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.

Evaluation

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.[1]

Recommendations

In The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, Toby Ord offers several policy and research recommendations for handling risks from climate change:[2]

  • 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.

Further reading

Ackva, Johannes & John Halstead (2020) Climate change executive summary, Founders Pledge, October 6.

Duda, Roman & Arden Koehler (2016) Climate change (extreme risks), 80,000 Hours, April (updated May 2020).

Halstead, John (2018) Climate change and existential risk, John Halstead’s Blog, October 17.

Wiblin, Robert (2021) Kelly Wanser on whether to deliberately intervene in the climate, 80,000 Hours, March 26.

Wiblin, Robert & Arden Koehler (2020) Mark Lynas on climate change, societal collapse & nuclear energy, 80,000 Hours, August 20.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Official website of the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. 

climate engineering | global catastrophic risk

  1. ^
  2. ^

    Ord, Toby (2020) The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, p. 279