jackva

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How valueable are external reviews?

I hope to have time for a longer comment on Monday, but for now some quick clarifications (I work at FP and currently lead the climate work):

1. Linch's comment on FP funding is roughly right, for FP it is more that a lot of FP members do not have liquidity yet (it is a pledge on liquidity events).

2. I spent >40h engaging with the original FP Climate Report as an external expert reviewer (in 2017 and 2018, before I joined FP in 2019). There were also lots of other external experts consulted.

3. There isn't, as of now, an agreed-to-methodology on how to evaluate advocacy charities, you can't hire an expert for this. Orgs like FP, SoGive, OPP, try to evaluate methodologies to do this kind of work, but there is no single template. The approach we chose is, roughly, cluster-based reasoning and integrating lots of different considerations and models. I discuss this in  more detail here (second part of the comment).

4. As discussed in that comment, lots of expert-judgments and scientific results are reflected in the recommendation, but the ultimate cost-effectiveness estimates come from combining them. Crucially, something like a CATF recommendation, does not depend on  a single cost-effectiveness estimate that we describe as highly uncertain where ever we talk about it, but on (a) different ways to estimate cost-effectiveness, (b) most importantly, crucial considerations about the climate space and solutions (e.g. the main reason we think CATF is very high impact is because they focus on neglected solutions that can have large leverage for global decarbonization, see e.g. discussed here, with our view of what's important / effective / neglected driven by years of research + lots of conversations with experts), (c) have a long successful track record, and  (d) continuous investigations over time (> 80h this year alone) investigating CATF's current programs, funding margins, and plans.

5. Skepticism from external people on cost-effectiveness of philanthropy in climate comes, I think, in a large part from the false promises of cheap offsets that lack environmental integrity.
Because, when offsets cost < 1 USD/t they are not credible (and indeed, they aren't) whereas credible offsets are much more expensive (> 100 USD/t). So the fact that you can be much more cost-effective when you are risk-neutral and leverage several impact multipliers (advocacy, policy change, technological change, increased diffusion) is hard to explain and not intuitively plausible.




 

 

 

 


 

Miranda_Zhang's Shortform

"How do you convert a permit into CO2 removal using CDR technologies without selling them back into the compliance market – in effect negating the offset?

We will sell the permits back into the market, but only when we’re ready to use the proceeds to fund carbon removal projects equivalent to the number of permits we’re selling, or more. So, in effect, the permits going back onto the market are negated by the tons of carbon we are paying to remove."

Once credible CDR is so cheap (now > USD 100/t, most approaches over USD 600, cf Stripe Climate) that this works (current carbon prices around USD 20), the value of additional CDR tech support is pretty low because the learning curve has already been brought down.

Am I missing something?

It seems like a good way to buy  allowances which is, when the cap is fixed (also addressed in the FAQ, though not 100% convincingly) better than buying most offsets, but it seems unlikely to work in the way intended.
 

Giving Green: An early investigation into the impact of insider and outsider policy advocacy on climate change

Thanks, Dan & team, for that!  interesting to see how your thinking evolves. As requested, here are some comments:

On funding and room for funding:
1. Big Green over-funding is not the right reference class for neglected issue advocates and probably more informative for grassroots
2. As discussed, 2019 numbers for grassroots are not informative
3. Room for funding is larger, but that is not indicative of marginal impact

Other issues:
4. Rewiring America does not fit the bucket of working on high-impact neglected solutions 
5. Given time-lag and policy developments, post-midterm seems the environment against which to evaluate new US recs

 

1. Big Green over-funding is not the right reference class for neglected issue advocates and probably more informative for grassroots
I wouldn’t make assumptions about the funding of neglected tech advocates based on Big Green over-funding. (Just for reference, CATF is about 5-20x less than the Big Green groups and 1/3 to 1/2 of that budget is not focused on US).

To take the relative over-funding of Big Green  as evidence of the over-funding of neglected tech advocates suggests that there are similar trends behind funding Big Green and neglected tech advocates but not grassroots.

