9Joined Aug 2020


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utilistrutil's Shortform

EAG SF Was Too Boujee.

I have no idea what the finances for the event looked like, but I'll assume the best case that CEA at least broke even.

The conference seemed extravagant to me. We don't need so much security or staff walking around to collect our empty cups. How much money was spent to secure an endless flow of wine? There were piles of sweaters left at the end; attendees could opt in with their sizes ahead of time to calibrate the order.

Particularly in light of recent concerns about greater funding, it would behoove us to consider the harms of an opulent EAG to our optics, culture, and values. And even if EAGs are self-sustaining, we should still be vigilant regarding the opportunity cost of the money spent on a conference ticket. An attendee seems more likely to fund their ticket out of their "donations bucket" than their "white wine and cheesecake bucket."

I'm not saying we need maximal asceticism; I'm sure there are large benefits to a comfortable conference experience in a good venue. But as a critical thread in the fabric of our community, EAG presents a unique opportunity for us to practice and affirm our values. We can do better.

A couple qualifications: I've only been to a couple non-EA conferences. Maybe conferences are generally quite fancy, and the EAG organizers are anchoring to a standard I'm not familiar with. Second, I have great faith in CEA, and I would not be surprised if they face non-negotiable requirements—eg with respect to personnel—imposed by the city or venue. 

An argument that EA should focus more on climate change

Hi Ann! Congratulations on this excellent piece :)

I want to bring up a portion I disagreed with and then address another section that really struck me. The former is:

Of course, co-benefits only affect the importance of an issue and don’t affect tractability or neglectedness. Therefore, they may not affect marginal cost-effectiveness.

I think I disagree with this for two reasons:

  1. Improving the magnitude of impact while holding tractability and neglectedness constant would increase impact on the margin, ie, if we revise our impact estimates upwards at every possible level of funding, then climate change efforts become more cost-effective.
  2. It seems like considering co-benefits does affect tractability, but the tractability of these co-benefit issue areas, rather than of climate change per se. Eg, addressing energy poverty becomes more tractable as we discover effective interventions to address it.

The section that struck me was:

climate change is somewhat unique in that its harms are horrible and have time-limited solutions; the growth rate of the harms is larger, and the longer we wait to solve them the less we will be able to do.

To be fair, other x-risks are also time-limited. Eg if nuclear war is currently going to happen in  years, then by next year we will only have  years left to solve it. The same holds for a catastrophic AI event. It seems like ~the nuance~ is that in the climate change case,  tractability diminishes the longer we wait, as well as the timeframe. Compared to the AI case, for example, where the risk itself is unclear, I think this weighing makes climate change mitigation much more attractive.

Thanks for a great read!

Venn diagrams of existential, global, and suffering catastrophes

Why is "people decide to lock in vast nonhuman suffering" an example of failed continuation in the last diagram?