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Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead

Sorry, I was in a bit of a rush and should have looked at your link before giving too quick an answer – in that case I would have understood what you had already seen and considered. My bad!

Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead

Thanks for the good question, I hope they raise the topic at the event! 

It might not be completely satisfactory to what you're looking for, but from what I hear it seems like the work at givinggreen.earth seems to have exactly those people in mind by giving more recommendations than just policy.

I have anecdotal evidence from Swedish donors being happier with BURN Manufacturing as an evidence backed climate intervention with positive effects on the local community, than an option more effective on a co2e/$ basis.

One question we might still want to ask ourselves, if Clean Air Task Force are >10x as effective as the more accessible choice – would it perhaps be worth losing 9 in 10 potential donors and still have a larger effect? Personally I would imagine a second best option can have a gateway effect to be more receptible to evidence based giving, and make this a priority in future donations.

Thoughts on Personal Finance for Effective Altruists

Personal pet peeve of mine: calling time spent on public transport "time lost".

If I spend an hour or two extra (by taking a train vs taking a bus) I would most of the time spend that extra time doing the same thing I would at the office or at home. (Working, reading, catching up with friends through texts, watching a movie)

In some contexts this is a sensitive argument, because not all people can do their work from public transport, but a very high percentage of EAs are knowledge workers that can.

This of course depends on the comfortability of the mode of transport. I see situations where the train also permits more work to be done because of comfortability more suitable to work – but the opposite can also be the case at times. Especially if one has already invested in those noise-cancelling headphones you mentioned.

Thanks for a good post! You might consider linking to Rob Wiblin's "Things I recommend you buy and use" as it has some overlap with the perspectives of this post.

Why I'm concerned about Giving Green

Thank you to everyone participating for the thorough discussion and raising the issue. I'm Henri Thunberg, the sole FTE of geeffektivt.se, the Swedish site picking up Giving Green's research that was mentioned early on in Alex's post. I wanted to elaborate on our reasoning to include Giving Green research. Nearly all of the decisions below were taken by me, and do not reflect the opinions of colleagues, volunteers, or other supporters.

A major data point for us to include climate as a cause area on our site was the fact that climate constituted 32% of the money raised by effektiv-spenden.org (a German regranting organization) in 2019. This spoke to our intuition that there are lots of inefficient solutions within climate, and that people are asking for promising organisations to donate to. We were particularly interested in bringing non-EA donations to the site, and thought climate would be an excellent way to do so in Sweden. We saw an opportunity to do so because of the ongoing debate around carbon offsets/personal footprint creating awareness of the risk for relatively bad solutions in a much more widespread way than for global health and animal welfare.

I was considering referring to Founders Pledge's research rather than Giving Green. The reason I didn't in the end was to some extent a worry that some of our users who are not familiar with FP might have a hard time understanding why we're using the research of such an organization in particular when recommending climate charities.

I would like to thank Daniel Stein from Giving Green for making time to talk to me in December when we were launching the climate section of our site. Personally, I root for their mission and, like many others, I have been impressed with Giving Green's work in such a brief time, and would very much like to see them grow. Partly to have more time for researching their recommendations, but also to reach a wider audience. I think a way that our site can contribute to making that happen is to show that there is a demand for this kind of research, and to see what level of impact GG would have through us.

Notes on BURN & the Sunrise Movement

Regarding the Sunrise Movement, we saw at least two reasons to be doubtful; the evidence seemed tenuous, and there were concerns about (local) opposition to nuclear energy and CCS.  In the end that was the only charity out of the Giving Green recommendations that we chose to not put on our website. At the time we saw it more as it being "put on hold" than a definite rejection of TSM, but it seems like the critique in this forum post will further decrease the chances of us recommending them.

