Nicolas Saunier

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Does climate change deserve more attention within EA?

Not only is agriculture higher leverage for reducing emissions, it also holds a high potential for drawdown. This potential to store more CO2 in well managed soils is unfortunately neglected, even though some organizations like 4p1000 have a potential ability to promote the storage of Gigatons for a very low rate.

Moreover, the impact of methane emissions (which are mainly linked to agriculture) are probably undervalued by non-specialists, as we tend to convert methane emissions to CO2 based on a 100 year global warming potential, using an indicator of 28x, which is not relevant for the short term. If we only have 15 years to act before getting into dangerous feedback loops, then focusing more on methane would be a good idea, as methane is less stable in the long run but much more potent as a greenhouse gas over 20 years than over 100 as compared to CO2.

Does climate change deserve more attention within EA?

As a long time lurker of the effective altruism movement working to "put the brains in climate change action" and adress system-level obstacles to serious climate action, I'm so happy to see this kind of post on the EA Forum.

Climate change has unfortunately been "neglected" by the EA movement, which is a problem because one of the big issues with "mainstream" climate action is that it doesn't have an "EA mindset".

With all due respects to some of the organizations, like Cool Earth, who adress the problem rationally, climate change action in general suffers greatly from being highly under the influence of organizations like Greenpeace, who approach the problem in a dogmatic way: pushing to close nuclear power plants in France as higher priority than coal power plants in Germany (when the combination of well managed nuclear power plants, energy saving measures, and cross country power lines would make it feasible to provide carbon free power to countries even when the local population doesn't want nuclear in their back yards), promoting solar panels on roofs in countries like England where the sunshine is so low that the energy return of investment makes it a ridiculous investment... A unit of measurement exists, dollars per ton of CO2 averted, but this indicator is very seldom used to guide policy development: while Cool Earth can avert a ton of CO2 for about a dollar, and a ton of CO2 emitted anywhere will have about the same impact on the whole world's climate, the French government's policies to "fight climate change" have cost about €650 per ton. When there is that amount of discrepancy, there is a big need to bring the kind of rationality promoted by EA and LessWrong into the discussion.

Furthermore, climate change policy suffers from a "first mover" problem which is a big obstacle to radically effective measures. As stated in the executive summary of the organization that I work for, Simpol, "The economy, finance and markets now operate globally, whereas the systems of governance supposed to regulate them still operate only nationally. The ability of capital and corporations to move freely across borders necessarily prevents governments from implementing regulations to solve global problems. That’s because any nation implementing tighter regulations would increase its business’s costs, so risking jobs and investment moving elsewhere. The result? International inaction, while our problems only get worse. It’s a vicious circle all governments are caught in; a circle which, if not broken, will break us all. "

This vicious circle has neither been taken into account by promoters of a "Green New Deal", nor even by the UN's mechanism of the Conference of Parties. For an alternative proposal to regulate climate change effectively, please check out simpol dot org.