All of mchr3k's Comments + Replies

Good news on climate change

There are a couple of sources which I'd recommend taking a look at. 

  • 2015 Climate Change Risk Assessment - particularly worth reading the section which includes the quote "A simple conclusion is that we need to know more about the impacts associated with higher degrees of temperature increase. But in many cases this is difficult. For example, it may be close to impossible to say anything about the changes that could take place in complex dynamic systems, such as ecosystems or atmospheric circulation patterns, as a result of very large changes very far
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3John G. Halstead3moagree on the first one - it is very good. I hadn't seen the second one thanks for sharing!
Annotated List of EA Career Advice Resources

I have been working on an EA aligned resource titled "Working on Climate Change as a Technologist" which I've started sharing with a few folks.

Climate Change Is Neglected By EA
The claim that climate change is a major PR issue for EA, if true, is evidence that EA's position on climate change is (in at least this one respect) correct.

I'd like to extend my previous model to have three steps:

(1) EA downplays the impact of climate change (e.g. focusing on x-risk, downplaying mainstream impacts).

(2) EA downplays the value of working on climate change (e.g. low neglectedness, low tractability).

(3) EA discourages people from working on climate change in favor of other causes.

I think you are arguing that since lots of people ... (read more)

In fact you suggested below some good arguments for this

Two things:

  1. I made those up on the spur of the moment. Possibly you're just being polite, but I would be very suspicious if all three turned out to be good arguments supporting work on climate change. I said immediately below that I don't especially believe any of them in the case of climate change.
  2. More importantly, the whole point of coming up with those arguments was that they didn't depend on claims about neglectedness! None of those are arguments that climate change is neglected, they are pot
... (read more)
Climate Change Is Neglected By EA
That's fine. Marginal/social cost of carbon is the superior way to think about the problem.

(A) Carbon budgets express an important idea about continued emissions committing us to particular levels of warming. This is particularly important when we are likely to exceed the 1.5C carbon budget in less than 10 years. (B) The 80K Hours problem problem also doesn't mention marginal/social cost of carbon. (C) Social cost of carbon is usually computed from an IAM, a practice which has been described as such:

"IAMs can be misleading – and are i... (read more)

2kbog2yYou can also use economists' subjective estimates ( https://policyintegrity.org/files/publications/ExpertConsensusReport.pdf [https://policyintegrity.org/files/publications/ExpertConsensusReport.pdf] ) or model cross validation ( https://www.rff.org/publications/working-papers/the-gdp-temperature-relationship-implications-for-climate-change-damages/ [https://www.rff.org/publications/working-papers/the-gdp-temperature-relationship-implications-for-climate-change-damages/] ) and the results are not dissimilar to the IAMs by Nordhaus and Howard & Sterner. (it's 2-10% of GWP for about three degrees of warming regardless.) In any case I think that picking a threshold (based on what exactly??) and doing whatever it takes to get there will have more problems than IAMs do. Nice, that looks like a good noteworthy post. I will look at it in more detail (would take a while). Until then I'm revising from 258,000 tons down to 40,000 (geometric mean of their estimate and your 15,620 but biased a little towards you). "40% of Earth’s population lives in the tropics, with 50% projected by 2050 (State of the Tropics 2014) so we estimate 6 billion people affected (climate impacts will last for multiple generations)." - The world population is expected to be ~10 billion by 2050, so 50% would be 5 billion. How are you accounting for multiple generations? I figured many people will be wealthy and industrialized enough to generally avoid serious direct impacts, so it wasn't an estimate of how many people will live in warming tropical conditions. But looking at it now, I think that's the wrong way to estimate it because of the ambiguity that you raise. I'm switching to all people potentially affected (12 billion), with a lower average QALY loss. Described in "short-run, robust welfare" section of "issue weight metrics," it's the fact that increases in wealth for middle-income consumers may be net neutral or harmful in the short run because they increase their meat consumption. Su
Climate Change Is Neglected By EA
For comparison, on 80K's website right now, AI risk, global priorities research and meta-EA are currently at 26, biosecurity and ending factory farming are at 23, and nuclear security and global health are at 21. So your implicit claim is that, on the margin, climate change is less important than AI and GPR, slightly more important than biosecurity and farmed animal welfare, and much more important than nuclear security and global health (of the bednets and deworming variety). Does that sound right to you? That isn't a gotcha, I am genuin
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That does sound about right to me.

