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Hi all!

For the EA-inspired YouTube channel, A Happier World, we working on a video on the question whether or not to have children in light of climate change. But by the time the script was nearly finished, Kurzgesagt released a video that covered most of what we wanted to cover. 

So we decided to make a response video instead, that just focuses on effective actions people can take to help fight climate change.

Feel free to give us any feedback in the comments here or on YouTube. I'm also curious to hear: did you learn any new things? Has it changed/updated your mind on anything?

If you liked the video, I would encourage you to share it with your friends (especially those who aren't in the effective altruist movement). 

Thanks to Luke Freeman for hosting the video and Sarah Emminghaus for helping with the script.

Transcript

Sources are marked with an asterisk. Text might differ slightly in wording from the final video.

Intro

If you’re watching this, you’re likely coming from Kurzgesagt’s video called “We WILL Fix Climate Change!”. If not, I suggest you go watch it now and then return to this video. The video explains very well why the doom prophecies about climate change are overstated, but that it’s still a big issue that we need to tackle urgently.

So what can we as individuals do to reduce the worst effects of climate change?

Actions

Many of us would immediately think of actions such as buying local or eating organic, gmo-free foods. Now these aren’t as effective as they may seem. But instead of explaining these misconceptions in detail, I will just refer to the following great resources.

Regarding buying local, I suggest the very entertaining video Grown in Argentina, Packed in Thailand by BritMonkey or Our World In Data’s article “Focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local

Regarding eating organic and GMOs, I suggest Is Organic Really Better? Healthy Food or Trendy Scam? and Are GMOs Good or Bad? Genetic Engineering & Our Food by Kurzgesagt.

Other actions, such as using public transport instead of travelling by car or plane, or not eating cow’s meat are also popular.

A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.**

A round trip from London to San Francisco emits around 5 and half tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person.**

And a kilogram of beef produces 60 kg of CO2 equivalent.*

So these actions definitely help, I don’t want to discourage anyone from doing them, but what if I told you can have a much bigger positive impact on climate change with much less effort?

One way is choosing a career that has a big positive impact on the climate. An organisation called 80,000 Hours gives advice on how you can use your career to help solve the world’s biggest problems, including but not limited to climate change. They also have a job board where you can find highly impactful jobs, some of which are at climate organisations or companies working on creating alternatives to meat.*

Another way is through political activism. Governments have a huge impact on future emissions. We need to make sure countries don’t only look at their own emissions, but also at how they can impact emissions globally.

Johannes Ackva: "I think one interesting example for this is the success of solar, which has been driven by countries like Germany, for example, which has almost not reduced emissions in Germany itself, but it had transformative effects globally speaking. That’s kind of like that’s an example where the global effect is much, much larger than the local effect. And those are kind of the examples that we have to repeat to really make a dent in global emissions."

Johannes Ackva: "The most important thing that you can do as an individual in a high income country is political engagement. This can be both direct political activism, asking for a better climate policy or putting more pressure, and it can also be a donation. So as a kind of political tool for donations through highly effective climate charities. Both of these are going to have much more impact than changing your lifestyle. Because changing your lifestyle can at most reduce emissions by something like five tonnes a year."

For perspective, Europeans emit roughly around 7 tonnes of CO2 per person and Americans 15 tonnes.*

Kurzgesagt also talks in greater depth about political activism in their video called Can YOU Fix Climate Change?.

Donating money

Johannes works for Founders Pledge, an organisation that inspires entrepreneurs to make a commitment to donate a portion of their personal proceeds to charity when they sell their business. Founders, co-founders and CEOs of various companies have made this commitment.* 

They have a dedicated team that does in-depth research on charities that have the biggest impact per dollar donated. Johannes is their leading climate scientist and he has researched multiple climate organisations.

So which ones are actually effective? Which ones give you the most bang for your buck?

