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kbog's Comments

Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

I find this whole genre of post tedious and not very useful. If you think climate change is a good cause area, just write an actual cause prioritization analysis directly comparing it to other cause areas, and show how it's better! If that's beyond your reach, you can take an existing one and tweak it. This reads like academic turf warring, a demand that your cause area should get more prestige, instead of a serious attempt to help us decide which cause areas are actually most important.

1) There is a lack of evidence for the more severe impacts of climate change, rather than evidence that the impacts will not be severe.

OK, but I don't know if anyone here was previously assuming that the impacts will definitely not be severe. The EA community has long recognized the risks of more severe impact. So this doesn't seem like a point that challenges what we currently believe.

One of the central ideas in effective altruism is that some interventions are orders of magnitude more effective than others. There remain huge uncertainties and unknowns which make any attempt to compute the cost effectiveness of climate change extremely challenging. However, the estimates which have been completed so far don’t make a compelling case that mitigating climate change is actually order(s) of magnitude less effective compared to global health interventions, with many of the remaining uncertainties making it very plausible that climate change interventions are indeed much more effective.

I haven't read those previous posts you've written, but the burden of argument is on showing that a cause is effective, not proving that it's ineffective. We have many causes to choose from, and the Optimizer's Curse means we must focus on ones where we have pretty reliable arguments. Merely speculating "what if climate change is worse than the best evidence suggests???" does nothing to show that we've neglected it. It just shows that further cause prioritization analysis could be warranted.

The EA importance, tractability, neglectedness (ITN) framework discounts climate change because it is not deemed to be neglected (e.g. scoring 2/12 on 80K Hours). I have previously disagreed with this position because it ignores whether the current level of action on climate change is anywhere close to what is actually required to solve the problem (it’s not).

This criticism doesn't make sense to me. The mere fact that a problem will be unsolved doesn't mean it's more important for us to work on it. What matters is how much we can actually accomplish by trying to solve it.

The 80K Hours problem profile makes no mention of the concept of a carbon budget - the amount of of carbon which we can emit before we are committed to a particular level of warming.

That's fine. Marginal/social cost of carbon is the superior way to think about the problem.

4) EA often ignores or downplays the impact of mainstream climate change, focusing on the tail risk instead

I've seen EAs talk about 'mainstream' costs many times. GWWC's early analysis on climate change did this in detail. In any case, my estimate of the long-term economic costs of climate change (detailed writeup in Candidate Scoring System: http://bit.ly/ea-css ) aggregates over the various scenarios.

5) EA appears to dismiss climate change because it is not an x-risk

This phrasing suggests to me that you didn't read, or perhaps don't care, what is actually in many of the links that you're citing. We do not believe that climate change is irrelevant because it's not an x-risk. We do, however, believe that the arguments in favor of mitigating x-risks do not apply to climate change. So that provides one reason to prioritize x-risks over climate change. This is clearly a correct conclusion and you haven't provided arguments to the contrary.

6) EA is in danger of making itself a niche cause by loudly focusing on topics like x-risk

If you think that people will like EA more when they see us addressing on climate change, why don't you highlight all the examples of EAs actually addressing climate change (there are many examples) instead of writing (yet another, we've had many) post making the accusation that we neglect it?

7) EA tries to quantify problems using simple models, leading to undervaluing of action on climate change

Other problems have complex, far-reaching negative consequences too, so it's not obvious that simplistic modeling leads to an under-prioritization of climate change. It is very easy to think of analogous secondary effects for things like poverty.

In any case, estimating the damages of climate change upon the human economy has already addressed by multiple economic metanalyses. Estimating the short- and medium-term deaths has been done by GWWC. Estimating the impacts on wildlife is generally sidelined because we have no idea if they are net positive or net negative for wild animal welfare.

Global health interventions have a climate footprint, which I’ve never seen accounted for in EA cost effectiveness calculations.

I briefly addressed it in Candidate Scoring System, and determined that it was very small. If you look at CO2 emissions per person and compare it to the social cost of carbon, you can see that it's not much for a person in the United States, let alone for people in (much-lower-emissions) developing countries.

Climate change is a problem which is getting worse with time and is expected to persist for centuries. Limiting warming to a certain level gets harder with every year that action is not taken. Many of the causes compared by EA don’t have the same property. For example, if we fail to treat malaria for another ten years, that won’t commit humanity to live with malaria for centuries to come. However, within less than a decade, limiting warming to 1.5C will become impossible.

Climate change being expected to persist for centuries is conditional upon the absence of major geoengineering. But we could quite plausibly see that in the later 21st century or anytime in the 22nd century.

Failing to limit warming to a certain level is a poor way of defining the problem. If we can't stay under 1.5C, we might stay under 2.0C, which is not that much worse. The right way to frame the problem is to estimate how much accumulated damage will be caused by some additional GHGs hanging around the atmosphere for, probably, a century or more. That is indeed a long term cost.

