WillPearson

WillPearson's Comments

8 things I believe about climate change

I found this report on adaptation, which suggest adaptation with some forethought will be better than waiting for problems to get worse. Talks about things other than crops too. The headlines

  • Without adaptation, climate change may depress growth in global agriculture yields up to 30 percent by 2050. The 500 million small farms around the world will be most affected.
  • The number of people who may lack sufficient water, at least one month per year, will soar from 3.6 billion today to more than 5 billion by 2050.
  • Rising seas and greater storm surges could force hundreds of millions of people in coastal cities from their homes, with a total cost to coastal urban areas of more than $1 trillion each year by 2050.
  • Climate change could push more than 100 million people within developing countries below the poverty line by 2030. The costs of climate change on people and the economy are clear. The toll on human life is irrefutable. The question is how will the world respond: Will we delay and pay more or plan ahead and prosper?
On Collapse Risk (C-Risk)

I've been thinking for a while civilisational collapse scenarios impact some of the common assumptions about the expected value of movement building or saving for effective altruism. This has knock on implications to when things are most hingeist.

8 things I believe about climate change
That said, I personally would be quite surprised if worldwide crop yields actually ended up decreasing by 10-30%. (Not an informed opinion, just vague intuitions about econ).

I hope they won't too, if we manage to develop the changes we need to make before we need them. Economics isn't magic

But I wanted to point out that there will probably be costs associated with stopping deaths associated with food shortages with adaptation. Are they bigger or smaller than mitigation by reducing CO2 output or geoengineering?

This case hasn't been made either way to my knowledge and could help allocate resources effectively.

8 things I believe about climate change

Are there any states that have committed to doing geoengineering, or even experimenting with geoengineering, if mitigation fails?

Having some publicly stated sufficient strategy would convince me that this was not a neglected area.

8 things I believe about climate change

I'm expecting the richer nations to adapt more easily, So I'm expecting a swing away from food production in the less rich nations as poorer farmers would have a harder time adapting as there farms get less productive (and they have less food to sell). Also farmers with now unproductive land would struggle to buy food on the open market

I'd be happy to be pointed to the people thinking about this and planning on having funding for solving this problem. Who are the people that will be funding the teaching of subsistence rice farmers (of all nationalities) how to farm different crops they are not used to etc? Providing tools and processing equipment for the new crop. Most people interested in climate change I have met are still in the hopeful mitigation phase and if they are thinking about adaptation it is about their own localities.

This might not be a pressing problem now[1], but it could be worth having charities learning in the space about how to do it well (or how to help with migration if land becomes uninhabitable).

[1] https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2018/07/25/climate-change-food-agriculture/ suggests that some rice producing regions might have problems soon

8 things I believe about climate change

On 1) not being able to read the full text of the impactlab report, but it seem they just model the link between heat and mortality, but not the impact of heat on crop production causing knock on health problems. E.g. http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/materials-based-on-reports/booklets/warming_world_final.pdf suggests that each degree of warming would reduce the current crop yields by 5-15%. So for 4 degrees warming (baseline according to https://climateactiontracker.org/global/temperatures/ ), this would be 20-60% of world food supply reduction.

If governments stick to their policies (which they have been notoriously bad at so far) then the reduction would only be 10-30%. I'd expect even a 10% decrease to have massive knock on effects to the nutrition and mortality of the world. I expect that is not included in the impact lab report because it is very hard to have papers that encompass the entire scope of the climate crisis.

Of course there could be a lot of changes to how and where we grow crops to avoid these problems, but making sure that we manage this transition well, so that people in the global south can adopt the appropriate crops for whatever their climate becomes seems like something that could use some detailed analysis. It seems neglected as far as I can tell, there may be simple things we can do to help. It is not mainstream climate change mitigation though, so might fit your bill?



Are we living at the most influential time in history?

As currently defined, long termists have two possible choices.

