In the sense that matters most for effective altruism, climate change refers to large-scale shifts in weather patterns that result from emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane largely from fossil fuel consumption. Climate change has the potential to result in—and to some extent is already resulting in—increased natural disasters, increased water and food insecurity, and widespread species extinction and habitat loss.
80,000 Hours rates reducing extreme risks from climate change a "second-highest priority area": an unusually pressing global problem ranked slightly below their four highest priority areas.
In The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, Toby Ord offers several policy and research recommendations for handling risks from climate change:
- Fund research and development of innovative approaches to clean energy.
- Fund research into safe geoengineering technologies and geoengineering governance.
- Perform more research on the possibilities of a runaway greenhouse effect or moist greenhouse effect. Are there any ways these could be more likely than is currently believed? Are there any ways we could decisively rule them out?
- Improve our understanding of the permafrost and methane clathrate feedbacks.
- Improve our understanding of cloud feedbacks.
- Better characterize our uncertainty about the climate sensitivity: what can and can’t we say about the right-hand tail of the distribution.
- Improve our understanding of extreme warming (e.g., 5–20°C), including searching for concrete mechanisms through which it could pose a plausible threat of human extinction or the global collapse of civilization.