All of Denkenberger's Comments + Replies

My thoughts on nanotechnology strategy research as an EA cause area

Very helpful post!

Cheap energy. Cheap, powerful manufacturing might enable the fabrication of cheap solar cells and cheap batteries that help to overcome intermittency in solar power, leading to very cheap solar power (although, naively, I’m unsure how large an effect this would be given that advanced nanotechnology wouldn’t on the face of it reduce land and labour costs).

If the typical solar cell thickness is 400 µm and a density of 2.3 kg/L and efficiency of 20%, with 1000 W/m2 and $1000/kg, this would be ~$5/W, which is significantly more expensive than... (read more)

Has anyone actually talked to conservatives* about EA?

Strong upvote. I would guess that another commonality between EAs and conservatives is not tending to resent the rich and their philanthropy, as many on the left do.

Should longtermists focus more on climate resilience?

I agree that there should be more focus on resilience (thanks for mentioning ALLFED), and I also agree that we need to consider scenarios where leaders do not respond rationally. You may be aware of Toby Ord's discussion of existential risk factors in the Precipice, where he roughly estimates a great power war might increase the total existential risk by 10% (page 176). You say:

What is the multiplying impact factor of climate change on x-risks – compared to a world without climate change?

If forced to guess, considering the effects of climate change, I beli

... (read more)
1Richard Ren16d
This is very fair criticism and I agree. For some reason, when writing order of magnitude, I was thinking about existential risks that may have a 0.1% or 1% chance of happening being multiplied into the 1-10% range (e.g. nuclear war). However, I wasn't considering many of the existential risks I was actually talking about (like biosafety, AI safety, etc) - it'd be ridiculous for AI safety risk to be multiplied from 10% to 100%. I think the estimate of a great power war increasing the total existential risk by 10% is much more fair than my estimate; because of this, in response to your feedback, I've modified my EA forum post to state that a total existential risk increase of 10% is a fair estimate given expected climate politics scenarios, citing Toby Ord's estimates of existential risk increase under global power conflict. Thanks a ton for the thoughtful feedback! It is greatly appreciated.
Is it still hard to get a job in EA? Insights from CEA’s recruitment data

This is helpful, but there is a key difference between the EA job market and the general one: there are a limited number of positions in EA. I think a valuable metric that perhaps could be explored on the next EA survey is the level of EA “unemployment.” This could mean the number of EAs who would prefer to have a job at an EA aligned organization, but have not gotten one. I suspect this will be far higher than the general level of unemployment. As an example, say there are 50 EAs with a particular skill, and five EA jobs requiring that skill. Then if they... (read more)

At least in theory we could track EA job Openings, Hires, Quits and Layoffs, similar to the JOLTS data. This has the advantage of not needing to estimate the denominator of 'total EA labour force'. In practice this is probably not worth the effort of collecting though.

My bargain with the EA machine

I would be interested in what people think qualifies as "great personal sacrifice." Some would say it would mean things like becoming a priest, volunteering for the military during a war, going to prison for something you believe in, etc. The things that many EAs do, such as giving 10% or 50%, being vegetarian or vegan, choosing a lower pay career, relocating to a less preferred city or country, choosing a somewhat less satisfying/prestigious career, or working or volunteering a total of 60 or 70 hours a week (while maintaining good sleep, nutrition, exerc... (read more)

What “pivotal” and useful research ... would you like to see assessed? (Bounty for suggestions)

Added: temperature change: FHI cited paper, general impact: A Model for the Impacts of Nuclear War (also cited by FHI) (GCR Institute authors) (also cites Robock) - does not quantify

It looks like you mean FLI, not FHI.

Free-spending EA might be a big problem for optics and epistemics

Many people prominent in EA still donate very large percentages, Julia Wise (featured in Strangers Drowning)/Jeff Kaufman 50%, Will MacAskill at least 50%, probably the same for Peter Singer and Toby Ord.

Free-spending EA might be a big problem for optics and epistemics

I realize the discussion here is broader than this specific case, but for this specific case, couldn't people have just taken the extra food home so it would not go to waste?

