Recently, I was reading David Thorstad’s new paper “Existential risk pessimism and the time of perils”. In it, he models the value of reducing existential risk on a range of different assumptions.
The headline result is that 1) most plausibly, existential risk reduction is not overwhelmingly valuable–though it may still be quite valuable, it doesn’t probably swamp all other cause areas. And 2) thinking that extinction is more likely tends to weaken the case for existential risk reduction rather than strengthen it.
It struck me that one of the results is particularly interesting, I call it the repugnant solution:
If we can reduce existential risk to 0% per century across all future centuries, this act is infinitely valuable, even if the initial risk was absolutely tiny and each century is only just of positive value. This act is therefore, better than basically anything else we could do.
Perhaps, in a Pascalian way, if we think there is a tiny chance that some particular action will lead to a permanent reduction in existential risk, that act too is infinitely valuable, and everything breaks.
This is also true even if we decrease the value of each century from “really amazingly great” to “only just net positive”.
This is great!
Thanks for the post - this seems like a really important contribution! [Caveat: I am not at all an expert on this and just spent some time googling]. Snake antivenom actually requires that you milk venom from a snake to produce, and I wonder how much this is contributing to the high cost ($55–$640) of snake venom . I wonder if R&D would be a better investment, especially given the potentially high storage and transport costs for snake venom (see below). It would be interesting to see someone investigate this more thoroughly.
Storage costs are pretty low in that cost effectiveness estimate you cite , but it seems pretty plausible to me that storage and transportation costs would be much higher if you wanted to administer snake venom at smaller clinics that were closer to the victims of snake bites. The cost was based on this previous estimate, in which they say“The cost of shipping from abroad where the antivenoms are manufactured, transportation within Nigeria and freezing of antivenom (including use of supplementary diesel power electric generators in addition to national power grid) is estimated at N3,000 ($18.75) from prior experience and expert opinion. But it was assumed that appropriate storage facilities already exist at the local level through immunization/drug services and that no additional capital investment would be required to adequately store the antivenom in the field” .I'm not sure exactly what facilities are required and how expensive they would be, but this seems like it could be an important consideration.
 Brown NI (2012) Consequences of neglect: analysis of the sub-Saharan African snake antivenom market and the global context. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 6: e1670.
 Hamza M, Idris MA, Maiyaki MB, Lamorde M, Chippaux JP, et al. (2016) Cost-Effectiveness of Antivenoms for Snakebite Envenoming in 16 Countries in West Africa. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 10(3): e0004568. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0004568
 Habib AG, Lamorde M, Dalhat MM, Habib ZG, Kuznik A (2015) Cost-effectiveness of Antivenoms for Snakebite Envenoming in Nigeria. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 9(1): e3381. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0003381
Thanks, it looks like you've put a lot of effort into summarising this information (it actually looks better and higher effort than my original post, oop).
Thank you! I really appreciate the encouragement!
I'm all for pricing in carbon and sensible policy that regulates in proportion to our best estimate of the risk!
I think my (updated based on the comments so far) conclusion is the same as yours!
Digging into this a bit, I may have gotten the original argument for nuclear wrong - it does seem like some countries would struggle to source their energy from renewables due to space constraints (arguably, less of a problem in Australia). "I’m not even sure it’s physically possible with 100% renewables... if you were to try and just replace oil in a country like Korea or Japan, so a densely populated country without huge amounts of spare land, you have to take up a significant proportion of the entire nation with solar panels... In the UK... if you want to replace our oil consumption, you’d have to cover over one and a half times the size of Wales with solar just for oil; never mind about decarbonizing the electricity grid and all the rest of it." - Mark Lynas on the 80,000 hours podcast
Thanks, I've found this helpful (if a little embarrassing)!
Saved these all to pocket, thanks for the recommendations!
If someone was looking to work for OPP would an honours* or masters program be more beneficial than an undergraduate degree?
Are there particular questions or areas that could be worked on for a research project in honours/masters that are particularly helpful directly or develop the right kinds of skills for OPP? (especially in economics, philosophy or cognitive science)
("Honours" in Australia is a 1 year research/coursework program)