1317Joined Apr 2018


Thanks for doing this!

I think this is mostly right, three suggestions for minor edits:
1. The CATF example is more of an example of this mechanism (shifting the trajectory of organizations), not itself the major result of the Climate Fund (as the trajectory of CATF was shifted before, in 2018, through FP highlighting before the Fund existed). The primary organizations we are replicating this with the fund so far are TerraPraxis and Future Cleantech Architects, both of which we were the initial philanthropic investors and that have since gone on to grow quite significantly.

2. "Future work will look at where best to focus policy efforts, and the impact of the Russo-Ukrainian war on possible policy windows." > "...advocacy efforts given major changes in policy windows in the US and globally as well as profound changes in energy through the Russo-Ukrainian war" -- or similar, I think mostly avoiding a formulation that suggests we are just opportunistically exploiting policy windows from the war, it is more about updating the landscaping analysis given massive changes.

This is all quite in the weeds, so if those edits don't make sense, feel free to ignore them! Thanks again for including the post.


Thanks! Yeah, a five OOM difference sounds more like what I would expect, indeed.

Thanks for this, Vasco, Hanzhang, Melissa!

A couple of thoughts:

  1. It seems to me that on reasonable quantifications of the ways in which direct tree planting efforts in the UK do not optimize for climate impact (utter non-neglecteness, lack of advocacy, trajectory change, low policy additionality, the factors you mention in the appendix) one would have a prior where tree planting is several orders of magnitude less cost-effective than strategies that seek to optimize for impact. As such, I find a posterior of a 1-order-of-magnitude difference within reach quite surprising. 
  2. While I am generally quite pessimistic on forestry interventions because of the utter non-neglectedness and the difficulty to get to credible additionality and permanence, it seems direct tree planting in the UK is kind of close to the worst thing one can do from a climate angle. So for donors that cannot be moved from tree planting it could be interesting to see what the best charities in this space might look like, e.g. advocacy to improve REDD+ or peatland protection etc. 
  3. Re Google Trends for neglectedness: A great datasource for climate philanthropy are the Climate Works reports -- those show clearly not only that forests are very well funded compared to other areas, but also that funding is growing strongly (it has been an early focus of Bezos Earth Fund, the largest climate philanthropist). In addition, IIRC, conservation philanthropy more broadly, of which a significant share focuses on forests,  is several X larger than climate philanthropy.

"2. Secondly, we assume that all benefits -- including health benefits, reduction of monetary costs associated with climate change, reduction of existential risk associated with climate change, and spillover benefits into other industries -- are incorporated into the market valuation. We believe that markets likely price in the aforementioned externalities (e.g., health and enviro benefits) (support for this claim here). Furthermore, the valuations listed on ARPA-E’s site are from after the Inflation Reduction Act passed, which, itself, internalized a significant chunk of US emissions. For these reasons, we believe it’s reasonable to assume a significant amount of external benefits have been internalized into markets, but, perhaps, not all benefits. Thus, we believe that, all else equal, this assumption leads to an underestimation of benefits. "


Thanks for this article! The above assumption feels quite wrong to me and, as such, I expect this makes your estimate a vast underestimate everything else being equal.

You seem to assume that climate risk and other externalities are priced in market valuations. Even if that were true for the US (which seems unlikely) it would certainly not be true for most places in the  world that have very little in terms of pricing energy-related externalities. Given the role of US in the global energy innovation system, it seems reasonable to assume that the benefits that ARPA-E creates are way larger than market valuations, at least if market valuations are -- as you suggest -- reflective of expected policy returns.

More of a methodological question, but as I know you are doing quite rigorous analysis in idea selection I would be very curious to learn how you model the multiplier from policy advocacy vis-à-vis more direct forms of work.

Thanks for this, Vasco!

I won't have time to dig into the details here, but wanted to clarify one thing on the top level conclusion which is that: 

(1) I agree that climate interventions are not the top intervention to reduce existential risk on the margin (I am also on the record saying that in the GWWC Climate write-up).

(2) Whenever I am asked about allocation of marginal resources (people or funding) between climate and longtermist priority areas, I tend to nudge people away from climate. 

The goal of the Climate Fund is to optimize spending that is not cause-neutral, to have as big as possible a positive impact given constraints, it is not intended or marketed as "the top bet on reducing existential risk" and we are careful to not crowd in resources that would otherwise go to areas we think of as higher marginal priority. 

Thank you, this is fascinating stuff!

One quick question on the policy implication as I (as a climate philanthropist) often ask myself whether or not to fund geoengineering advocacy.

While your argument -- if correct -- pushes strongly in the direction of worlds where we would want to use geoengineering by making an emergency situation much more likely in expectation, even the lowest estimate you cite  in term of the transition (four years) still seems like plenty of time if the global community decided geo-engineering was  a global priority (like, say, in a way that vaccine development was for COVID-19). 

I.e., does it really change something in term of optimal action now re geo-engineering?

(I do think your argument has strong force re optimal climate policy more generally, I am just less sure it affects geo-engineering prioritization within the portfolio). 

How is it that after this being on top of the EA agenda for the better part of the last decade we still have only 300 people working on this?

I don't have a free link but I think it's freely available somewhere on the internet.

The paper and lots of other research (by Mary Douglas, Aaron Wildavksy etc) is, among other things, about the similarity of apocalyptic belief systems found in religious sects and parts of modern environmentalism, so this research seems v relevant to your question.

On your point on predictive accuracy, I think you are comparing apples to oranges. Lots of intermediate predictions of climate science have become true, but so have lots of predictions on speed of AI progress, whereas predictions of apocalyptic outcomes have not materialized in either yet.

My point is not that one should not update downwards on AI risk based on worries about doomism being cultural rather than entirely based on objective analysis, just that applying an asymmetrical update in favor of taking climate more seriously seems mistaken given very similar dynamics.

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