Alexander

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Open Thread #36

I am wondering if anyone has suggestions on where to volunteer one's time (not money)

Has this been discussed much by EA people?

Why I left EA

I felt like this post just said that the person had some idiosyncratic reasons they did not like EA, so they left. Well, great, but I'm not sure how that helps anyone else.

Here's a thought I think is more useful. For a long time I have been talking anonymously about politics online. Lately I think this is pointless because it's too disconnected from anything I can accomplish. The tractability of these issues for me is too low. So to encourage myself to think more efficiently, and to think mainly about issues I can do something about, I'm cutting out all anonymous online talk about big social issues. In general, I'm going to keep anonymous communications to a minimum.

Why don't many effective altruists work on natural resource scarcity?

There may be non-scientific or engineering advances (maybe coming from economies of scale) that you can take of advantage of and I think an expert can predict that they will be taken advantage of and yes prices will drop.

In fact there seems a decent chance from what I just read online that engineering alone can push the price of solar below current energy prices.

So I have to scrap my claim about prices.

Maybe some folks even claim you can get to 90% renewables usage with engineering alone, although this guy is not an expert. But I don't have much faith in this guy compared with the expert study he criticizes, so I think that renewables cannot exceed half our energy generation without either new science or big rises in energy costs. (This is not only because of prices but because of intermittency.) And I think the chance of never getting new science is at least 5%.

The problem seems to be that given the lag until engineering peters out, you are talking about extremely long bets. Maybe we might be dead. Even so, I think Stuart Armstrong's claim that we will not be constrained by energy is suspect.

If you save all or most of the resource, I agree the cost will be huge. But if you only save a little, if it could somehow be done securely for ages, I'd say it's worth it as insurance.

Added 2/25-This last statement assumes there are actually uses for fossil fuels where it would be economical to pay 1/(5%) = 20 times as much as today's market price. I don't know if there are, or whether they would still exist in a future world.

Why don't many effective altruists work on natural resource scarcity?

Any useful model does not try to analyze growth hundreds or thousands of years in the future. It is not really important for this topic, but anyway you can read the link in my last message if you're interested.

On the definition of scientific stagnation-a decent measure would be that productivity growth stops. (Although maybe better engineering can also improve productivity without better science, but I don't know if this makes a difference.)

Why is there a need for a disaster? Maybe cheap renewable energy turns out to be too hard a problem. Maybe more big scientific discoveries in general is too hard. That would be a departure from trends but trends have not continued enough for us to have absolute confidence in them.

But I might not actually differ with your 1% figure by too much-I'd guess a 5% chance that renewable energy prices now are roughly as low as they will ever be.

Even if you say 1%, however, it's not clear to me that enough is being done on this topic, since if that 1% materializes, the waste could be huge.

Why don't many effective altruists work on natural resource scarcity?

How low? And, the issue is not so much that stagnation will definitely happen but that other assumptions are random noise and we cannot do any better than to assume stagnation.

If we assume a high chance of stagnation, and also that all generations are morally equal, then I think we should cut back fossil fuel use, and employ it only when greatly needed, in order to maximize the total usefulness to future generations. That is, it's better that 50 generations use 1/50 the fuel for vital, truly essential purposes rather than one generation burning everything.

Yes you can increase capital stock and devote more people. But under these assumptions, maybe more resource production, or extraction, is actually neutral or even bad.

One consideration is how much society would be harmed if we ran out of various resources. That's the limiting case. Here's a Quora question on fossil fuels that might be a start.

There seems to be a literature on intergenerational equity and exhaustible resources-probably there are answers there, if a person dug enough. :)

Why don't many effective altruists work on natural resource scarcity?

I happen to be quite skeptical of predicting science. Do you know what sort of conclusion you would reach about this post's topic if we assume that, for the foreseeable future, science will not advance much? Or, a case of scientific stagnation.

The EA Newsletter & Open Thread - January 2016

Nice Vox article on climate change-I felt that the argument was robust. Climate change may not end civilization but if humans lose 5% of their vitality over the next 10,000 years, that is terrible.

Why don't many effective altruists work on natural resource scarcity?

Stuart Armstrong relies on the price of solar continuing to drop, right? Maybe it will, but I think we would be wise to plan for if it does not. Plus, what about storing the energy? Overall, I would just note that fossil fuels have been proved to be very useful but (without new tech) they will eventually become scarce. So I do think stockpiling them would be good if it could be done securely. But the storage time needed might be extremely long, maybe hundreds of years. On whether any sort of coordination or planning would be effective over that that long a period, I am not too optimistic.

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