As I was a bit concerned about the general critique against cook stoves and relying on a single RCT for BURN, I have been in contact with experts from Stockholm Environmental Institute to get further external input on the evidence. Their response was initially positive regarding BURN, to the point that we have not excluded that recommendation. That communication with SEI is still ongoing, and hopefully something I can get their permission both to relay to Giving Green and post in this thread. We think many of our donors might appreciate the economic and health benefits that come with BURN, as our typical user chooses global health as the preferred cause area.

Our donation data so far within climate

After around one month with the Giving Green recommendations on our site, we stand at around €1,363 in climate donations out of our €38k total (excluding Facebook fundraisers). At this point, it should be stated that global health has been on our website as a cause for about twice as long (since early December 2020) compared to animal welfare (~€970 raised) and climate. This is especially skewed since that extra time was during giving season/launch. 

Out of the 36 donations to climate as a cause area, 58% of the money (16/36 donations) chose the option "Let us choose within climate" rather than a specific charity. I expect the climate donations that we dispose of freely to go to Clean Air Task Force. Furthermore, those who chose a specific charity went mostly for CATF with 17.5% (11 donations). A total of  25% went to BURN, Climeworks and Tradewater through three donations each. Unfortunately, our systems are not yet well prepared to answer any question on the reasoning of our donors that made Clean Air Task Force the prevailing choice.

Reflection moving forward

Both before and after this forum post I have had some thoughts on how we could include climate on our site in a way that is in line with what we want to achieve.

  • It seems a major concern of this original post is putting Giving Green research on equal footing with GiveWell. We will add a text highlighting how much work went into the GiveWell research. We will describe Giving Green as a new and promising organization starting to do similar work within climate, while also mentioning their strategy to guide a wide audience with particular preferences in addition to cost-effectiveness.
  • We will include a text about the importance of choosing cause area wisely somewhere close to the descriptions of GiveWell, ACE, and Giving Green.
  • We will keep having Clean Air Task Force as the first and thus most visible option on the site
  • We have now made the estimated cost-effectiveness per CO2e more visible to users to underline that there is a difference.
    • As far as I understand we're currently lacking such number estimates for BURN and Trade water, but from Daniel's comment above it seems like Giving Green might aim to get such estimates in the future.
    • This could possibly be emphasized further through some kind of "badge" in line with "Most cost-effective", in addition to the text we already have, although I suspect many unfortunately won't read that far. I appreciate the language used by Giving Green to highlight the differences between their recommendations, and those might be what we go for.

I would appreciate further input on how we, especially with regard to climate, could act in a way that is intellectually honest, minimizes EA reputational risks and maximizes the good we do through raised donations.

Taking advantage of climate change concerns to channel donations to EA-recommended organizations at low marginal cost (proposal and call for more research)

Personal reflection: Most opportunities to discuss this with people around me come up when they want to offset a flight or their yearly emissions. In line with your reasoning above the dollar amount for offsetting is surprisingly low to most people, which might be met by incredulity.

In those cases it doesn't seem like they have a fixed amount of money in mind, but rather an amount of CO2, meaning me recommending an effective charity for offsetting just means they get to keep more of their money for other spending (in most cases of people asking me for advice unlikely to be charitable).

I have been thinking about the best ways to approach this. Foremost I would always use the upper bound of the Founder's Pledge report, it's still not at a $/ton level that gets people worried. Then there are some options...
A) Use a more "mainstream" offset calculator to get a higher dollar amount needed, but use that full dollar amount to offset a higher amount of CO2 with an effective charity.
B) Try to reason from a "How much are you ready to spend on this?" viewpoint, where social pressure will make them suggest higher amounts per CO2e than the FP report estimates. If their reasoning is on the low side of things, one can always nudge them toward A)
C) Point to the cheap cost per ton and try to get them to offset their whole lifestyle rather than just a particular flight.
D) Start from B), but suggest that the difference between [Ready to spend amount] – [Cost of offsetting according to FP report] should go to a charity within a more highly prioritized cause area than climate change in order to both put the conscience at rest while also taking the opportunity to do more good.