Dan Stein

Wiki Contributions

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Good news on climate change

Thanks Johannes for the reply. I agree with you on (a) and (c), but I'm a bit confused on (b). I understand (and for the most part) agree with your view that "technology-specific support and innovation policy" is a very promising route for philanthropic engagement to fight climate change, but I'm struggling to see how this recent shift in climate badness predictions adds additional support for this route of intervention vis-a-vis other mechanisms (rich-country policy advocacy concentrated on reducing domestic emissions, projects that directly reduce emissions in the short term, etc.) 

Good news on climate change

Thanks for this report, very interesting.  I think that the question on everyone's mind after reading this is: what does this mean for the EA viewpoint on the importance of climate change as a cause area (which is already somewhat controversial)?  Sounds like the two of you disagree and John is working on a report on this, but I'd say that I am quite interested to see this report and both of your views on the subject. 

Fighting Climate Change with Progressive Activism in the US: CEA

Hello Manny, thanks for the encouragement and good ideas! Some quick responses to your points:

 

  1. Yes,  reduction in particulate matter is super-important, and we haven't incorporated this into our CEAs. Measuring the social cost (of both CO2 and particular matter) is pretty tough/controversial, but in the future we'd like to incorporate this kind of thinking into our models. 
     
  2. Yes, this is a good point. We've focused on the US because we have a comparative knowledge from our understanding of the US context, and also as a large emitter changes in US federal policy can have really big effects. But it wouldn't surprise me if there are great opportunities in other contexts. As Giving Green grows, we hope to expand our research to more contexts. 
  3. Yes, this is certainly true, and would mean our estimates of overly conservative. 

Finally, I'd say that I don't really think that the carbon markets are a promising form of funding for activism. Corporation (who are the primary buyers of carbon credits) seek certainty of emissions reductions so that they can make their "carbon-neutral" commitments (no matter how sketchy this may be in practice.) I don't think many corporations are going to have hunger for less certain and politically controversial activist "offsets". I think this space will have to be funded by philanthropy. 

Fighting Climate Change with Progressive Activism in the US: CEA

Hi James, 

Thanks for your feedback! It was really helpful and gave us a few things to think about.  A few responses:

  1. Marginal benefit: These are all good questions. They are ones we didn't tackle in our general activism model laid out here (which was inspired more by looking backward at Sunrise's previous activities) , but that we are thinking about as we consider whether or not to recommend Sunrise this giving season. Sunrise says that additional funds (especially to the c3) will be used to grow their movement in both size and effectivness.  I think is is a compelling argument that Sunrise's movement would be a lot more powerful if it could recruit more active, passionate members.  However, I agree it's not clear whether there may be declining marginal returns to money at this point and/or if Sunrise could easily raise all the money it needs from mainstream donors. (Both those points are intertwined.)
  2. Expert interviews: We've spoken with philanthropists (who do this kind of thing for a living) as well as a spectrum of folks who work across the climate sphere (private sector, think tanks, government, nonprofits, etc). No, we haven't pushed for numerical estimates and no we don't have transcripts, but we do have notes. I'll agree that this kind of information can be pretty unreliable, and be very influenced by the biases of the people you speak with. For the case of Sunrise in particular, we're working on getting more opinions to hone our estimates. Thanks for attaching that document from FP- I'd seen it before but it was helpful to re-read as it gave me some ideas for how to push some of this estimation forward. 
  3. There are a few variables which change in the different scenarios, and we didn't necessarily change all variables between all scenarios. The pessimistic and very pessimistic scenarios both have a very low (.5%) influence of activism on the progressive bill, but have different assumptions on activism's influence on the bipartisan bill. 
  4. For this model, we have been "deriving them from Sunrise's to date impact on influencing policy and how successful they've been so far", though we understand that even doing this takes pretty great assumptions. We haven't tried to reference to other activist orgs globally- we think it would get even less accurate if we try to move to different contexts. 

    Thanks again! 
Fighting Climate Change with Progressive Activism in the US: CEA

HI Michael, thanks for the question!

We haven't tried to do an in-depth analysis of Citizen's Climate lobby, though we did do a shallow dive on them last year. I think in theory it would be great if we could find an organization doing high-impact, centrist activism, but I haven't seen it. CCL is an interesting model and they have had a lot of success, but they have been really focused on a carbon tax, which doesn't seem to have much leverage in DC recently. So I think that blunts their effectiveness. 

That being said, a carbon tax just came up in the discussions for the first time in a while, so perhaps there is more potential to CCL's approach than I originally thought. 

Fighting Climate Change with Progressive Activism in the US: CEA

Hi Scott, thanks for your questions! Good questions, let me try some responses.

 

  1. This is clearly the most difficult parameter to measure. We thought .5-10% represented a reasonable yet conservative range of potential values. I'd say "conventional wisdom" (ie what quite a number of the people we've spoken with have argued, but certainly not everyone agrees) is that you can draw a pretty straight line between the recent work of policy-focused climate activism groups like Sunrise and subsequent placement of climate as a high priority for the Biden administration. All of that being said, we agree that it's relatively arbitrary. As we move forward to look at specific organizations, we'll try to do a bit more work to get more reasonable values for these parameters. But it's not clear how much better (if anything) we'll be able to do. 
  2. We were trying to make this CEA a bit more general but it was clearly calibrated on Sunrise. I think you should interpret the model as representing a single, effective activism organization with a specific budget. So if we were trying to use the model to hone in on Sunrise's impact, we'd say that for Sunrise's budget of ~25 million over 5 years, we think this caused X% increase of a broad, progressive bill being passed. You could also extrapolate this to the movement in general, but then you'd use a larger budget and a larger % change. 
  3. We aren't making that claim, but if you wanted to extrapolate this model to a future marginal increase in spending, then yes you'd need this assumption. I'd agree this is dodgy, but also I'm not sure the best way to extrapolate a total effect to marginal effect. Probably would just have to do some kind of discounting to account for diminishing marginal effects. This is something we should definitely think about, so thanks for bringing it up. 
Giving Green: An early investigation into the impact of insider and outsider policy advocacy on climate change