The top recommendation of Founders Pledge is the US organisation Clean Air Task Force which aims to influence policy makers. They advocate for clean air measures and innovation in neglected low-carbon technologies. They mostly focus on US policy, but recently started advocating in other parts of the world too. Much of their clean air work includes advocating for regulations of fossil fuel emitting infrastructure and advising on methane regulation development.*

A rough conservative estimate of the cost of avoiding one tonne of CO2 by donating to the Clean Air Task Force is just one dollar.*** Remember, Europeans emit roughly around 7 tonnes of CO2 per person and Americans 15 tonnes.*

Johannes’ team at Founders Pledge estimates that the charity Carbon180 is similarly effective. They focus on ways to suck carbon out of the atmosphere, a process known as carbon capture and storage.*

TerraPraxis, another recommended charity, researches and advocates for more energy innovation. They focus particularly on advanced nuclear energy. New nuclear reactors will be much safer and potentially cheaper than already existing ones.* They are already quite safe, and just like wind and solar emit little to no greenhouse gases.* Of course, Kurzgesagt has made a video on this too.*

Since the end of 2021, Founders Pledge also recommends a rather young and European charity: Future Cleantech architects is a climate thinktank from Germany which advocates for clean climate technologies and aims to inform european policy makers about how to decarbonize sectors like cement or steel*.

Instead of choosing to donate to these charities separately, you can also choose to donate to Founders Pledge their climate fund. You don’t need to be an entrepreneur for this or commit to anything. Most of the money in the past has gone to the Clean Air Task Force.* Links to this fund and all the individual charities will be in the comments and description.

Of course there’s a ton of climate NGOs worldwide. So If you’re professionally in a position to do so, you can also try and research further organisations which work on the best ways to help the climate!

Unfortunately right now there are a lot of organisations and popular actions that are immensely popular without having as big an impact. For example, planting trees or other carbon offsetting measures aren’t really effective in comparison. Offsets are always about direct interventions, whereas the world as a whole is spending hundreds of billions on climate and this is spending that can be changed by advocacy. Currently the allocation of these billions is not optimal, leaving vast rooms for impact for charities that move the needle so that government budgets are spent more in line with global decarbonization priorities.*

Conclusion

Climate change is a big issue. But just like Kurzgesagt, we’re optimistic it will get solved. We do have to put in an effort to make sure the worst effects won’t happen.

Our planet faces a range of issues that are all very pressing. This YouTube channel covers lots of them, not just climate change, so subscribe to learn about more ways we can move towards a happier world!

Hi! Jeroen here. This video has been in the works for over a month before kurzgesagt’s video was released. But when their video got released, we saw it had a huge overlap with ours and they did a much better job. The only major difference is that we planned on talking about these effective charities. So we quickly rewrote the script to just focus on that and turn it into this response video. Still, if you would like to see that video, which had a bigger focus on the question whether or not to have children in light of climate change, let us know!

A big thank you to Luke Freeman for hosting this video, check out his YouTube channel too! I personally really liked their video on how you can help protect the future of humanity.

If you liked this video and you think it’s important, share it with your friends! We’ve tried our best to explain this topic as accurately as possible. But since we’re human, there’s a good chance we’ve made mistakes. If you noticed a mistake or disagree with something, let us know in the comments! Thanks for watching!

Comments2
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:33 AM

Excellent production quality and explanations as usual. I liked the embedded links to the other videos as you reference them.

My feedback is that the donation recommendations don't necessarily represent what I think to be the current best advice in the effective environmentalism (EE) community.

I've been a part of the EE community for 7 years now and have been closely following the development of climate change research and giving recommendations from Founders Pledge and Giving Green (EE orgs). I still don't suggest their recommendations to friends looking to donate to climate change. Let me explain by way of analogy...

Looking with hindsight, if it was 2007, would you have given money to GiveWell's top recommendation Population Services International? Or would you wait, knowing that in just a few years their analysis capacity would expand 10-fold and they would produce much better recommendations such as AMF or SCI?

