Stephen Clare

2694Joined Aug 2021

Bio

I'm an independent researcher working on various projects in cause prioritization and global conflict research.

Previously I've been a Research Fellow at the Forethought Foundation, where I worked on What We Owe The Future with Will MacAskill; an Applied Researcher at Founders Pledge; and a Program Analyst for UNDP.

Comments
168

Thanks for your post. I appreciate people taking the time to write up thoughts and proposals for new things EA-related funders should look at. However this seems importantly mistaken to me in a few ways. I want to focus on your paragraph about the IPCC.

The United Nations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have both recently acknowledged the risk current economic growth poses for climate change. The U.N. stated in its Sustainable Development Goals Report for 2022, “Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are root causes of the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.” 

First, style note: you really need to provide direct references for these quotes, for reasons that will become clear below.

But even taking the quote as given: I don't think that "unsustainable patterns of consumption and production" necessarily implies that economic growth poses a risk. You can have continuing economic growth while changing patterns of consumption and production. For example, we can make production processes more efficient to produce more with fewer inputs. And in fact that's exactly what we're doing. Not just in high-income countries, but globally.

They have also recently stated that staying below 1.5 degrees is now impossible unless we see “a radical transformation of society.”  Thus implying technology alone will not be enough to achieve our global environmental goals. 

Again, I don't think the implication you draw is supported by the quote. Technology can radically change society. The shift from gas to electric vehicles is a big transformation (perhaps even radical?).

And IPCC reports this year suggested that “degrowth policies should be considered in the fight against climate breakdown." 

I would be surprised to see that quote appear in an IPCC report. And in fact when I googled it, it seems like it comes from this Nature article on which Jason Hickel was a co-author. Hickel is a noteworthy degrowth advocate and, in my opinion, does not engage with these debates in a truth-seeking way (cf. his interactions with Max Roser). That Nature article does not cite which IPCC report supposedly claims degrowth policies should be considered, much less provide a full-text quote or even page number. I would bet that the IPCC never said anything like that, or at least that Hickel et al. are totally misrepresenting their position.

IMO degrowth is a total non-starter. It would have terrible impacts for the global poor, exacerbate social discord, and trap us in the time of perils. No thanks. I recommend people read this Noah Smith article for more.

Edit: Want to add that it's frankly not the case this kind of stuff hasn't been considered. There is at least one post on this Forum discussing similar ideas in detail, with some good discussion in the replies.

Would you mind writing a bit more about the connection between climate change and nuclear risk?

Hey Johannes - I helped out with that section of What We Owe the Future. Just wanted to note that I read this post, found it valuable, and agree more work exploring the longtermist implications of the literature you cite would be pretty valuable. There's a lot to go into here and unfortunately I haven't yet had the time to dive in. I'd be curious to explore where this literature does and does not agree with the variance in civilizational values from the World Values Survey discussed in the book, for example. Thanks for taking the time to read the book critically and write up these thoughts!

For what it's worth, I suspect many readers do think there's some chance of stagnation (i.e. put 5% credence or more). Will MacAskill devotes an entire chapter to growth stagnation in What We Owe the Future. In fact he thinks it's the most likely of the four future trajectories discussed in the book, giving it 35% credence (see note 22 to chapter 2, p. 273-4).

The Samotsvety forecasters think this is too high, but each still puts at least 1% credence on the scenario and their aggregated forecast is 5%. Low, but suggesting it's worth considering.

It's a stronger claim because "most people don't expect AGI" implies "markets don't expect AGI"

I'm not sure that's true. Markets often price things that only a minority of people know or care about. See the lithium example in the original post. That was a case where "most people didn't know lithium was used in the H-bomb" didn't imply that "markets didn't know lithium was used in the H-bomb"

Thanks for doing this, I think it's awesome! I'm excited to see some unfamiliar names and different cause areas on the list.

I find it hard to believe that the number of traders who have considered crazy future AI scenarios is negligible. New AI models, semiconductor supply chains, etc. have gotten lots of media and intellectual attention recently. Arguments about transformative AGI are public. Many people have incentives to look into them and think about their implications.

I don't think this post is decisive evidence against short timelines. But neither do I think it's a "trap" that relies on fully swallowing EMH. I think there're deeper issues to unpack here about why much of the world doesn't seem to put much weight on AGI coming any time soon.

Quick note: the Google Docs link you shared has suggestion privileges, which you might not want for a public doc.

(cw: animal suffering)

Very different tone, but also in the genre of interesting-people-thinking-about-lobster-ethics: "Consider the Lobster", by David Foster Wallace.

I think the discussion in these comments has been impressively direct, productive, and polite. I've enjoyed following it and want to give props to everyone involved. Ya'll make me proud to be part of this community.

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