Actually, yes that would have made a lot of sense, not sure why this didn’t happen.
I almost preemptively disavowed it lol
Crucial considerations in the field of Wild Animal Welfare (WAW)

Each year, there are 30 trillion wild-caught shrimp alone! (Rethink Priorities,^)

I'm not seeing the 30 trillion number in that reference - is there a direct link to the analysis? 4000 shrimp caught per person per year seems high.

Okay, so it turns out the details of how that number was estimated are still unpublished, and I'll cite them as such along with that meme Peter shared. Good catch, once again!
Oh shoot, you seem to be right. I must have left a link out. This is the fastest link I could find that makes reference to the Rethink Priorities findings just to give you guys some assurance: [] I'll get a real one!
"Long-Termism" vs. "Existential Risk"

To the extent that a short-termist framing views going from 80% to 81% population loss as equally as bad as 99% to 100%, it seems plausible to care less about e.g. refuges to evade pandemics. Other approaches like ALLFED and civilisational resilience work might look less effective on the short-termist framing also. Even if you also place some intrinsic weight on preventing extinction, this might not be enough to make these approaches look cost-effective.

ALLFED-type work is likely highly cost effective from the short-term perspective; see global and country... (read more)

Save the Date: EAGxMars

Yes, ALLFED will be there. We have the hydrogen single cell protein, glycerin, and vinegar worked out. This should give us enough time to make a balanced, palatable, vegan diet.

8 possible high-level goals for work on nuclear risk

The more weight we place on this goal, probably the less we’d focus on very unlikely but very extreme scenarios (since badness scales roughly linearly in fatality numbers for neartermists, whereas for longtermists I think there’s a larger gap in badness between smaller- and medium-scale and extremely-large-scale nuclear scenarios).

This seems right. Here are my attempts at neartermist analysis for nuclear risks (global and US focused).

Zvi's Thoughts on the Survival and Flourishing Fund (SFF)

Zvi has now put a postscript in the ALLFED section above. We have updated the inadvertent nuclear war fault tree model result based on no nuclear war since the data stopped coming in, and also reduced the annual probability of nuclear war further going forward. And then, so as to not over claim on cost effectiveness, we did not include a correction for non-inadvertent US/Russia nuclear war nor conflict with China. Resilient foods are still highly competitive with AGI safety according to the revised model.

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

You may be interested in this. I considered some pretty speculative things to prevent or mollify a supervolcanic eruption, but the volume of the stratosphere is so enormous that I think cleaning it would be very challenging.

Yeah, I haven't looked into this much but I think goal would be getting as much soot as possible before it spread out across the whole stratosphere. For instance, dumping coagulant into the rising smoke plume so that it got carried up with the smoke could be a good option if one can respond while a city fire is still burning, as the coagulant is then going to get mixed in with most of the soot. IIRC from Robock's paper it also takes a while (weeks/months) for the soot to completely spread out and self-loft into the upper stratosphere, so that gives more time to respond while it's still fairly concentrated around the sources. Determining what an effective response would be at that stage is kind of the aim of the project - one suggestion would be to send up stratospheric weather balloons with high-voltage electrostatic fields (not 100% sure but I expect soot aerosol would be charged and could be electrostatically attracted) under areas of dense soot.
Shortening & enlightening dark ages as a sub-area of catastrophic risk reduction

Thanks for the post.

It seems like it could be a good idea to move part of Allfed to a location more suitable for restarting modern civilisation than Alaska.

Only two members of ALLFED are in Alaska-the rest are other places in the US, UK, Canada, Spain, Germany, Australia, India, and more countries if you count board members and volunteers. But it is still NATO city majority, so we are looking at methods of reducing risk to the team.

The Future Fund’s Regranting Program

Is there compensation for the regrantors?

Yes: "Regrantors will be compensated for their work based on the quality and volume of their grantmaking."

Risks from Asteroids

This paper on the concern of nuclear explosives for asteroid deflection increasing the risk of nuclear war is relevant.

Apply to Negotiating for Good [Feb 26 - Mar 12]

Is it mainly for the for-profit case? For instance, in academia, there is not very much room for salary negotiation, but instead the focus is on the startup package (reduced teaching, lab budget, funding for students, etc).

