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The NPT: Learning from a Longtermist Success [Links!]

Yes, I think it is. There is a literature on whether nuclear assistance  and technology sharing for peaceful uses tends to promote or hinder nuclear proliferation, that I mention and cite a bit in my second CSIS piece.

The NPT: Learning from a Longtermist Success [Links!]
  1.  One piece of info related to the NPT that might be helpful: The NPT does contain an article (article VI) in which the the P5  (the 5 current permanent members of the UN Security Council, who at the time the NPT was made were the only countries who had successfully tested nuclear weapons) as well as all of the parties agree to participate in good-faith negotiations to pursue nuclear disarmament, but it does not specify a time-table and the language is deliberately vague. I think the NPT has done a good job of doing what its main goal is and what its name implies: limiting nuclear proliferation. It has clearly not been able to get existing nuclear powers to get rid of all of their nuclear weapons (although it's hard to know if the NPT has not played a significant role in reducing the arsenals of the nuclear powers relative to a counterfactual world in which there was no NPT... perhaps in a counterfactual world without the NPT, the US and USSR would not feel compelled to engage in the SALT and START negotiations without officially committing in Article VI of the NPT). Luisa has done a lot more thinking about the Nuclear Ban treaty, so I'll defer to her on that. 
  2. Jeffrey Ohl is going to look into this question as part of a summer project for the Stanford Existential Risk Initiative, and I'll be mentoring him. We literally just started talking about the project last week, so more to come on that! For now, I'll say the characteristics of the technology itself that you are trying to regulate (e.g. fissile material vs.  inputs to the creating of AGI for instance) is very important in terms of how a successful treaty could be constructed. This aspect is important in terms of the mechanisms that must be put in place to verify compliance with the treaty. I co-wrote an article with Chris Bakerlee on engineered pathogens for Vox a few years ago that discusses, among other things, some of the challenges around regulating biotechnology that make verifying compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention difficult https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/12/6/18127430/superbugs-biotech-pathogens-biorisk-pandemic
  3. What time range are you looking at when it comes to forecasts, and what sort of things do you have in mind? I recall when I read Superforecasting a few years ago that forecasts aren't particularly reliable beyond a few years even for Superforecasters (though correct me if I'm wrong/maybe views on that are different now than they were then?). These treaties operate on pretty long time-scales... e.g. the NPT was conceived of in the mid 1960s, it was signed in 1968, it went into force in 1970, and then countries joined over the course of a few decades. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_parties_to_the_Treaty_on_the_Non-Proliferation_of_Nuclear_Weapons
The NPT: Learning from a Longtermist Success [Links!]

One other reason why I think that understanding the NPT is important for longtermists: As the world decarbonizes to address climate change (my other big area of research), nuclear electricity generation may increase substantially into more countries, and in particular to countries with lower levels of development/technology. It's crucial to know if the existing nonproliferation regime can ensure that this doesn't cause proliferation, and what sorts of investments must be made to ensure that nonproliferation regime continues to work.

N-95 For All: A Covid-19 Policy Proposal

This is a really good point!

I think you're right that the magnitude of the benefit from the program depends heavily on how many people end up choosing to use the mask, especially in situations where they are more likely to contract the disease. Individuals will ultimately make a personal decision based on trade-offs between the probability of contracting the virus, comfort, convenience, and even fashion.

I also think there is significant heterogeneity in terms of how people weigh these factors. I do think that there are a significant number of people who, net of these factors, would decide that the benefits of wearing a medical-grade respirator in situations where they are more likely to contract the virus outweighs the costs. These could be seniors, people with preexisting conditions,  people who don't find the respirator uncomfortable, or people who are just risk averse. 

I also think that there are currently significant numbers of people who would like to wear medical-grade respirators, but who are not currently able to get them. I have friends that are teachers that are required to teach in person that want a medical-grade respirator, but are not able to get one. As I noted above, there is still a shortage of respirators even for frontline medical workers (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/scarcity-of-raw-material-still-squeezes-n95-mask-makers/2020/09/10/94586834-f31e-11ea-8025-5d3489768ac8_story.html). I think there are probably enough people in this category, that you could make some dent in the infection rate with this policy, though how much depends on people's behavior.

Also, one of the general takeaways is that, even if the benefits end up being modest (e.g. you reduce the infection rate, but not below 1 in all areas), the relative cost is so cheap that I think it's worth it to give it a shot.


A few other points:

-As part of the program, it would be great to do randomized control trials with different types of respirators (e.g. different designs that meet the N-95 standard, enhanced N-99 or N-100 designs). There may be some sort of trade-off between comfort and protection (granted that the N-95 threshold is met), and perhaps going more on the side of comfort is optimal because the benefit from higher compliance outweighs the slightly lower protection. There may also be an N-95 design that is already produced (or gets produced for the program) that is just more comfortable and gets higher compliance, and we'd be able to figure that out. That face shield you mentioned is really cool! You could also pilot something like that as part of this program, and perhaps that wins out. 

-Along these lines, I also considered adding another point, which would be creating a program called  the "N-95 for all Studio," where fashion designers or people like that could add designs to the respirators to make them look cool. You could imagine charging someone $2 or something to get the "New York Yankees N-95" or the "Tom Ford N-95" or whatever. 

-Also as winter comes in the Northern Hemisphere and as more activity moves inside and the ability to ventilate rooms goes down, there will likely  be more spaces with a higher concentration of aerosols. The benefit of wearing a respirator vs. cloth mask or surgical mask goes up in this situation, so this would affect people's behavior.