Could you elaborate a bit on why? This doesn't sound insane to me, but it is a pretty big disagreement with 80,000 Hours, and I am more sympathetic to 80K's position on this.

My claim is that EA currently (1) downplays the impact of climate change (e.g. focusing on x-risk, downplaying mainstream impacts) and (2) downplays the value of working on climate change (e.g. low neglectedness, low tractability). If you agree that (1, 2) are true, then EA is misleading its members about climate change and biasing them to work on

... (read more)
Climate Change Is Neglected By EA
My guess is that people should probably say what they believe, which for many EAs (including me) is that climate change work is both far less impactful and far less neglected than other priority cause areas, and that many people interested in having an impact can do far more good elsewhere.

Rather than "many EAs", I would say "some EAs" believe that climate change work is both far less impactful and far less neglected than other priority cause areas.

I am not one of those people. I am currently in the process of shifting my career to... (read more)

1willbradshaw2y"Some EAs" conveys very little information. The claim I'm making is stronger. On the other hand, "many people [...] could do far more good elsewhere" is not the same as "all people". Probably some EA-minded people can have their greatest impact working on climate change. Perhaps you are one of those people. There's a pretty important distinction between what your own best career path is and what the broader community should prioritise. I'm going to try to write more about this separately because it's important, but: if you think that working on climate change is the most impactful thing you can do, there are lots of good and bad reasons that could be, and short of a deep personal conversation or an explicit call for advice I'm not going to argue with you. I wish you all the best in your quest for impact. But this post is a general call to change how the community as a whole regards and prioritises climate change work, and as such needs to be evaluated on a different level. I can disagree with these arguments without having an opinion on what the best thing for you to do is. (Not that you said I couldn't do that. I just think it's important for that distinction to be explicitly there.)
Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

That's a fair point. As per the facebook event description, I was originally asked to discuss two posts:

I ended up proposing that I could write a new post, this post. The event was created with a title of "Is climate change neglected within EA?" and I originally intended to give this post the same title. However, I realized that I really wanted to argue a particular side of this question and so I posted this article under a more appr... (read more)

You are correct to call out that I haven't actually offered a balanced argument. Climate change is not ignore by EA. As is clear in Appendix A, there have been quite a few posts about climate change in recent years. The purpose of this post was to draw out some particular trends about how I see climate change being discussed by EA.

I think I and others here would have reacted much better if this post felt more curious/exploratory and less arguments-are-solders.

That doesn't mean you can't come down on a side. You can definitely come down on a side. But a

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Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

Thanks for your comments and for linking to that podcast.

And while you may be right that it's a bit naive to just count all climate-related funding in the world when considering the neglectedness of this issue, I suspect that even if you just considered "useful" climate funding, e.g. advocacy for carbon taxes or funding for clean energy, the total would still dwarf the funding for some of the other major risks.

In my post I am arguing for an output metric rather than an input metric. In my opinion, climate change will stop being a neglec... (read more)

8willbradshaw2yBut this doesn't make any sense. It suggests that if a problem is (a) severe and (b) insuperable, we should pour all our effort into it forever, achieving nothing in the process.
6Ben_West2yThanks for clarifying! I understand the intuition behind calling this "neglectedness", but it pushes in the opposite direction of how EA's usually use the term. I might suggest choosing a different term for this, as it confused me (and, I think, others). To clarify what I mean by "the opposite direction": the original motivation behind caring about "neglectedness" was that it's a heuristic for whether low hanging fruit in the field exists. If no one has looked into something, then it's more likely that there is low hanging fruit, so we should probably prefer domains that are less established . (All other things being equal.) The fact that many people have looked into climate change but we still have not "flattened the emissions curve" indicates that there is not low hanging fruit remaining. So an argument that climate change is "neglected" in the sense you are using the term is actually an argument that it is not neglected in the usual sense of the term. Hence the confusion from me and others.

