Peter G.

Executive Director @ Quill.org
22Joined Aug 2022

Bio

K-12 literacy tools that teach students about 21st-century challenges through logical reasoning and writing, with AI-powered assessment and feedback.

Comments
3

Aaron, I agree that these global health issues are getting the serious attention they need now, and I don't think that EA has turned its back on these issues. 

Rather, it's the narrative about EA that feels like it's shifting. The New Yorker's piece describes the era of "bed nets" as over, and while that's not a true statement - when you looking at the funding - the attention placed on longtermism shifts the EA brand in a big way. One of EA's strengths was that anyone could do it - "here's how you can save one life today." The practical, immediate impact of EA is appealing to a lot of young people who want to give back and help others. With longtermism, the ability to be an effective altruist is largely limited to those with advanced knowledge and technical skills to engage in these highly complex problems. 

As press and attention is drawn to this work, it may come to define the EA movement, and, over time, EA may become less accessible to people who would have been drawn to its origin mission. As an outsider to EA, who serves as a PM who builds AI models, I'm not able to assess which AI alignment charities are the most effective charities, and that saps confidence that my donation will be effective.  

Again, this is purely a branding/marketing problem, but it still could be an existential risk for the movement. You could imagine a world where these two initiatives could build their own brands - longtermism could become 22nd Century Philanthropy (22C!), and people who are committed to this cause could help to build this movement. At the same time, there are millions of people who want to funnel billions of dollars to empirically-validated charities that make the world immediately better, and the EA brand serves as a clearly-defined entry point into doing that work.  

Over EA's history, the movement has always had a porous quality of inviting outsiders and enabling them to rapidly become part of the community by enabling people to concretely understand and evaluate philanthropic endeavors, but in a shift to difficult to understand and abstract longermism issues, EA may lose that quality that drives its growth. In short, the EA movement could be defined as making the greatest impact on the greatest number of people today, and 22nd Century Philanthropy could exist as a movement for impacting the greatest number of people tomorrow, with both movements able to attract people passionate about these different causes. 

As an outsider who has followed the EA movement for some time, I find the 180-degree shift from pragmatic, empirically demonstrated philanthropy to speculative, theoretical arguments baffling, and I am surprised that more people have not questioned how the "pivot to longtermism" has come at the expense of the empirical foundation for EA. I wonder whether the EA 2.0 will last or whether it'd be better for the movement to break into two separate initiatives. The EA movement risks losing its broad appeal and accessiblty.

Surbhi, have you explored solar geoengineering at all? It stands as the highest impact / lowest cost solution to immediately addressing the loss of life and loss of productivity, for a fraction of the cost of air conditioning. In short, for about $2 billion to $8 billion per year, we can spray enough calcium carbonate into the atmosphere to bring the temperature down by 1.5C to 2C. This process mimics what happens in a massive volcanic eruption, which has had a well-known impact on temporarily cooling the planet. While other aerosols may damage the ozone layer, calcium carbonate may enhance it. 

The biggest problems with this solution are that (1) it needs to happen every year - the material will dissipate and (2) as a silver bullet solution, it will immediately disincentivize governments from expensive long-term solutions to reducing carbon emissions. As a result, the focus of the scientific debate now isn't so much on the science of whether this will work and more so on the ethics of propagating this idea, risking harm to investments in decarbonization. However, I fully agree with your analysis that the massive harm faced by global warming, in Southeast Asia in particular, warrants immediate action to better understand and address this problem. 

Here are some helpful articles calling for action: 

https://www.c2g2.net/stratospheric-aerosol-injection-could-be-a-painkiller-but-not-a-cure-and-more-research-is-needed/

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01243-0