Prima facie, it seems much more likely that someone switches from, say, Sierra Club to Sunrise rather than to CATF, as ideologically Sierra Club is much closer to Sunrise than CATF is. In addition, Big Green groups are much more similar to what you call outside groups / grassroots in that they have regional chapters etc. and that they have a broad name recognition (They also serve a similar function, namely building broad support for climate policy).

Roughly, the superficially interested climate donor (that doesn’t do a lot of research) seems more likely to decide between Sierra Club and Sunrise, not Sierra Club and CATF.


 

2. 2019 numbers for grassroots are not informative

“In addition, many organizations reported total revenues in 2019 that were about an order of magnitude lower than what the Big Greens reported.”

As discussed at length before, the funding landscape for Sunrise has fundamentally changed, rendering the arguments about neglectedness moot. Unless there is a special argument for other movements being more neglected, this seems the right assumption for those other organizations as well. I am surprised this argument is resurrected without new data after the prior discussion on this was pretty conclusive, namely that the data to make the neglectedness argument was outdated and that new data pointed in different directions.
 

3. Room for funding is larger, but that is not indicative of marginal impact

It’s probably true that, in absolute terms, climate grassroot movements could absorb more money than inside groups because you could always fund marginal grassroots activity in another location. But that, by itself, does not tell us anything informative about where to spend money as long as we assume that marginal returns to funding decline.

You write that you think it is likely that impact grows linearly with funding for grassroots, which seems very surprising and unlikely.

Essentially this would mean that there is no prioritization on the part of grassroots movements, such as first funding the most impactful actions (in organizational infrastructure, say) or, when funding marginal grassroots activity, that these orgs would not first prioritize regions where returns are higher. What’s the basis for this intuition?

It seems much more likely (a) given the large funding for grassroots, (b) the general over-funding of American electoral politics, (c) the mobilization of the entire Democratic party towards climate action and (d) the ability of existing grassroots movements to get national attention with protests that the marginal impact of additional grassroots spending is ~0, in which case the actual room for funding still exists but it not being funded is OK.

Misc:

4. Rewiring America does not fit the bucket of working on high-impact neglected solutions 
I am not sure on which basis to group Rewiring America with CATF and Carbon180 under the bucket of advocates for neglected technologies that critically need more support. 

Rewiring America, as far as I know, primarily works on accelerating the electrification of residential energy consumption in the US (where residential includes personal vehicles, not only heat and electricity). The technologies involved in this are quite mature, on a winning streak (electric cars, residential batteries, heat pumps, rooftop solar, etc.), and widely popular.

On the other hand, CATF  in particular (and, to a lesser extent, Carbon180, given the recent boom in carbon removal interest) systematically work on the hardest parts of the decarbonization challenge such as industrial decarbonization (via their work on CCS and zero-carbon fuels), firm clean electricity (CCS, super-hot rock geothermal, advanced nuclear), and heavy-duty transport (zero-carbon fuels). These are key future emissions streams where it is unclear whether we will be able to decarbonize them in time to avoid the worst climate damages.

Speaking somewhat roughly, it’s pretty hard to imagine a future where the work of Rewiring America was critically important because accelerating already decarbonizing residential energy demand in the US was super important. It is, on the other hand, fairly easy to imagine worlds where we fail to get low-carbon cement at scale, low-carbon heavy duty transport (trucks, but also ships, aviation) at scale, seasonal storage is harder than we think and we really wish advanced nuclear / geothermal etc. would have succeeded, or where carbon removal solutions fail to reach maturity.
 

5. Given time-lag and policy developments, post-midterm seems the environment against which to evaluate new US recs
Yes, agreed that now in the US is a pivotal time, though ~80% of the climate-relevant policy decisions until the mid-terms will probably have been made once the infrastructure bills have passed (or failed).

Given the time lag of recommendation > more money > more action of charity X, probably the most important context under which to evaluate new US recommendations is their expected performance in the post-midterm environment. 

