All of Dan Stein's Comments + Replies

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.) 

7jackva1moThanks Dan! Let me clarify. Whether or not that is additional evidence depends on what informs the prior view. But if one digs deeper on "what are the causes for the change in emissions predictions?" almost all of those are related to technology-specific support policies, not (i) actions that were meant to maximally reduce emissions in the short term (which, in the early 2000s would not have been massive solar subsidies which were primarily motivated by love of solar and hate of nuclear, in the German case, not climate) nor (ii) rich country policy advocacy to reduce emissions domestically. It is not that our means to reduce emissions in the short-term have improved dramatically (say, we now have cheap credible offsets and those drive lesser expected warming) nor that increased targets / domestic policy ambition is already reflected in those improved scenarios, what has changed is technology cost and that has been almost entirely driven by innovation policies of various kinds (including early-stage deployment policies), not target-setting or carbon pricing policies (saying this as someone who has worked in carbon pricing for half a decade). I think it is also evidence for the importance of targeting policy effort, e.g. a lot of the contents of the infrastructure bill are focused on by now relatively mature technologies (accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles by a bit) which might accelerate some emissions reductions in the US but has relatively less spillover, but the more transformative parts of the bill are those that support technologies at earlier stages of development where the trajectory towards clean is not yet locked in. So, it wouldn't be surprising if the most valuable parts of the infrastructure bill are those that do not reduce emissions in the US in the next 5 years, indeed this is what we should expect.
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. 

Thanks Dan!

My personal view is that this is one input to a very complex cause prioritization question.

While it (a) certainly reduces the "naïve"  importance of climate somewhat (though mind the fact that this is only about temperature here, it could be that changed views on the badness of different temperatures went the opposite way), (b) it also shows the incredible tractability and cost-effectiveness of a particular policy (technology-specific support and innovation policy) which underlies most of the change in expected emissions and which we can ma... (read more)

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 chan
... (read more)
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.  
... (read more)
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 di... (read more)

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 adminis
... (read more)
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 sect... (read more)

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 spec... (read more)

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... (read more)

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. 

Hi Dan! Our CEA is built off the theory of change for this intervention that focuses on the animal welfare effects. We will likely add more cross-cause calculations to our CEA when the results of our work on moral weights by Rethink Priorities come back. Although human welfare doesn’t feature in our CEA, we do consider it in our report more broadly. We believe that this intervention could be a win-win, improving the lives of shrimp and of farmers. For example, an expert informed us that farmers would be keen to work with such an organization, since the int... (read more)

Dan Stein's Shortform

Hello, Giving Green is hiring a consultant to help us research climate change charities in Australia.  For those of you unfamiliar, Giving Green is an EA-inspired organization working to generate cost-effective donation and investment recommendations to fight climate change. For more information and to apply, please see our job post

Our ideal candidate has a wide range of qualifications, and we understand that our ideal candidate may not exist. We believe that it’s possible to substitute experience in some categories with hard work and dedicatio... (read more)

Why I'm concerned about Giving Green

Hello everyone. Well, this forum has blown up, and we (GG) have taken some punches. I want to list a few take-aways on my end:

  1. One thing we’re hearing loud and clear is that there is a lot of worry among this group that having  recommendations in categories that are not the most cost-effective will do more harm than good. I think this is worth considering, though I don't totally agree. What I do agree with is that our site could be designed to lead people to the most cost-effective recommendations, and make deviations from this ideal more obvious. Base
... (read more)

Thanks again, Dan & team, for your gracious and constructive comment! This is what I love about this community most. I think there are still lots of misunderstandings on the nature of the criticisms and severe and consequential disagreements on epistemics and empirics to which I reply to below. But before I do so, just a meta-point on why I engaged in this criticism in the first place.

Why I engage in this criticism

I do not enjoy criticizing. The fact that I engage in criticism is impact-related and not personal. Indeed, John (Halstead) and I spent mu... (read more)

Kudos, Dan & team, for this reply!

I will need a bit of time for  a full reply, but I wanted to let you and team know that I really appreciate the thoughtful, gracious, and civil reply.

While we do have many disagreements on epistemics and empirics -- and I think I also still deeply disagree with many things in the post above  (to be explained) -- we are united in the same purpose, making the world better the best we can.

So the point of this comment is just to recognize that and thank you.
 

Why I'm concerned about Giving Green

Hi Alex, let me clarify my thoughts on the "unsure of sign" argument. Let's say for a given charity, you are considering the sign of impact on some outcome given an increase in donations. Given inherent uncertainly, you might think of a having a probability distribution reflecting your belief on the effect of a donation on this outcome. In almost any case, you would have to believe that there is some non-zero portion of the probability mass of this distribution below zero (because we've seen good intentions backfire so many times.) This is my point: the si... (read more)

It feels like we're talking past each other a bit, so I'm going to try to clarify my position below but not add anything new. I don't think the reply above adresses it, but that could well be due to lack of clarity on my part.

Sign of impact

  • I don't think the problem with TSM is that there's non-zero probability mass on negative outcomes. This is, as you point out, true for basically anything.
  • My issue with TSM is that, for the reasons laid out above, I think the probability mass on negative outcomes is extremely signficant, especially when compared to other
... (read more)
Why I'm concerned about Giving Green

Hi, this is Dan from Giving Green. As you might imagine, I have a lot to say here. 

First though, let me thank Alex for going about this criticism in what I would consider the right way: he brought his concerns to us, we had a discussion, and he changed some things based on the discussion. He also offered us a chance to comment on his draft to ensure he hadn’t said anything blatantly factually inaccurate. And then he aired his disagreements in a respectful post. So thanks for that Alex. 