As outlined in the document, the ranking/prioritization was done internally by Giving Green staff, based on our experience working in the space, a wide array of experts working on various parts of the climate issue, and reviewing public documents. I agree probably not the most robust procedure, but it was meant mostly to  limit the scope of our search task to make it manageable given the size of our team. 

In 2021 we're taking some different tactics, in an attempt to improve our methods. For our US work we're diving much more deeply into some sector analysis (particularly activism) to make a clearer yes/no case for inclusion. We'll post more about that soon. In Australia, we're taking a different tactic of doing a systematic quantitative and qualitative survey of experts, using the ITN framework. Going forward, we're going to try to integrate the best of these different tactics into a set of best practices for future years. 

Giving Green: An early investigation into the impact of insider and outsider policy advocacy on climate change

Hi Jackva,

Thanks so much for your detailed and thoughtful response, we really appreciate your engagement. Some quick responses to your points:

On funding and room for funding:
1. Big Green over-funding is not the right reference class for neglected issue advocates and probably more informative for grassroots

You’re right that it’s a bit tough to place the Big Greens in a conceptual framework, because they do so many diverse activities. We place them more in the “insider” category since a lot of their activities for federal policy fall on the insider spectrum (lobbying, model bills, etc.) But you’re right that they do outsider activities too, so the categorization isn’t clear. 

In any case, I don’t think getting the taxonomy right is so important. We still think that the big greens tend to have lot of funding, and we think in general the value of a marginal contribution (be it for insider or outsider) activities is likely not cost-effective. That’s not to mention what I think is the biggest problem with most of the Big Greens which is that they are not squarely focused on climate, which is enough to eliminate them in our criteria.


2. As discussed, 2019 numbers for grassroots are not informative

We sometimes quote 2019 numbers because this is the last year that public 990s are available for most organizations, and in general these still allow meaningful order-of-magnitude comparisons. We are well aware that funding for certain orgs (such as Sunrise) have increased dramatically over the past couple of years, and are taking that into account in our analysis. 


3. Room for funding is larger, but that is not indicative of marginal impact

Totally agree that overall budget or room for funding is a blunt instrument against which to measure marginal impact. It’s just one input into a complicated prediction. As far as calculating the actual return of funding effective activism, we are actively working on this going forward, and are going to post more on our thinking relatively soon. But we don’t agree that the marginal impact is ~0. 


4. Rewiring America does not fit the bucket of working on high-impact neglected solutions 

We’re relatively early into our assessment of Rewiring America, so thanks for your thoughts on them. Certainly, we agree that RA is not working on neglected tech, and that the solutions that someone like CATF are working on are likely more important in expectation.  But we do think that RA have come on the scene with an effective framing of some of the decarbonization challenge (“electrify everything”), and are pushing a suite of policies based around household electrification that have not received much attention until recently. I wouldn’t ex-ante conclude that “accelerating already decarbonizing residential energy demand in the US was [not] super important,” from a cost effectiveness perspective. Anyway, I don’t want to spend much time defending RA because we are just starting our analysis, but I think do think they are at least worthy of consideration.  We'll definitely take your view into account as we move forward. 


5. Given time-lag and policy developments, post-midterm seems the environment against which to evaluate new US recs

Yes, good point- I think there’s a lot of truth to this. As you say, there might be value in considering orgs that might change midterm outcomes (though we are restricted in political recommendations). And also, I think there’s some chance that some of the climate policy provisions fall to the 2022 legislative session, though I admit that’s probably not the most likely scenario. 

I do think the timing issue is a bit tricky, and we’re trying to grapple exactly with the best perspective here. It can be hard to predict when the work of an advocacy organization will have impact, and I think there’s a lot of value in keeping strong organizations running and productive even when it’s not their political time to shine. Because otherwise they lose their chance to be influential when they face a welcoming political environment. Definitely something we are mulling, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer. 

 

Thanks again for all the thoughts!

EA Infrastructure Fund: May 2021 grant recommendations

Hello everyone, Dan from Giving Green here. As noted in the explanation above, the main purpose of this grant is to deepen and improve our research into grassroots activism, hopefully coming up with something that is more aligned with research norms within the EA community. We'd love to bring an experienced EA researcher on board to help us with that, and would encourage any interested parties to apply. 

We currently have two jobs posted, one for a full-time or consultant researcher, and the second for a full-time program manager. We're also interested in hearing from people who may not exactly fit these job descriptions but can contribute productively. If interested, please submit an application at the links above or reach out at givinggreen@idinsight.org.

Why we want to start a shrimp welfare charity (founders needed)

Super interesting  Karolina! I only took a quick look at the model, but was wondering if it includes the human welfare outcomes?  (I didn't see it, but maybe I missed it.) For instance, we at IDinsight are working on a project based around shrimp farming, and a main pathway of the theory of change is improved tech -> improved water quality -> increased stocking density -> increased farmer profits -> increased consumption -> increased human welfare. Given that development actors are focusing on this pathway, I think it would be important to take into account. 

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