It seems to me that this conception of neglectedness doesn't help much with cause prioritization. Every problem EAs think about is probably neglected in some global sense. As a civilization we should absolutely do more to fight climate change. I think working on effective climate change solutions is a great career choice; better than, like, 98% of other possible options. But a lot of other factors bear on what the absolute best use of marginal resources is.

Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

Thanks for your feedback.

Framing climate change as the default problem, and working on other cause areas as defecting from the co-ordination needed to solve it, impedes the essential work of cause-impartial prioritisation that is fundamental to doing good in a world like ours.

I think it's worth emphasizing that the title of this post is "Climate Change Is Neglected By EA", rather than "Climate Change Is Ignored By EA", or "Climate Change Is the Single Most Important Cause Above All Others". I am strongly in favor of cau... (read more)

Thanks for the reply. As I recently commented on a different post, engagement with commenters is a crucial part of a post like this, and I'm glad you're doing that even though a lot of the response has been negative (and some of it has been mean, which I don't support). That isn't easy.

I think it's worth emphasizing that the title of this post is "Climate Change Is Neglected By EA", rather than "Climate Change Is Ignored By EA", or "Climate Change Is the Single Most Important Cause Above All Others". I am strongly in favor of cause-impartial prioritisati

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Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

Thanks for your comments.

When I looked at the most recent IPCC report, one of the biggest health impacts listed was an increase in malaria. If we could reduce or eradicate malaria, we could also improve lives under climate change.

As I mention in my post, the issue with this is that you are fighting an uphill battle to tackle malaria while climate change continues to expand the territory of malaria and other tropical diseases.

I'd be interested in a direct comparison of some climate donations or careers with some global health donations or careers.

I ha... (read more)

Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

Thank you for your comments - I have some responses:

hundreds of billions of dollars (and likely millions of work-years) are already spent every year on climate change mitigation (research, advocacy, or energy subsidies)

A huge amount is already spent on global health and development, and yet the EA community is clearly happy to try and find particularly effective global health and development interventions. There are definitely areas within the hugely broad field of climate change action which are genuinely neglected.

Given the relatively scarce resources
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A huge amount is already spent on global health and development, and yet the EA community is clearly happy to try and find particularly effective global health and development interventions. There are definitely areas within the hugely broad field of climate change action which are genuinely neglected.

This is true. To steelman your point (and do some shameless self-promotion) - at Let's Fund we think funding advocacy for clean energy R&D funding is one such intervention, so they do exist.

Review of Climate Cost-Effectiveness Analyses

From your original comment (emphasis added by me to highlight what jumped out at me):

10°C climate warming over a century would be much lower impact, because there is time to relocate infrastructure and people (and nuclear winter also reduces solar radiation). So I have put it in the intensity category of an abrupt 10% agricultural shortfall.

From my reply:

It seems to me like a huge leap of faith is required to believe that the global impact of 10C of warming (over a century) is on the same order of magnitude as an abrupt 10% agricultural shortfall
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2Denkenberger2yIt is true we generally see reduction in costs as cumulative production increases (this is called learning in economics). But then this means it might be cheaper to reduce CO2 emissions in the future (at least at the margin for EA, and even for the world as a whole if some of the learning occurs in related fields that does not require spending money on CO2 mitigation now). It is possible that renewable energy will become less expensive than fossil fuels in the near future, though usually the comparison is made with fossil fuel electricity. It is much more difficult for renewable energy to be lower cost than fuels used directly. Furthermore, if we want to go back to 350 PPM, we would need to do some form of air capture, which I think will be expensive for quite a while. So overall, with learning, it would reduce the cost of solving the problem, but I think it is harder to imagine it being less than $1 trillion present value with low discounting. You are right that there is a trade off. If we spend money on saving lives at $3000 per life now with health interventions instead of reducing CO2 emissions, that means more CO2 in the atmosphere in 100 years. So the question is whether that harm to the relatively richer people in 100 years is greater than the harm you avert by spending money on global health now if your time horizon only extends about 100 years. Full-scale nuclear war may very well not happen this century. However, when you include additional catastrophes such as extreme weather on multiple continents (which a UK government study estimated had an ~80% likelihood this century [https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjDrY6ykv_UAhVDaz4KHW70AmUQFgguMAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.stat.berkeley.edu%2F~aldous%2F157%2FPapers%2Fextreme_weather_resilience.pdf&usg=AFQjCNEy2MTX-5Q_hmiex9-xnNnFXbO_5w] ), regional nuclear war, etc., it appears to be more likely than not that we will have one of these catastrophes this century
Review of Climate Cost-Effectiveness Analyses
Generally, my agenda was probably a bit simpler than people might have supposed. This was not intended to be the last word on whether climate change or development interventions are always better. Rather it's a starting point and “choose your own adventure” model to help prioritizing between a concrete climate and a concrete development charities. Different situations call for the model to be adapted.

