Halstead

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Avoiding the Repugnant Conclusion is not necessary for population ethics: new many-author collaboration.

Echoing what Max says, I think this paper comes from the assumption that a lot of population ethics is just off down the wrong track of trying to craft theories in a somewhat ad hoc manner that avoid the repugnant conclusion. It is difficult to think of how else these people could try and make this point given that making the same points that others have made before, in some cases several decades ago, would not be publishable because they are not novel. This strikes me as something of a (frustrated?) last resort to try and make the discipline acknowledge that there might be a problem in the way it has been going for thirty years. 

I suppose one alternative would have been to publish this on a philosophy blog, but then it would necessarily have got less reach than getting it in a top journal. 

Although unusual in philosophy, the practice is widespread in science. Scientists will often write in short letters criticising published articles that are light on substantive argument but reiterate a view among some prominent researchers. 

Finally, I think it is useful to have more surveys of what different researchers in a field believe, and this is one such instance of that - it tells us that several of the world's best moral philosophers are willing to accept this thing that everyone else seems to think is insane. 

Julia Galef and Matt Yglesias on bioethics and "ethics expertise"

I think a key point is that bioethics usually involves applying particular moral theories, which is not that interesting an exercise from a philosophical point of view. That's why the best philosophers are often drawn to higher level theoretical questions such as about the truth of otherwise of consequentialism or rights-based theories or whether and how we should respond to moral uncertainty. Consequently, the true ethics experts (if they really exist) are not likely to be studying bioethics. as they say in the podcast it is also weird that bioethics has this special status as a field with a distinct set of experts who get to veto public policy. In most areas of public policy, the economists get to decide what happens (subject to political constraints), and the outcomes are usually much better!

Response to Phil Torres’ ‘The Case Against Longtermism’

If you agree it is a serious and baseless allegation, why do you keep engaging with him? The time to stop engaging with him was several years ago. You had sufficient evidence to do so at least two years ago, and I know that because I presented you with it, e.g. when he started casually throwing around rape allegations about celebrities on facebook and tagging me in the comments, and then calling me and others nazis. Why do  you and your colleagues continue to extensively collaborate with him? 

To reiterate, the arguments he makes are not sincere: he only makes them because he thinks the people in question have wronged him. 

Response to Phil Torres’ ‘The Case Against Longtermism’

It is  very generous to characterise Torres' post as insightful and thought provoking. He characterises various long-termists as white  supremacists on the flimsiest grounds imaginable. This is a very serious accusation and one that he very obviously throws around due to his own personal vendettas against certain people. e.g. despite many of his former colleagues at CSER also being long-termists he doesn't call them nazis because he doesn't believe they have slighted him. Because I made the mistake of once criticising him, he spent much of the last two years calling me a white supremacist, even though the piece of mine he cited did not even avow belief in long-termism.  

Assessing Climate Change’s Contribution to Global Catastrophic Risk

On species extinctions, you cite the Thomas et al estimate that climate change would cause "15-37% of all species to become ‘committed to extinction’ by mid-century". This paper has been subject to an avalanche of criticism. For example, there is a good review here, and strong counter-evidence discussed at length here.  I think it would be useful to the reader to provide this context. 

Also, this is just one study (also the most pessimistic), and I think one would get a better view by providing an overview of the literature. The IPBES report that you also cite says "For instance, a synthesis of many studies estimates that the fraction of species at risk of extinction due to climate change is 5 per cent at 2°C warming, rising to 16 per cent at 4.3°C warming {4.2.1.1}." 4.3 degrees is the median outcome at 2100 on the high emissions pathway. Being committed to extinction is also very different to being at risk of extinction. This suggests that the risk is a lot lower than the Thomas et al estimate suggests. 

Assessing Climate Change’s Contribution to Global Catastrophic Risk

The factors you mention therefore seem to increase vulnerability, but merely in the following sense 

  • Some of the factors don't seem relevant at all (phosphorous depletion)
  • The food system will be much less vulnerable in the future vs today despite these factors.
  • Some other event would have to do 99% of the work in bringing about a global food catastrophe
EA Updates for March 2021

thanks for taking the time to do this!

Deference for Bayesians

I think I would find it very hard to update on the view that the minimum wage reduces demand for labour. Maybe if there were an extremely well done RCT showing no effect from a large minimum wage increase of $10, I would update. Incidentally, here is discussion of an RCT on the minimum wage which illustrates where the observational studies might be going wrong. The RCT shows that employers reduced hours worked, which wouldn't show up in observational studies, which mainly study disemployment effects

I am very conscious of the fact that almost everyone I have ever tried to convince of this view on the minimum wage remains wholly unmoved. I should make it clear that I am in favour of redistribution through tax credits, subsidies for childcare and that kind of thing. I think the minimum wage is not a smart way to help lower income people. 

Assessing Climate Change’s Contribution to Global Catastrophic Risk

I would agree with that - climate change seems like it could have very bad humanitarian costs for poor agrarian societies that look set to experience low economic growth this century. I do though find it very difficult to see how it could lead to a collapse of the global food system

Assessing Climate Change’s Contribution to Global Catastrophic Risk

Thanks for sharing this. 

Regarding food, you suggest that due to climate change, soil erosion, water scarcity, and phosphorus depletion, there are risks to the global food supply that could constitute a global catastrophe. What do you think is the probability of this occurring in the next 30 or 80 years?

I am  sceptical of this. Crop yields for almost all crops have increased by 200% since 1980, despite warming of about 0.8 degrees since then. The crop effects of climate change you outline, which are typically on the order of  up to 20%  losses for major food crops at 5 degrees, should be set in this context. Various studies suggest that yield will increase by 25% to 150% by 2050. e.g UN FAO; Wiebe. The yield damage estimates you cite seem like they will be outpaced by technological progress unless there is a massive trend break in agricultural productivity progress. 

On phosphorous, according to a report by the IFDC funded by USAID, global phosphorous reserves (those which can be currently economically extracted, so this is a dynamic figure) will last for 300-400 years. "Based on the data gathered, collated and analyzed for this report, there is no indication that a "peak phosphorus" event will occur in 20-25 years. IFDC estimates of world phosphate rock reserves and resources indicate that phosphate rock of suitable quality to produce phosphoric acid will be available far into the future. Based on the data reviewed, and assuming current rates of production, phosphate rock concentrate reserves to produce fertilizer will be available for the next 300-400 years." The US geological survey says "World resources of phosphate rock are more than 300 billion tons. There are no imminent shortages of phosphate rock."

On water scarcity, agriculture is about 4% of global GDP and declining. If water became enough of a constraint on agriculture to threaten a global catastrophe, why would we not throw some money or wisdom at the problem for example by spending more money on water, desalination, or stopping subsidising agricultural uses of water? Have any middle or high income countries ever failed to produce more than enough food because of lack of water?

On soil erosion, the UN report on soil says "A synthesis of meta-analyses on the soil erosion-productivity relationship suggests that a global median loss of 0.3 percent of annual crop yield due to erosion occurs.7 If this rate of loss continues unchanged into the future, a total reduction of 10 percent of potential annual yield by 2050 would occur". again, this is in the context of otherwise increasing yields. Soil erosion rates are also declining in various regions. 

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