PhD student in philosophy at the ANU; previously worked at the Global Priorities Institute
This is pretty off-topic, sorry.
I think this is actually quite a complex question.
Definitely! I simplified it a lot in the post.
If the chance is high enough, it may in fact be prudent to front-load your donations, so that you can get as much out of yourself with your current values as possible.
Good point! I hadn't thought of this. I think it ends up being best to frontload if your annual risk of giving up isn't very sensitive to the amount you donate, it's high, and your income isn't going to increase a whole lot over your lifetime. I think those first two things might be true of a lot of people. And so will the third thing, effectively, if your income doesn't increase by more than 2-3x.
If we take the data from here with 0 grains of salt, you're actually less likely to have value drift at 50% of income (~43.75% chance of value drift) than 10% (~63.64% of value drift). There are many reasons this might be, such as consistency and justification effects, but the point is the object level question is complicated :).
My guess is that the main reason for that is that more devoted people tend to pledge higher amounts. I think if you took some of those 10%ers and somehow made them choose to switch to 50%, they'd be far more likely than before to give up.
But yeah, it's not entirely clear that P(giving up) increases with amount donated, or that either causally affects the other. I'm just going by intuition on that.
In reality, if we can figure out how to give a lot for one or two years without becoming selfish, we are more likely to sustain that for a longer period of time. This boosts the case for making larger donations.
Yep, I agree. In general, the real-life case is going to be more complicated in a bunch of ways, which tug in both directions.
Still, I suspect that, even if someone managed to donate a lot for a few years, there'd still be some small independent risk of giving up each year. And even a small such risk cuts down your expected lifetime donations by quite a bit: e.g., a 1% p.a. risk of giving up for 37 years cuts down the expected value by 16% (and far more if your income increases over time).
Moreover, I rather doubt that the probability of turning selfish and giving up on Effective Altruism can be nearly as high as 50% in a given year. If it were that high, I think we'd have more evidence of it, in spite of the typical worries regarding how we can hear back from people who aren't interested anymore.
Yep, that seems right. Certainly at the 10% donation level, it should be a lot lower than 50% (I hope!). I was thinking of 50% p.a. as the probability of giving up after ramping up to 90% per year, at least in my own circumstances (living on a pretty modest grad student stipend).
Also, there's a little bit of relevant data on this in this post. Among the 38 people that person surveyed, the dropout rate was >50% over 5 years. So it's pretty high at least. But not clear how much of that was due to feeling it was too demanding and then getting demotivated, rather than value drift.
Also, this doesn't break your point, but I think percentages are the wrong way to think about this. In reality, donations should be much more dependent upon local cost of living than upon your personal salary. If COL is $40k and you make $50k then donate up to $10k. If COL is $40k and you make $200k then donate up to $160k.
Yes, good point! I'd agree that that's a better way to look at it, especially for making broad generalisations over different people.
The assumption that if she gives up, she is most likely to give up on donating completely seems not obvious to me. I would think that it's more likely she scales back to a lower level, which would change the conclusion.
Yep, I agree that that's probably more likely. I focused on giving up completely to keep things simple. But if it's even somewhat likely (say, 1% p.a.), that may make a far bigger dent in your expected lifelong donations than do risks of giving up partially.
Perhaps we should be encouraging a strategy where people increase their percentage donated by a few percentage points per year until they find the highest sustainable level for them. Combined with a community norm of acceptance for reductions in amounts donated, people could determine their highest sustainable donation level while lowering risk of stopping donations entirely.
That certainly sounds sensible to me!
I'd add one more: having to put your resources towards more speculative, chancy causes is more demanding.
When donating our money and time to something like bednets, the cost is mitigated by the personal satisfaction of knowing that we've (almost certainly) had an impact. When donating to some activity which has only a tiny chance of success (e.g., x-risk mitigation), most of us won't get quite the same level of satisfaction. And that's pretty demanding to have to give up not only a large chunk of your resources but also the satisfaction of having actually achieved something.
Rob Long has written a bit about this -
Sorry about that, I hadn't seen that thread. Consider me well and truly chastened!
Thanks! Glad you liked it. It's currently just a preview and not actually published yet, so that's why some links and functionality may not work (and the post on the model I used is still yet to go up).
In regards to Q1 - I would like to, yeah. When it comes to the probabilities of different levels of warming though, it's super uncertain. The ~1% chance of 10 degrees of warming is only under one of several possible probability distributions and we really just don't have any clue which of those distributions is accurate. And in addition to the uncertainty there, we know very little about just how bad those high levels of warming would be for us as there's minimal research on it, so giving expected values would be a major challenge - one which I'm not sure I'm up to, but which definitely warrants some more research in future. There's also the values and risk profiles of different donors to think of too - many want direct measurable benefits rather than minor reductions in existential risk somewhere in the future - so even if we got a decent estimate of the expected impact of emission reduction including tail risks, it'd have to be given separately.
Q2 - Largely the same issue as above - seriously difficult to estimate. But as far as mentioning them, that's certainly something that can be added in before we publish. Cheers for that!
Q3 - Yeah, so reducing present emissions just temporarily won't really help much (unless it gives us longer to adapt). But when I'm talking about emissions reduction, I mean permanently preventing that quantity of emissions from ever being emitted (e.g. through deforestation). Reducing (or preventing) emissions in this way should not only delay the point at which we reach a given temperature but also reduce the eventual peak temperature. And Michael's spot on with his reply too (we haven't looked at methane emissions specifically here but it does seem like it might be possible to reduce methane emissions at roughly $5/tCO2eq through ACE's recommended animal charities - highly uncertain though).
Q4 - I've also just finished an evaluation of the most promising lobbying organisation we've found. It should be up sometime soon. We think it might be a slightly better option for donors with a greater appetite for risk, but for others it still seems like Cool Earth is the better option.
Q5 - The US. That seems pretty certain, as they're not only a massive emitter (2nd worldwide) but it's pretty widely accepted that a lot of action elsewhere won't happen if the US doesn't get the ball rolling. This'll get mentioned in that other evaluation though.
Q6 - I'm not sure. It probably wouldn't be a bad use of most people's time, and the advocacy charity we've been looking at does use a lot of volunteers. Then again, they're currently getting hundreds of thousands of volunteer-hours each year already so it might be more effective to volunteer elsewhere or in a different cause area. I really don't know though.
Also, if anyone wants to comment on particular parts of the report, you can also comment directly in the original Google docs.
Main report: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1dZ_82IImZ5iGJ56hOydExurOfYY2zRITlXBRcaSs5v8/edit?usp=sharing
Cool Earth Evaluation: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_QDKPhPB9l1pQbESDiyOmEpPYc1oEVEP3wf7Q5aqjnw/edit?usp=sharing