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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).



Do we need to keep increasing energy consumption?

Thanks, James!

More on this later, but for now just two points:

I. Doubling is not dramatic: Doubling of energy supply is not a dramatic increase in at least two ways:

  1. It looks quite conservative when considering the demographic and economic dynamics you mention (60% population increase, hopefully at least a tripling in GDP per capita, i.e. something like a 5x larger economy). Saying one expects energy demand to only double by end of century assumes a lot of reductions in energy intensity, i.e. increased efficiency, structural change, and, possibly, demand reductions.

  2. Relatedly, it is by far not the at the upper end of plausible futures the IPCC and many other bodies consider. Indeed, it would not be terribly surprising if energy demand by end of century increased by much more than just a doubling and this is something our responses should be robust to.

II. Carbon intensity of energy to ~0 is the sine qua non of climate success.

Per the Kaya Identity, the only way to get to zero emissions is when the carbon intensity of all economic activity is zero, it's the only necessary condition and it's also sufficient. Because there is also carbon removal and the goal is net-zero not zero it's not quite as logically necessary (though it's still sufficient).

Event-driven mission hedging and the 2020 US election

We have two things going on here beyond just partisan switch (discussed in more detail in the report) that do make this a special moment unlikely to re-occur.

(1) Elevated importance: The importance of the 2020 election for climate policy was much elevated because of COVID-related stimulus spending, the difference between Trump-Biden is much starker than the difference Trump-Clinton was in 2016 because of the much enlarged policy opportunity.

(2) Carbon lock-in: the leverage that US climate policy has  is declining sharply as its main benefits in terms of global emissions (effects on emissions globally through innovation and global leadership) is becoming less valuable every year as more and more of future emissions get locked-in by infrastructure and long-lived capital asset decisions in emerging economies.

Event-driven mission hedging and the 2020 US election


Some decision points in climate that could be interesting to use this for:

* 2021 German elections (which will impact EU climate policy, though it is a bit unclear in which direction)
2022 US mid-term elections (more value if Democrats can beat the odds and keep Congressional majority)

Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead

Bill Gates' How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is a pretty good introduction to the challenge, very accessible and framing the challenge of climate change in the wider context of  a developing world with rising energy needs (something the debate too often forgets).

Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air  is somewhat dated now, but a classic and available freely on the internet (https://www.withouthotair.com/).

The Citizen's Guide to Climate Success by Mark Jaccard is also good, although it does not give a full overview in the way the other books mentioned here do.

Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead

My position is roughly the following:

1. I agree with this line of reasoning in the way that CATF presents it, i.e. that while there is a possibility that intermittent renewables alone could be sufficient, this is not particularly like and, crucially, this is not where most climate risk is that we should hedge against.

Of course there is (and CATF acknowledges this) a future where intermittent renewables solve almost the entire decarbonization challenge, but this requires a lot of things to go right including (1) continued cost reductions, (2) solving the challenge of seasonal storage, (3) massive transmission infrastructure, (4) very cheap conversion technologies to zero-carbon fuels (related to 2) for storage, transport applications and industrial applications, etc., (5) a world where many regions with poor renewable resources are happy to remain / become more energy-dependent,  (6) a re-organization of the global energy market that finds a way to provide revenue to zero-marginal-cost resources, etc.

This is probably not impossible, but it does not seem very likely. In the same way that we are prioritizing AGI-safety interventions that do not assume that AGI is inherently safe, I don't think we should assume this to all work out when thinking about high-impact philanthropic interventions. Indeed, because damage is concentrated in world where this does not work out, we should probably focus on stuff that works in those futures.

2. Storage would solve some of this, in particular if it is chemical storage (rather than electric) because zero-carbon fuels can also be used to create heat for residential and industrial applications, to power heavy-duty transport, to store energy over seasons, etc.  But it needs to get really cheap if we only rely on intermittent renewables (because the storage/conversion tech would not work 24/7, i.e. not be optimally economical). 

It doesn't solve potential problems around land use and potential energy, of course.

3. I would say advanced nuclear & super-hot-rock geothermal are tied for first position from an environmental and public health perspective, gas with carbon capture would be much better than coal with carbon capture (15x less air pollution), comparing this with large-scale hydro or large-scale bio-energy would be tricky and I am a bit out of my depth here. But neither of those second-best options is really great.


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