That being said, I fundamentally disagree with the majority o... (read more)

Other than the clarification in my other comment, I think the most important disagreement we have is about Sunrise, so I'm going to primarily talk about that.

Neglectedness


it’s true that TSM’s budget has grown massively over the last few years (as has CATF’s for that matter), but I think that’s a poor proxy for neglectedness. I think that there is very little effective climate activism happening out there, and there’s huge room for effective growth. 

TSM's budget growing by 1.5 orders of magnitude since 2015 isn't sufficient to show that they aren't neg... (read more)

Thanks Dan,  I'm glad to see the comment and will have a more thorough look later. I wanted to clarify one thing though.


Alex is of the opinion that because we haven’t explicitly quantitatively modeled some of the tradeoffs we face, that the analysis isn’t to be trusted. (emphasis mine)

This  isn't quite right.  I don't agree with some of your analysis, but the reason I don't agree is not the lack of quant models, it's the things detailed above.

Separately, I do think we disagree on whether quantitative modelling is useful even in cases of very... (read more)

Why EA meta, and the top 3 charity ideas in the space

"The EA movement currently has no organization dedicated full time to exploring and making a strong case for new cause areas. " 

Isn't this what open phil does? 

7vaidehi_agarwalla1yOpen Phil did some work on researching potential cause areas in their early years, but their primary focus is grant making.
Clean technology innovation as the most cost-effective climate action

Hey, Dan from Giving Green here.  Nice post, and glad to see more and more EAs thinking deeply about the climate problem. There are a lot of tough assumptions that go into these numbers, but I think the logic is sound that promoting clean energy innovation is among the most cost-effective ways to fight climate change. 

That being said, I think the question of how to best promote clean energy is pretty complicated. I don't know a lot about the MIT Energy Initiative in particular, but I think that directly funding specific research efforts is likely... (read more)

What are the "PlayPumps" of Climate Change?

Hi Guys, Dan from Giving Green here. Some good comments on our work and how it relates so far. We're seen a lot of stuff in our research that may fall in the "Play Pumps" category. But if there was one that that really stands out, I think it's carbon offsets for clean water. Check out our write-up here: https://www.givinggreen.earth/post/water-purification-technology

1BrianTan1yHey Dan, I think this is a brilliant example. I think this and the Solar Roadways are the best examples listed here. I This article you cited is pretty good: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/thirty_million_dollars_a_little_bit_of_carbon_and_a_lot_of_hot_air [https://ssir.org/articles/entry/thirty_million_dollars_a_little_bit_of_carbon_and_a_lot_of_hot_air] Maybe a few EAs should test out using this Carbon for Water example or Solar Roadways at a giving game (vs. other Giving Green or Founders Pledge charities) next time!
Introducing High Impact Athletes

Johannes and I have debated this at length before, but I'd like to make a plug for the utility of providing recommendations for offsets, as we do at Giving Green. I agree with Johannes that offsets are likely much less effective in the fight against climate change than donations targeting systemic change, such as moving policy or technology. (Though I'm less confident about putting any numbers on this difference, which feels like an exercise in extreme guesswork.)  

That being said, I do think that providing recommendations in the offset space is likel... (read more)

Five New EA Charities with High Potential for Impact

Hi Milan,

I can't speak for CE, but we at Giving Green have looked a bit into Wren.

Some thing I like about Wren:

  1. They seem to have put some thought and extra effort into picking offsets they think are better than normal. 
  2. They have a nice interface and good publicity, so hopefully that will crowd some money into funding good projects. 

Some things I don't like about Wren:

  1. I fundamentally disagree with the idea that measuring a 'carbon footprint' and then offsetting this footprint is a meaningful and productive way to fight climate change. People shoul
... (read more)
Five New EA Charities with High Potential for Impact

Hi Maria, thanks for the note. I understand the point you're making, but I think the case of forestry and cookstoves are really quite different.  The difference is that with clean cookstove (or really any project that improves energy efficiency), you permanently remove demand for energy, which is not reversible. 

Let's take a classic impermanence example around forestry offsets. A project works for a year to conserve a hectare of forest that would have been counterfactually cut down . They are issued X carbon credits for this conservation, and sel... (read more)

Five New EA Charities with High Potential for Impact

Hi Everyone, Dan from Giving Green here. Just a note that we'll be doing a big re-launch of our website and product (with recommendations for the 2020 giving season!) in about a month's time. We're looking forward to sharing more details of our strategy in a post here around that time. In the meantime, happy to answer questions here or chat with interested parties.

One of recommended carbon offsets is BURN. If I understand correctly, BURN provides households with more efficient stoves, which allows them to use less wood or charcoal for cooking. So carbon that would otherwise be in the atmosphere as CO2 remains in the form of trees. On the other hand, Giving Green does not recommend forestry offsets:

Of particular concern is “permanence”, which refers to the fact that in order to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere, trees must stay alive for many years. This adds an additional layer of uncertainty to any fores
... (read more)
What should EAs interested in climate change do?

I know I'm a bit late to this topic, but at Giving Green (www.idinsight.org/givinggreen) we are trying to answer specifically this problem. We're building on excellent previous work (like that at Let's Fund and Founder's Pledge) to do a comprehensive analysis on giving, investment, and volunteer options to fight climate change. The work is still very early, but there is a lot coming in the pipeline so stay tuned. For now, we have a few recommendations in the offset market.