That may have been your intention, but the title of your article is "Global development interventions are generally more effectiv... (read more)

Review of Climate Cost-Effectiveness Analyses
Nuclear winter would be approximately 8°C change in only one year, and this is unlikely to cause extinction.

I don't actually see a detailed calculation of human impacts in that paper. I agree that full extinction seems unlikely, but hugely catastrophic impacts seem very plausible. Also, a temperature decrease is definitely not guaranteed to have a symmetric impact with a temperature increase, so the comparison doesn't seem entirely valid.

10°C climate warming over a century would be much lower impact, because there is time to relocate
... (read more)

Thanks very much for the thoughtful engagement.

I don't actually see a detailed calculation of human impacts in that paper. I agree that full extinction seems unlikely, but hugely catastrophic impacts seem very plausible.

Correct - the estimate of long term future impact was from the survey cited here.

Also, a temperature decrease is definitely not guaranteed to have a symmetric impact with a temperature increase, so the comparison doesn't seem entirely valid.

I agree that it is not necessarily symmetric-cooling is generally worse for plants than wa... (read more)

Review of Climate Cost-Effectiveness Analyses
since economists argue over the relative value of mitigation (at least beyond low hanging fruit) and present consumption

Do you have any particular sources in mind for this? My understanding is that economists are in strong agreement that action now is much cheaper than action in future.

Re: 1. I think it's useful to consider concrete examples from history which have killed a large number of people. As per my writeup, in the 20th century, the largest famines killed 10-20M people/decade, so 1-2M people/year, all of which happened when the world had fewe... (read more)

1StevenKaas2yI was thinking e.g. of Nordhaus's result that a modest amount of mitigation is optimal. He's often criticized for his assumptions about discount rate and extreme scenarios, but neither of those is causing the difference in estimates here. According to your link, recent famines have killed about 1M per decade, so for climate change to kill 1-5M per year through famine, it would have to increase the problem by a factor of 10-50 despite advancing technology and increasing wealth. That seems clearly wrong as a central estimate. The spreadsheet based on the WHO report says 85k-95k additional deaths due to undernutrition, though as you mention, there are limitations to this estimate. (And I guess famine deaths are just a small subset of undernutrition deaths?) Halstead [ https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qmHh-cshTCMT8LX0Y5wSQm8FMBhaxhQ8OlOeRLkXIF0/edit# ] also discusses this issue under "crops".
Review of Climate Cost-Effectiveness Analyses

I'm sorry but I don't follow your argument. I'll try and explain my own logic and perhaps you can point out the key step where I'm going wrong.

The 2014 WHO paper provides an estimate for the number of climate attributed deaths in 2030 and 2050. Let's imagine that these estimates were 30 deaths and 50 deaths. The GWWC approach then assumes a linear relationship between CO2 emissions and deaths, producing a straight line passing through these estimates. So 2030 sees 30 deaths, 2031 sees 31 deaths, 2032 sees 32 deaths etc. The GWWC ap... (read more)

1StevenKaas2yAh, it looks like I was myself confused by the "deaths/year" in line 20 and onward of the original, which represent an increase per year in the number of additional deaths per year. My apologies. At this point I don't understand the GWWC article's reasoning for not multiplying by years an additional time. My prior was that, since economists argue over the relative value of mitigation (at least beyond low hanging fruit) and present consumption, and present consumption isn't remotely competitive with global health interventions, a calculation that shows mitigation to be competitive with global health interventions is likely to be wrong. But after looking it over another time, I now think that's accounted for mostly by: 1. The assumption that climate change increases all causes of death by the same percentage as the causes of death investigated here, which, as the article notes, seems very pessimistic. If 57 million [ https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death ] people worldwide died in 2016 (and population is increasing but death rate is decreasing), then 5 million additional deaths per year in 2030-2050 seems implausibly large: almost one in ten deaths would be due to climate change. 2. Cool Earth being estimated here to be orders of magnitude more efficient than the kinds of mitigation that economists usually study. (I have no opinion on whether this is accurate.)
Review of Climate Cost-Effectiveness Analyses