Founders Pledge and Giving Green are similar to GiveWell circa 2007 in terms of number of employees, money moved, and research depth. The depth and breadth of their analysis is limited. There are whole economic sectors and angles to the climate problem they have not yet investigated - the demand side of the energy equation, alternative proteins, adaptation, and natural feedbacks are examples. In hindsight, during GiveWell's early years, I'd say organizations like the Gates Foundation or JPAL would have given as good or better recommendations if asked. I think the same is true with the current state of climate philanthropy - places like the ClimateWorks Foundation have dozens of experts in a wide range of fields. Their teams on specific interventions are larger than the sum of climate researchers at Founders Pledge and Giving Green. ClimateWorks has considered a wider breadth of interventions and at greater depth than the EE orgs and I think they're covering some of the most impactful interventions (e.g. the cooling collaborative). And that's just one major climate foundation. If I were looking to donate, I'd start there, and I think donating to one of their grantees is likely to do about as much good as following an EE org recommendation.

The EE orgs are a bit different in that they are optimizing to minimize $/ton CO2e avoided (Giving Green) or trying to reduce climate damage with technology back-stops (Founders Pledge) source. GivingGreen has a ClimateWorks Foundation employee on their board, and they are actively trying to see how their work can be complementary rather than repetitive. Given the early stage of these EE orgs, I'd be much more inclined to fund Giving Green directly to hire another researcher than to give money per their recommendations.

Another piece of feedback is that I don't think finding the lowest marginal $/ton CO2e mitigation opportunities is necessarily the right angle. Climate change is characteristically different from other problems like extreme poverty. GiveWell is still oriented towards finding the best health and poverty interventions. And this works because the scale of the problem is so large compared to the funding. But their recommendations would likely change if they had 100-1000x more money and were aiming to eradicate extreme poverty entirely. Climate change is a problem we (humanity) are trying to solve in its entirety, no just at the margin. Several governments have drastic emission reduction targets, and there are massive, established markets to trade offsets. Climate mitigation is valued in a way that helping the poorest isn't. If you find a cheap offset, there is a good chance that funding it isn't fully additional - someone else may come along and fund it anyways. And if you are for sure going to offset, it may make sense to fund higher priced offsets instead to scale them and bring down their costs to the rest of the market. See the discussion and markets around RECs vs. hourly RECs for example. Even then, offset funding isn't really a limitation - there is currently a multi-year backlog for many of the highest priced robust offsets such as direct air capture with mineralization.

Given the offset market, EE orgs are pushed to more speculative mitigation opportunities such as policy change and technology innovation advocacy that can't be as easily calculated or monetized. Pretty much all EE funding to date has gone to one of these two interventions. Once you are in speculative land, there is a different value proposition - similar to how GiveWell's maximum impact fund and the EA Global Health and Development Fund are different. Two things are important in speculative land. First, it no longer makes sense to focus on a specific $/ton CO2e number. It's all about distributions and hits-based giving. And second, the distributions are highly subject to the biases and assumptions that go into making them. Median $/ton CO2e estimates from two different researchers for the same intervention can easily be orders of magnitude apart. Worse, if two researchers share assumptions and biases, the distribution is likely to be too narrow, probably wrong, and possibly even wrong directionally. This is the problem with only 1 or 2 people with similar biases doing the calculations and is the case in the current EE orgs. People donating on advice from the EE orgs now are putting a lot of faith in a few speculative expected value calculations done by just one or two people. I think that faith is unwarranted given the reasons above. And I think the mantles of "recommendations" or a "fund" masks how uncertain and unreliable these donations are compared to other recommendation organizations and cause-area funds in the EA community that easily have 10-100x more research hours put into them as well as greater thought diversity. To me, "A rough conservative estimate of the cost of avoiding one tonne of CO2 by donating to the Clean Air Task Force is just one dollar" is too much like "save a life by buying bednets for just $25". I don't find the particular calculation referenced in the script to be conservative at all - the values and the structure of the analysis are wildly optimistic from my perspective.

I think a more accurate assessment of the best advice from the (EE) community for climate mitigation is "we don't know what the best philanthropic opportunities are; give us money to help find them". I realize that is underwhelming - we want to give concrete recommendations now. But I don't think we can confidently claim that the current EE orgs represent the "biggest impact per dollar donated". At least not yet. My concrete advice for those who only want to give to climate change interventions and only to the "best" interventions at that is to wait. Or fund intervention analyses.

Thanks a lot for sharing this! I appreciate this well thought out criticism. You make great points, but I find it hard to say at the moment how it has updated my own views. I'll share it in the comment section under the video.