1Cillian Crosson4mo
It's mainly designed for the for-profit case but I'd be excited to see academics working on important topics use this programme to negotiate for non-monetary benefits that could increase their impact! Although some of the content would not be 100% relevant, most of the tools we cover are cross-applicable to any negotiation. The basic framework of the programme would also allow participants to replace "salary goal" with their alternative negotiation goal.
Is there a market for products mixing plant-based and animal protein? Is advocating for "selective omnivores" / reducitarianism / mixed diets neglected - with regards to animal welfare?

And the good old (not very tasty, I admit) cheap plant-burgers are being totally replaced by the delicious & expensive & very well-marketed "fake meat burgers" everywhere.


The last calculation I did indicated that the old plant-based burgers were lower price per mass, but actually higher price per calorie than the new ones. And the price for the new ones is falling rapidly.

I didn't know that. On the one hand, that's great: it implies something like, if you're trying to feed your family, you'd be better off buying one fake-meat burger instead of six of the old ones. But actually calories are pretty cheap - if you're optimizing for that, you can just fry things in oil / fat, or buy more carbs, right? Maybe protein mass would be a better proxy for nutritional value in this case. That's the food insecurity issue I'm currently worried about. Plus, I'm not sure if optimizing for calories should be a concern when we think about replacing animal products in affluent societies - even when it comes to mildly poor people (who often replace their diet with cheaper but less healthy products). Actually, one of the usual reasons people offer for reducing or eliminating animal products is the corresponding decrease in kcal consumption - and I often avoid fake-meat burgers precisely because they're too fatty (but I guess that's the price of satisfaction). ... Or perhaps I just miss my old skinny hard dry soy burger :(
A huge opportunity for impact: movement building at top universities

I agree that filtering is important - the easy thing to do is target the honors colleges (or whatever they call them) within the universities.

Agree that honors college students are an attractive organizing opportunity. One could look at U.S. public flagships that reel in a disproportionate share of National Merit Scholars (UF, University of Minnesota, etc.) for their honors programs as starting points. These, and other talent-dense schools like Penn State, are very promising. To your point here:

I think the capability is there (and perhaps less entitlement).

EA might gain more mindshare at public honors colleges. Students at those schools strike me as a bit scrappier/more focused than students at ... (read more)

A huge opportunity for impact: movement building at top universities

Please see my reply to devanshpandey. Also, I edited that I was interested in seeing the math on standard deviations between universities.

A huge opportunity for impact: movement building at top universities

Of course we need to prioritize. The Nobel example we have data for, but I think that is too high a bar. My point is that there are probably a similar number of potential EAs at the big relatively high ranking state schools like University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign or University of Texas at Austin as there are at Princeton. The state school students may have lower wealth and political connections, but I think the capability is there (and perhaps less entitlement). (Disclosure: I went to Penn State, Princeton, and University of Colorado at Boulder.)

8Will Bradshaw5mo
I agree that size is a really important consideration that could substantially upend the math here. As long as a Campus Centre at a big-and-good-but-not-stellar school could find decent methods to filter for potential EAs (I think they could, but think this is the weakest point in the argument) they could easily achieve comparable impact to a small top-flight school. I'd be excited to see someone have a crack at generating an alternative priority list for Campus Centres taking this into account, to see if it actually differs from CEA's list. (I think taking into account "the track record of its group, and the quality of the group’s current plans", which seem like good factors for prioritising the initial round, will probably make the two lists more similar, though.)
Biosecurity needs engineers and materials scientists

There are also alternative proteins and resilient foods (ALLFED) for physical engineers.

A huge opportunity for impact: movement building at top universities

I am skeptical and would like to see the math on standard deviations. For the US, according to this, about one third of Nobel prizes were awarded to people who did their undergraduate at a non top 100 global university (and I'm pretty sure it would be the majority outside the global top 20 that are in the US). And you don't have to win a Nobel Prize in order to become an EA! So I think there is lots of potential talent for EA outside the global top 100, at least at the undergraduate level. A key factor here is size - many of the most elite schools are not ... (read more)

I mean sure, but what's important here isn't really the absolute number of intelligent/ambitious people, but the relative concentration of them. One third of Nobel prizes going to people who didn't complete their undergrad at a top 100 global university means that 2/3 of the Nobel prizes did. Out of ~30K global universities, 2/3 of Nobels are concentrated in the top 100. The talent exists outside top universities, but focusing on them with limited resources seems more tractable than spreading thin with lower average intelligence/ambition.