-I'd also emphasize the benefits of this policy for preparing for future pandemics. It so happens that SARS-COV-2 has a case fatality rate ~1%, and this is quite heterogeneous depending on your age and existing health. If there is a respiratory-transmitted pandemic that has a 30% case fatality rate, then the benefits of wearing a respirator will be way higher versus the costs from inconvenience, discomfort, etc.

N-95 For All: A Covid-19 Policy Proposal

What I had in mind with this policy was that the government would contract directly with producers (using the defense production act where necessary) to procure enough N-95 respirators for everyone in the country, and the government would then distribute them to everyone. There would be some agreed upon price of procurement between the government and manufacturers that would be negotiated at the start of the process. If manufacturers want to produce more respirators than what they contracted for, they are welcome to do that and to sell it at a price they choose. 

What I mean by cannot buy is that N-95s are unavailable to nearly all people who may want to purchase them https://twitter.com/davidrliu/status/1319980228765274112?s=20. I've looked online throughout the pandemic, and they are usually unavailable for purchase. Sometimes, you can add them to your cart, but then you can't check out because you get a warning that they are being prioritized for frontline workers (that screenshot above is me doing exactly that).  Sometimes, you can buy more heavy duty P100 respirators that have traditionally been used for doing something like spray painting, but a lot of people prefer not to wear those regularly because they are more bulky. 

N-95 For All: A Covid-19 Policy Proposal

Thanks, John! I really like your distinction between the type (1) and type (2) "pernicious moral hazard."

Yes I agree that the moral hazard I mention here would not be large enough to outweigh the benefits of the policy, putting it in the category of (1). My goal in that "potential issues" section was to think about the universe of potential issues that people could raise about the policy and address them. As you can tell, I don't currently think any of the issues are significant enough to make the policy not worth it. 

Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups

By the title, I thought this was going to be a discussion of the dangers of appeasing genocidal dictators (e.g. https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3476200,00.html) ... clearly I was wrong!

Does using the mortality cost of carbon make reducing emissions comparable with health interventions?

FYI, I gave a presentation on my Mortality Cost of Carbon paper at the UCLA Climate Adaptation conference two days ago, available here: https://event.on24.com/wcc/r/2688287/118B1E2E57B33A902FDE6CE95202DB34 This is a brief (~20 minutes) less technical overview of the paper. My presentation starts at 53:20.

Also, the other two speakers on the panel (Tamma Carleton and Ishan Nath) were both authors on the Climate Impact Lab paper that Louis had posted about earlier: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/PATHShQoxQLHoZ7rE/linkpost-global-death-rate-from-rising-temperatures-to

My Mortality Cost of Carbon working paper is here: https://ceep.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/content/papers/n11.pdf

[Linkpost] Global death rate from rising temperatures to exceed all infectious diseases combined in 2100

FYI, Michael Greenstone (one of the authors of this study, the co-director of the Climate Impact Lab, and the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at University of Chicago) testified at a hearing in Congress on the health impacts of climate change a few weeks ago: https://youtu.be/N8nCZC0_yxU His opening statement is available in written form here: http://www.impactlab.org/news-insights/michael-greenstone-testifies-on-the-health-impacts-of-climate-change/

[Linkpost] Global death rate from rising temperatures to exceed all infectious diseases combined in 2100

The copy you have is their 2019 version of the paper. The figure 9 I am referring to is their most recent 2020 NBER Working Paper version of the paper linked in the original post.

I agree that the RCPs, which were made in 2011, are outdated at this point. This is in large part because of the strong performance of renewable energy over the last decade. The RCPs at this point are still the standard emissions scenarios that are used in scientific papers, although I expect them to be updated in the near future when the next IPCC report comes out. Somewhere between RCP 6.0 (~3.2 degrees C in 2100) and RCP 8.5 (~4.8 degrees C) is probably what you can call a baseline emissions scenario (source: http://live.magicc.org/). The baseline emissions scenario in DICE-2016 for instance -- which involves significant reduction in emissions per unit of GDP, continued economic growth, and a small amount of carbon emissions abatement -- results in 4.1 degrees C warming in 2100. Still, the Climate Impact Lab results are pretty significant in any of these scenarios as you can see in figure 9a. In RCP 8.5, you get to 3.2 degrees C in about 2065 and you get to 4.1 degrees C around 2085. At both of those dates, there are significant increases in mortality. Just eyballing it, it looks like ~1/2 and ~4/5 of the mortality increase at 4.8 degrees C in 2100 respectively.

Also, if you wanted to look at the net mortality effect of a high emissions scenario with a lot of coal burning, you would also need to consider the effect of this on particulate matter pollution in addition to the affect from changing the climate. The particulate matter effect is very large and the climate impact paper does not account for this. This paper, for instance, does: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-09499-x/tables/2.

For the mitigating effect of income on mortality, I'd emphasize that there is significant uncertainty in these projections as shown in figure 9b, in large part driven by uncertainty around adaptation. For instance, with 80% confidence, they can't rule out the mortality effect of climate change being on net positive. Though from the perspective of decision theory, if you have a lottery across the possible outcomes in 2100 that include both sanguine and higher than expected damages and you have risk aversion (which most people do), this would cause you to want to undertake stricter climate policy than if you just look at the central estimate. I'd also emphasize that this is a very active area of research (e.g. this conference is happening next month: https://climateadaptationresearch.com/agenda/) so we will continue to get better at estimating climate impacts net of adaptation.

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