But other cause areas also have major long-run impacts. There is plenty of evidence and arguments for long-run benefits of poverty relief, health improvements and economic growth.

10) Case study: Climate is visibly absent or downplayed within some key EA publications and initiatives

Pick another cause area that's currently highlighted, compare it to climate change, and show how climate change is a more effective cause area.

An Effective Altruist "Civic Handbook" for the USA (draft, calling for comments and assistance)

1. But WHY do you believe that the costs outweigh benefits? Again - the paper looking at Ethiopia estimated that benefits of lower prices outweighed costs on average. This seems intuitively sensible, too - if we sell subsidized low-priced goods, it should increase their wealth in the short run at least.

2. It could be - and there are also many other ways to address vulnerability to spikes in global commodity prices, as described in the last paper I linked. Of course none of these solutions is perfect and simple otherwise the problems would not exist anymore. I think we should look at the likely consequences within current regimes rather than assuming that countries/societies will get much better at responding to problems.

3. But you see how it's a tradeoff, right? People can specialize in farming or they can specialize in other trades, not both. There can be different people doing different jobs, but every person who becomes a farmer is neglecting the possibility of specializing in something else. If a country has an industrial policy it will have to make a tough choice of what industries it wants to specialize in.

I am adding these considerations to Candidate Scoring System, which is more of an encyclopedia with all kinds of policy issues, but for the Civic Handbook I think I will leave the matter out as it does not have the kind of clear argumentative support necessary to build an Effective Altruist consensus.

An Effective Altruist "Civic Handbook" for the USA (draft, calling for comments and assistance)

Regarding food aid, you showed a couple papers discussing negative impacts from 'food dumping', subsidized agricultural exports from wealthy countries to poor ones. A topic that you studied in detail.



I did not read all of the text, but they mainly say: the foreign impact is that it displaces farmers. We send cheap exports, which are in fact cheaper than what a free market would produce, for a combination of reasons but mainly because of our agricultural subsidies. This puts farmers in the aid-receiving country out of work because they cannot compete.

My immediate objection is, why believe that the costs to farmers outweigh the benefits to consumers? If food is lower-priced then that should help many people. I found this paper arguing that the consumer benefits outweighed the hit to farming, on average, for households at all income levels in Ethiopia. It was not cited by either of the papers listed above.

The 1st article also says that dependence on food imports creates vulnerability to price spikes, citing this paper. But local food sources are volatile too, no? Local weather patterns, political instability, plant diseases, etc can create local price spikes. I imagine this would be worse than volatility in global commodity prices. Now, you can have imports step up to cover local price spikes, but you can also have local production step up to cover global price spikes. The former may be easier, but overall I just don't see good reason to believe that dumping increases price volatility.

There is then the long-run question of whether a country should develop its agricultural sector vs other sectors. The 1st paper touches on this. I will have to think/read more on this, or maybe you can better answer it.

An Effective Altruist "Civic Handbook" for the USA (draft, calling for comments and assistance)

1. OK, I am emboldening key sentences now. Not entirely sure if I like it though.

2. Thanks, I replied in comments within the document.

An Effective Altruist "Civic Handbook" for the USA (draft, calling for comments and assistance)

Done though I still haven't identified a proper catchy name. "Effective Altruist civic handbook" was just meant as a placeholder.

Why not give 90%?

You can receive answers to these claims by making a dedicated thread rather than hijacking the current one.

Why not give 90%?

To respond to the on-topic part of your post (I also downvoted because it's mostly off-topic), I don't see how you can shrug off the benefits of donating >10% as if 10% is good enough, while also saying that we must interview and read whole swathes of additional papers and people in the hope that some of it might be useful for achieving better cause prioritization. If you really want Effective Altruists to capture the benefits from reading non-Western scientific literature, then clearly you don't think that we can shrug our shoulders and say that we're good enough, and should recognize that donating more money is another way we can similarly do better. The two are actually fungible, as you can donate money to movement growth with advertisements targeted to foreign countries, or you can donate to cause prioritization efforts with researchers hired to survey, review and summarize the fields of literature that you think are valuable.

Why not give 90%?

You're assuming that the probability of giving up each year is conditionally independent. 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.

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.

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.

People whose jobs are higher impact/higher-salary (they are correlated due to donation potential if nothing else) are likely to face more expensive costs of living and are also likely to obtain greater benefits from personal spending (averting a 1% chance of personal burnout is much more important if your job is high-impact, saving an hour out of your week is much more important if your hourly wage is higher, etc). So the appropriate amount of personal spending does scale somewhat with income. However this effect is weak enough that I think it makes more sense to usually think about thresholds rather than percentages.

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New candidates have never served in Congress and therefore do not have legislative track records on animal welfare, and it's such a minor issue to most voters that candidates almost never express their views on it while running for office.

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