I think the math is going to be roughly that if 1/3 of the prizes go to schools 1-10, 1/3 to schools 11-100, and 1/3 to schools 101-onwards, then the hit rate (in terms of prizewinners) goes up by an order of magnitude each time you narrow your target audience. So if you're going to target non-elite schools, and you can't fully support hundreds of schools, you'd want to do that outreach at least somewhat more cheaply - making books available or something.
Zvi's Thoughts on the Survival and Flourishing Fund (SFF)

The substantive complaint was that they [ALLFED] did an invalid calculation when calculating the annual probability of nuclear war. They did a survey to establish a range of probabilities, then they averaged them. One could argue about what kinds of ‘average them’ moves work for the first year, but over time the lack of a nuclear war is Bayesian evidence in favor of lower probabilities and against higher probabilities. It’s incorrect to not adjust for this, and the complaint was not merely the error, but that the error was pointed out and not corrected.

Tl;... (read more)

Zvi has now put a postscript in the ALLFED section above. We have updated []the inadvertent nuclear war fault tree model result based on no nuclear war since the data stopped coming in, and also reduced the annual probability of nuclear war further going forward. And then, so as to not over claim on cost effectiveness, we did not include a correction for non-inadvertent US/Russia nuclear war nor conflict with China. Resilient foods are still highly competitive with AGI safety according to the revised model.
Are we going to run out of phosphorous?

P2O5 is 44% phosphorus by mass. Wiki:

Unprocessed phosphate rock has a concentration of 1.7-8.7% phosphorus by mass (4-20% phosphorus pentoxide).

In 2021, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that economically extractable phosphate rock reserves worldwide are 71 billion tons, while world mining production in 2020 was 223 million tons.[5] Assuming zero growth, the reserves would thus last for 260 years. 

So I think reserves are in phosphate rock, so you need to have production/consumption in terms of phosphate rock, not in terms of P2O5. T... (read more)

2John G. Halstead5mo
ah good catch - i will make an alteration to the post
Are we going to run out of phosphorous?

I agree overall, but Wikipedia says the USGS says that 223 million tons of phosphate rock are mined per year, so 260 years of reserves.

2John G. Halstead5mo
Hi dave, thanks for flagging this. yeah this is on p123 here []. It seems like mine production is different to total consumption - we're mining more than we consume it would appear. From the point of view of running out of the resource, consumption rather than consumption is what matters, and USGS says "World consumption of P2O5 contained in fertilizer and industrial uses was projected to increase to 49 million tons in 2024 from 47 million tons in 2020."
Seeking a Collaboration to Stop Hurricanes?

There are already upward convection currents of warm moist air over the ocean, at least during the day (these turn off at night over land, but I'm not sure about over the ocean). These would go up to the top of the atmospheric boundary layer (~1 km up). So are you saying these waterspouts would somehow penetrate the top of the atmospheric boundary layer or work at night?

1Anthony Repetto6mo
Oh, I only expect that the water spouts could be activated once the sun had accumulated enough over-heated high-humidity air within the tarp-layers... sometime late in the afternoon. Yet, the water spout removes more of the surface humidity than would convect otherwise - this allows further evaporation and cooling of surface waters. If that effect is strong enough, over a large area per water spout, then it might weaken hurricanes when they pass. I don't expect the water spouts to carry most of their moisture high into the air, as adiabatic cooling will condense the majority of it quickly. Yet, that plume would still leave moisture high enough for mixing, and it would be hot and humid, pushing higher. If that can increase cloud cover without a thousand airplanes dumping chemicals, that sort of geo-engineering might be an easier pitch to the public & government. [Note: The key difference between the water spout and natural convection is that a vortex will sustain itself at a higher rate of flow, fueled faster by the thermal gradient. My hope is that this would increase surface evaporation enough to cool waters, weakening the storm. Clouds would be nice, however much we can get; I just expect evaporation to play a larger role.]
EA megaprojects continued