I'm only aware of (loosely) EA affiliated attempts to assess the cost effectiveness of climate change versus global health. I knew about the "2016 GWWC estimate" before I started work on this writeup, and I had seen the "2019 Hillebrandt Cost-Effectiveness" estimate posted on this forum very recently. I found "2018 Halstead Extinction Risk" and "2019 Bressler Mortality Estimate" by searching on this forum.

Let me know if you're aware of any other relevant estimates.

1cole_haus2yAhh, if you're specifically looking for comparisons to global health, that makes sense that they're all EA-affiliated.
Updated Climate Change Problem Profile

Okay, I've just posted an analysis of the four relevant impact/cost-effectiveness estimates that I'm aware of. You can see my conclusions here - https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ynRG6JBvARS2cHu63/review-of-climate-cost-effectiveness-analyses

Updated Climate Change Problem Profile

I notified info@80000hours.org about this public post. I thought it would be better to solicit public feedback rather than attempting to work privately with 80K Hours.

3Aaron Gertler2yJust commenting here to say that, as a Forum moderator, I love everything about this series of interactions! Props to Roxanne for asking, mchr3k for having notified 80K, and Rob for posting his thoughts on the situation.

Hi mchr3k — thanks for writing this. I'm completely slammed with other work at 80,000 Hours just now (I'm recording 7 podcast interviews this month), so I won't be able to respond right away.

For what it's worth I agree with just posting this and emailing it to us, rather than letting us hold you up. Many people are going to be interested in what you're saying here and might have useful comments to add, not just 80,000 Hours. It's also an area where reasonable people can disagree so it's useful to have a range of views represented publicly.

Possibly letting us comment on a Google Doc first might have been helpful but I don't think people should treat it as a necessary step!

Updated Climate Change Problem Profile

The ideal responses to mainline and extreme risks appear to be different.

I’m curious to know what you think the difference is. Both problems require greenhouse gas emissions to be halted.

Adjusting this by giving more expensive things higher neglectedness scores in effect takes the 'cost' out of the 'cost-effectiveness analysis'.

The neglectedness guidelines focus on the level of existing funding. I argue that this is an insufficient view - that if you have two problems who require $100 or $200 of total funding to solve completely, if they both have $

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6Kit2yI agree that both mainline and extreme scenarios are helped by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but there are other things one can do about climate change [https://www.openphilanthropy.org/research/cause-reports/anthropogenic-climate-change#What_are_possible_interventions] , and the most effective actions might turn out to be things which are specific to either mainline or extreme risks. To take examples from that link: * Developing drought-resistant crops could mitigate some of the worst effects of mainline scenarios, but might help little in extreme scenarios. * Attempting to artificially reverse climate change may be a last resort for extreme scenarios, but may be too risky to be worthwhile for mainline scenarios. For the avoidance of doubt, I think that my point about mainline and extreme risks appealing to different worldviews is sufficient reason to separate the analyses even if the interventions ended up looking similar. Yep, you could use the word 'neglected' that way, but I stand by my comment that if you do that without also modifying your definition of 'scale' or 'solvability', the three factors no longer add up to a cost-effectiveness heuristic. i.e. if you formalise what you mean by neglectedness and insert it into the formula here [https://80000hours.org/articles/problem-framework/#introducing-how-we-define-the-factors] without changing anything else, the formula will no longer cancel out to 'good done / extra person or $'.
Updated Climate Change Problem Profile

I’ll definitely take a look at the cost effectiveness calculations and see if I can work references to these into my draft. In particular, I’m interested to find out what assumptions they are based on.

The other blog post you shared looks to me to have a key flaw - it models emissions as having a sharp spike where they go from growing quickly to declining quickly. This seems very unlikely to me - and the smoother curve as growth slows and turns into decline implies a greater area under the curve and hence a much greater final impact of delay.