Except for if one believed there was a clear positive impact on the midterms, though IIRC your analysis indicated no such effect for Sunrise and it seems quite contested whether pushing candidates further to the respective parties’ extremes is helpful electorally. 
 

Betting on the best case: higher end warming is underrepresented in research

Paris Agreement targets are till 2030, so I'd be less deterministic wrt what is possible till 2100, looking at Liu and Raftery it sounds as though they are just extrapolating current trends.

In worlds where we would keep temperature <2C by 2100, I would expect large structural breaks, not getting there by trend extrapolation/incremental steps (e.g. decarbonization getting really cheap and easy at some point, or negative emissions becoming very affordable and scaleable etc.).

 

Betting on the best case: higher end warming is underrepresented in research

Cool stuff!

I don't think this changes the fundamental conclusion, but there are a couple of choices here that seem to make this imbalance larger than it really is:
 

  1. The Wagner and Weitzman probabilities are pre-Paris-Agreement era and newer estimates would probably put quite a bit lower probability on extreme warming levels (e.g. see here).
  2. Because policy targets are focused on 1.5 and 2 degrees, a lot of sections of the IPCC report will study those scenarios more, whereas the real concern seems the understudy of climate impacts (the problem is not that we don't have enough IAMs showing us how to get from 4 to 3.5 degrees but that we don't understand well what 3.5 and 4 degree worlds look like, right?).  If that is right, it seems a bit surprising you are looking at entire IPCC reports rather than only the relevant working groups. 




     
Further thoughts on charter cities and effective altruism

Founders Pledge is not a foundation at all and, indeed, Founders Pledge members can decide where to allocate their money, it is not centrally decided by FP as an org (though of course we try to convince our members to give to high-impact causes).

 

EA cause areas are just areas where great interventions should be easier to find

FWIW, this is pretty much the rationale behind the climate recs of FP, we recommend orgs we think can leverage the enormous societal resources poured into climate into the most productive uses within the space. In line with your reasoning we also think that events that increase overall allocation to climate might improve the cost-effectiveness of the climate recs (e.g. Biden's victory leading to higher returns).

I would also think (though don't know for certain) that OPP's recent bid to hire in global aid advocacy would draw on a similar theory of change, improving resource allocation in a field that is, comparatively speaking, not neglected.

Can someone verify offsetting or tree planting NGOs are bad?
Answer by jackvaJul 14, 202120

There's not necessarily a contradiction here, as both DGB and Klein describe specific instances (both could be true at the same time).

That said, EAs have, by and large, moved away from recommending forestry offsets for a host of reasons, including difficulty to ensure additionality and permanence.

You might also find this relevant: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/RnmZ62kuuC8XzeTBq/why-we-have-over-rated-cool-earth

Do we need to keep increasing energy consumption?

On your questions more directly:

Q1: In a world where a focus on lifestyle advocacy makes a large difference to emissions (i.e. is cost-effective), I am fairly unconcerned about climate -- this is not a world with a lot of climate risk.
Conversely, in the worlds where most of the risk is -- high growth pressures and low willingness to pay for climate -- such a strategy will not be cost-effective whereas a strategy focused on making low-carbon energy the option of choice irrespective of concern about climate will (what I called the "shit hits the fan principle" in the GWWC talk).

Q2: We know that there is at least one energy source that could reliably and sustainably power civilization for centuries (nuclear fission) and likely there are several more (solar, nuclear fusion, advanced geothermal). This mostly seems a problem if one wanted to power the entire civilization only with intermittent renewables in their current state (e.g. without them becoming more resource-efficient).

Do we need to keep increasing energy consumption?

This also strikes me as pretty relevant in this context, essentially the IPCC's scenarios do not include futures where energy demand does not increase and a doubling (compared to 2010) is roughly in the middle of considered scenarios (of course, this is very simplistic, not all of those scenarios are equally plausible, nor does the IPCC necessarily capture the entire range of possilble futures, but it gives a good sense of how unlikely a scenario such as the one the paper you cite uses is in the overall range of views).

 



https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378016300681

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