ALLFED has nearly completed our prioritization, and given the amount of commercialization that has already been done on resilient foods, we think we are ready to partner with other companies to do piloting of the most promising solutions in a way that is valuable for global catastrophes (e.g. very fast construction). Repurposing a paper mill for sugar (and protein if the feedstock is agricultural residues) is a good large project. But there is also fast construction of pilot scale of natural gas (methane) single cell protein and the fast construction of pi... (read more)

Is it no longer hard to get a direct work job?

Maybe some orgs who have been hiring consistently could share the trend on number of applicants per position?

6Aaron Gertler6mo
CEA had 183 applicants for a copyeditor position in 2019 [] (I think I advertised the position too widely and undershot the amount of experience I was looking for). Only one person got the position; however, I referred several other strong applicants to positions at other organizations, so you could view the "success" rate as 1/61 rather than 1/183.

Here are roles Rethink Priorities has hired for since 2020. There hasn't been any real trend as far as I can see, except that my subjective impression is that the number of highly qualified applicants for research roles and operations roles is up, suggesting that it is getting harder to get a job at RP.

Our most competitive hiring round was for an Operations Associate a few months ago. Our researcher roles are in specific cause areas, so it's hard to compare directly to when we hired general researchers, but my impression is that they are up. We consistentl... (read more)

A Red-Team Against the Impact of Small Donations

Ok, so we agree that having $1 billion is better despite diminishing returns. So I still don't understand this statement:

When EA was more funding constrained, a $1M grant with 10X ROI looked better than a $1B grant with 5x ROI

Are you saying that in 2011, we would have preferred $1M over $1B? Or does "look better" just refer to the benefit to cost ratio?

I think I see the confusion. No, I meant an intervention that could produce 10x ROI on $1M looked better than an intervention that could produce 5x ROI on $1B, and now the opposite is true (or should be).
A Red-Team Against the Impact of Small Donations

So it's like a benefit to cost ratio. So I can see with diminishing returns to more money, the benefit to cost ratio could be half. So with $1 million in the early days of EA, we could have $10 million of impact. But now that we have $1 billion, we can have $5 billion of impact. It seems like the latter scenario is still much better. Am I missing something?

Uhh, I'm not sure if I'm misunderstanding or you are. My original point in the post was supposed to be that the current scenario is indeed better.
A Red-Team Against the Impact of Small Donations

The point I’m trying to get across is that earning to give to top EA causes is still perhaps (to use made-up numbers) in the 98th percentile of impactful things you might do; while these things might be, say, 99.5-99.9th percentile.

I think this is a very useful way of putting it. I would be interested in anyone trying to actually quantify this (even to just get the right order of magnitude from the top). I suspect you have already done something in this direction when you decide what jobs to list on your job board.

A Red-Team Against the Impact of Small Donations

There's some tradeoff curve between cost-effectiveness and scale. When EA was more funding constrained, a $1M grant with 10X ROI looked better than a $1B grant with 5x ROI, but now the reverse is true.

Could you explain what you mean by 10X ROI?

Yeah, that's a good question. It's underspecified, and depends on what your baseline is. We might say "for $1 donated, how much can we increase consumption". Or "for $1 donated, how much utility do we create?" The point isn't really that it's 10x or 5x, just that one opportunity is roughly 2x better than the other. [] That's not exactly "Return on Investment", but it's a convenient shorthand.
Takeaways from our interviews of Spanish Civil Protection servants

Very interesting! Could you say how open you think they are to planning for global catastrophic risks?

