criteria – We seek out organizations that are impact-focused with clear evidence of effectiveness, have a strong organizational structure with experienced staff, are cost-effective, and have the capacity to absorb additional funds effectively.
  • Evaluation process
    • Expert interviews and desk research – When evaluating individual organizations, we interview experts in academia, policy, and philanthropy; speak with representatives from the organization; verify accomplishments by speaking with other organizations working on climate policy; and analyze relevant reports.
    • Cost-effectiveness analyses We build cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) models that estimate how much it would cost (in expectation) for each organization to remove a metric ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • To learn more about our research process, please see “Giving Green’s Approach to Policy Change Recommendations.”

Where to give to combat climate change through US policy

Insider policy advocacy groups

We are excited to recommend three insider policy advocacy groups as top charities this year:

  • Clean Air Task Force – Pushes for technologies and policies that are relatively neglected in the climate space. Its recent accomplishments include its role in pushing for clean energy technologies in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes a total of $45 billion in funding for climate measures such as carbon capture and sequestration, direct air capture, nuclear, and hydrogen programs and for plugging methane leaks from abandoned wells. Read our recommendation here.
  • Evergreen Collaborative – Develops and advocates for innovative and progressive climate policy. Evergreen Collaborative was a driving force behind the incentives to transition to renewable energy in the Build Back Better Act. Read our recommendation here.
  • Carbon180 – Focuses on an important and neglected problem: carbon removal. Its recent achievements include advocating for billions of dollars in funding for carbon removal research and development, direct air capture hubs, and carbon storage in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Read our recommendation here.

US climate activism

We do not recommend any US climate activism groups as top charities this year.

  • Activism is important but our research process failed to find any organizations that met our criteria this year – Our research on activism, including our activism CEA, suggested that activism has played and will continue to play an important role in affecting climate policy in the US. However, for reasons detailed below, we did not include any specific activism organizations among our primary recommendations in 2021.
  • Removal of the Sunrise Movement Education Fund – Despite calculating a very high cost-effectiveness for its prior actions, we removed the Sunrise Movement Education Fund from our list of top charities because we are unsure of its future plans beyond 2021 and its room for more funding. We plan on reviewing the Sunrise Movement Education Fund again when we have a better understanding of its future strategy. For more information on the Sunrise Movement, please see our deep dive on the organization.
  • We suggest donating to an umbrella organization under some cases – For donors who would like to support progressive activism, we suggest the Green New Deal Network (GNDN), which coordinates and supports a coalition of grassroots organizations (including regranting). However, we did not include GNDN among our list of top organizations because it has a limited track record thus far and does not actively seek small-scale retail donations. We therefore think that supporting GNDN is appropriate in the following cases:
    • Institutional donors – Because GNDN’s fundraising strategy does not seek out small retail donations, we recommend contributions to GNDN for institutional donors who would like to contribute a substantial amount of money (roughly $20,000 or more).
    • Volunteers – For individuals who would like to donate time rather than money, we tentatively recommend volunteering for one of GNDN’s coalition members, all of which rely on grassroots support. We have not vetted each of GNDN’s coalition members and cannot recommend which provide the best volunteer opportunities.
  • For more information on GNDN, please see our GNDN deep dive.

How we addressed critiques of our 2020 approach and recommendations

Developed cost-effectiveness analysis models

  • Improved our transparency and rigor – This year, we developed CEA models for both our policy and carbon offsets investigations. We believe that this has improved the transparency and rigor of our work by laying out our causal reasoning and assumptions explicitly. We now have explicit CEA models underpinning our analyses for most of our policy and offset analyses (with more coming).
  • Considered the limitations of CEA models in our recommendations – The addition of CEA models has helped our analyses in many cases but has also fallen short in others. For example, GNDN has a long-term goal of changing the narrative around climate change and improving the likelihood of progressive bills being passed in the future; we likely underestimated GNDN’s potential by focusing our CEA on more measurable and immediate outcomes (e.g. how much CO2 would be removed via the Build Back Better Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). We therefore think that for policy organizations, our CEA estimates give a very imprecise signal as to an organization’s effectiveness. As a result, CEA analyses remain just one factor among many in determining our recommendations.

Investigated activism’s marginal effectiveness

In 2020, we received pushback against our recommendation of the Sunrise Movement Education Fund as a top charity. Our thoughts on major themes of criticism are as follows:

  • Impact and cost-effectiveness – We disagree with concerns over whether activism is actually impactful and cost-effective, and also think that progressive activism has a negligible likelihood of having a negative effect. After developing a CEA model of activism, we concluded the activism was extremely cost-effective in recent years. Activism is unlikely to have a negative effect because it would require (1) activism to have a negative impact on bipartisan bills and (2) bipartisan bills to be highly impactful at removing/avoiding emissions. While we admit some uncertainty (specifically around point 2), we do not think that either of these factors are likely.
  • Timing and neglectedness – We agree with some concerns regarding timing and neglectedness. Namely, the Sunrise Movement (and climate activism in the US in general) has grown significantly over the past few years and has already achieved some of its initial goals of electing pro-climate candidates and putting climate onto the policy agenda. We therefore needed to carefully consider the Sunrise Movement’s future plans and room for more funding. Since Sunrise is still developing its strategy for 2022 and beyond, we were unable to come to a conclusion around whether the Sunrise Movement Education Fund will remain cost-effective going forward.

In short, we concluded that some of the criticisms expressed towards the Sunrise Movement were valid but disagreed with others. Ultimately, we removed our recommendation for the Sunrise Movement Education Fund primarily because of the uncertainty on its future plans.

Improved the way in which we talk about carbon offsets and removal

We recommend carbon offsets and removal because we believe that there is a market for both high-certainty interventions (offsets/removal) and high-risk, high-reward options (policy). For example, businesses interested in corporate social responsibility efforts may be unwilling to support policy organizations because they may be viewed as either too political or uncertain. Given the growing market for carbon offsets, which has been predicted to reach a market value of $100 billion by 2030, it is imperative to ensure that money spent on carbon offsets is spent on projects that can actually reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Because donating to policy organizations is most likely more impactful than purchasing carbon offsets and removals, we took the following steps to reduce the risk that our offset/removal recommendations displace funds that would otherwise go towards policy:

  • Clarified the difference in impact between policy and offsets We made it clearer that we recommend donating to policy organizations over purchasing offsets on our home page and recommendations page.
  • Specified our target audience for carbon offsets/removal – We updated our description of our offset/removal recommendations to say that they are geared towards businesses and organizations and not individuals.

Future work on policy

Our future work on climate policy include:

  • Investigating other organizations working on US federal policy – We have earmarked several organizations that we would like to research in greater depth.
  • Explore “keep it in the ground” organizations – We plan on looking into organizations that focus on ending new fossil fuel development.
  • Expanding the scope of our work – We plan on investigating giving opportunities in other countries, and at both at the subnational and international level.
  • Conducting due diligence – We will continue to check in with our recommended charities to learn more about their work and to assess their room for more funding.

Future EA Forum posts

We also worked on offsets/carbon negative solutions, investments, and Australian policy recommendations in 2021. We will cover those updates in future posts.

Interested in supporting Giving Green?

As a nonprofit organization, Giving Green relies on donations from its readers. If you appreciate our research and would like to support our operations, you can donate to us here. Donations to Giving Green help us grow as an organization and support our research and communications.

Questions? Want to collaborate? Please comment below or reach out to us directly at givinggreen@idinsight.org.

We appreciate your thoughts and are glad to be part of this community!


 

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