  1. Direct work to reduce X-risk
  2. Investing for the future (by saving or movement building) to then spend on reduction of x-risk at a later date

There are however other actions that may be more beneficial.

Let us look again at the definition of influential again

a time ti is more influential (from a longtermist perspective) than a time tj iff you would prefer to give an additional unit of resources,[1] that has to be spent doing direct work (rather than investment), to a longtermist altruist living at ti rather than to a longtermist altruist living at tj.

While direct work is not formally defined it can be seen here to be mainly referred to as near-term existential risk mitigation.

The most obvious implication, however, is regarding what proportion of resources longtermist EAs should be spending on near-term existential risk mitigation versus what I call ‘buck-passing’ strategies like saving or movement-building.

What happens if the answer is neither option? What are the other levers we have on the future. One is that we might be able to take actions that change the expected rate of return. Perhaps the expected rate of return on investments is very bad, but there are actions you can take to increase it to more normal levels? Or there is low-hanging fruit for vastly increasing the expected rate of return on investments in the long term.

So let us introduce another type of influential (and another version of hingeness). Influential-i, that is the time that has the most influential action being ones that attempt to impact interest rates.

a time ti is more influential-i (from a longtermist perspective) than a time tj iff you would prefer to give an additional unit of resources,[1] that has to be spent doing direct work to alter investment rates (rather than normal investment itself or X-risk reduction), to a longtermist altruist living at ti rather than to a longtermist altruist living at tj.

So what would increase the rate of return on investment? New energy sources with high energy returned on energy invested could increase the rate of return on investment. For example, if you manage to help invent nuclear fusion you would increase the amount of cleaner energy available to civilisation giving more resources to future altruists to use to solve problems.

Avoiding vast decreases in the rate of return would be actions that manage to stave of civilization collapse. Civilization collapse should be a lot higher on the radar for long term altruists, as it is.

  1. More likely than existential risk (considering civilisations have collapsed in the past and there are inside views for it happening in the future)
  2. Likely to cause a collapse in the effective altruism movement as well as people focus lower on maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  3. Likely to cause hyperinflation (at the minimum), wiping out savings.
  4. Lowering/destroying existing existential risk reduction mitigation efforts (meteorite monitoring programs).

The long-termist community would do well to look at these options when thinking about the time frame of hundreds of years.

Critique of Superintelligence Part 2
Let's say they only mail you as much protein as one full human genome.

This doesn't make sense. Do you mean proteome? There is not a 1-1 mapping between genome and proteome. There are at least 20,000 different proteins in the human proteome, it might be quite noticeable (and tie up the expensive protein producing machines), if there were 20,000 orders in a day. I don't know the size of the market, so I may be off about that.

I will be impressed if the AI manages to make a biological nanotech that is not immediately eaten up or accidentally sabotaged by the soup of hostile nanotech that we swim in all the time.

There is a lot of uranium in the sea, only because there is a lot of sea. From the pages I have found, there is only 3 micrograms of U per liter, and 0.72 percent is U235. To get the uranium 235 (80% enriched 50Kg bomb) required for a single bomb you would need to process roughly 18 km3 of sea water or 1.8 * 10^13 liters.

This would be pretty noticeable if done in a short time scale (you might also have trouble with diluting the sea locally if you couldn't wait for diffusion to even out the concentrations globally).

To build 1 million nukes you would need more sea water than the Mediterranean (3.75 million km3)

Impact Investing - A Viable Option for EAs?

There might be a further consideration, people might not start or fund impactful startups if there wasn't a good chance of getting investment. The initial investors (if not impact oriented), might still be counting on impact oriented people to buy the investment. So while each individual impact investor is not doing much in isolation, collectively they are creating a market for things that might not get funded otherwise. How you account for that I'm not sure.

Open Thread #40

It might be worth looking at the domains where it might be less worthwhile (formal chaotic systems, or systems with many sign flipping crucial considerations). If you can show that trying to make cost-effectiveness based decisions in such environments is not worth it, that might strengthen your case.

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