5Jaime Sevilla6mo
(disclaimer: this is my opinion) In short: Spanish civil protection would not as of today consider making plans to address specific GCRs There is this weird tension where they believe that resilience is very important, and that planning in advance is nearly useless for non-recurring risks. The civil protection system is very geared towards response. Foresight, mitigation and prevention seldom happens.This means they are quite keen on improving their general response capacity but they have no patience for hypotheticals. So they would not consider specific GCRs. Even if they wanted to address GCRs, their hands are relatively tied (at least at the national level) - the risks they do specific preparation for are encoded in the law and modifying the list of priority risks would require passing an amendment. In their opinion some things like geomagnetic storms which could theoretically unleash a global catastrophe are to be addressed by the generalist response plans. And, at least one high ranked person thinks a specific plan for responding to solar storms and similar risks is could be created, but not without a coordinated technical and policy response at the European level. On the other hand we have seen some autonomies that have enacted their own special civil protection plans independently, but for minor risks (eg coastal environmental protection).And for example Madrid's city hall wants to have better maps of which expertise is needed and where to find it for conceivable future emergencies. Also bear in mind that while civil protection is a very important part of risk management in Spain, it is not the only part. The national security system and other organizations might have different attitudes towards GCRs.

If you want to donate to ALLFED, please donate to Players Philanthropy Fund (our fiscal sponsor). I will update here with specific instructions as the donation step is not urgent.

This could be true for other charities under sponsorship.

Climate Change: Prevention vs Preperation

I think overall adaptation is more neglected than mitigation. There is quite a bit of work on drought and heat tolerant crops. However, there is very little work on scenarios of abrupt climate change, such as the shutdown of the thermohaline circulation that could cause abrupt cooling in Europe (and has in the past). There is also very little work on backup plans for extreme weather on multiple continents causing a multiple breadbasket failure. And there is very little work on adaption to extreme climate change that occurs slowly (over a century). ALLFED is trying to fill these gaps.

Make a $100 donation into $200 (or more)

I will donate to a charity of anyone's choice if you donate to ALLFED. This is where I have donated so far. Please message me through the forum.

Food Security: Pests and Diseases Report

Very interesting! I am curious as to whether there are any estimates of how much these losses could be reduced quickly, e.g. within a year for a catastrophe.

I’m glad you included cost effectiveness estimates.


representing a return on investment of 1:11, compared to 1:32 for generic agricultural research investments.


These appear to be cost to benefit ratios, rather than ROI, which is percent return per year. With cost to benefit ratios, listing the discount rate would be helpful.

1Oscar Delaney7mo
Good point, I have fixed it to now refer to cost-benefit ratios. They used a 5% discount rate, though they found similar results under 3% and 10%. I did not come across any research on the rapid reduction of food losses. Market mechanisms could play a significant role here I imagine, as if the price of food quadrupled after a catastrophe impacting food-production, all actors would be far more motivated to reduce wastage even when it requires extra labour or money. If a food crisis is looming, governments would also increase their focus on maximising production and minimising wastage, which could also bring significant resources to bear on the problem. So I think post-harvest losses would be markedly reduced rapidly. But sadly no quantification or proper research on this that I am aware of.
On the assessment of volcanic eruptions as global catastrophic or existential risks

One of the authors here - yes there is risk trying to prevent an eruption. Lower risk and providing protection against many other catastrophes than volcanic is preparing to scale up resilient foods quickly. It is also more cost effective.

8Mike Cassidy7mo
Hi David, yes totally agree and meant to add this to my answer above. In fact, I think our post only strengthens the case for looking into resilient foods.
Beyond fire alarms: freeing the groupstruck

this seems to have involved waves of escalating and de-escalating average concern with very high variance in individual concern and action in which purportedly some people have continued to favor more incaution to their graves, and others have seemingly died of caution.

How have people died of caution?

I think she might be referring to this case:
Some Thoughts on Cultured Meat Feasibility

??? other tech alternatives

Protein from seaweed (which GFI is now interested in), methane consuming single cell protein, hydrogen consuming single cell protein, leaf protein concentrate, and maybe even electrically powered single cell protein, though it looks like they are better at producing vinegar than protein.

Thanks for helping to extend the list!
Great Power Conflict

From the same reference, twelve out of 16 times that there has been a switch in which is the most militarily powerful country in the world, there has been war (though one should not take that literally for the current situation). China will likely become the most powerful (economically at least) in the next few decades, unless the US allows a lot more immigration.

Resilient food

They have started work, but I'm not aware of any publications yet.

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