If someone identifies as a longtermist, should they donate to Founders Pledge's top climate charities than to GiveWell's top charities?

post by BrianTan · 2020-11-26T07:54:53.479Z · EA · GW · No comments

This is a question post.


  Context on the post
  Will MacAskill's positive view on climate change interventions
  The verdict still seems to be unclear?
No comments

Context on the post

Hey EAs, I'm Brian, co-founder of EA Philippines.

We're growing the number of people interested with and engaged in EA locally through various activities (i.e. an introductory fellowship), and some of them have shown interest in longtermism. I think it's only a matter of time until one or more of them ask us on whether we think it's better for them to donate to Founders Pledge's recommended climate change charities vs. GiveWell's top charities, and I'm not sure what to tell them. I could just point them to resources and have them make their own conclusions, but I would like to know what people here think the true answer is.

Will MacAskill's positive view on climate change interventions

Will MacAskill has said in previous talks (like this one) that he thinks mitigating climate change is a promising way to influence the long-run future, and Rob Wiblin also talked about why "funding anything to do with clean energy seems robustly good" in this Facebook post of his. I know that donations to other opportunities could be more effective from a longtermist point of view (i.e. donations to meta/longtermist/AI/biorisk orgs), but I can imagine that quite a few EAs globally who are interested in longtermism will be interested in donating to Founders Pledge's Climate Fund and/or one of their recommended climate charities (Clean Air Task Force, Carbon180, and TerraPraxis). These EAs may then wonder how these stack up against GiveWell's charities as an example.

The verdict still seems to be unclear?

This Forum post by Hauke Hillebrandt [EA · GW] concludes that global development interventions are generally more effective than climate change interventions, but there's substantial disagreement in the comments section, so the verdict on this is still unclear. And Johannes Ackva said that Founders Pledge doesn't have any updates to share currently about comparing climate change vs. global health/development interventions. So I would like to ask the EA community instead for your thoughts on these two questions:

  1. If someone identifies as a longtermist, should they donate to Founders Pledge's top climate charities than to GiveWell's top charities?
  2. Whether or not someone is a longtermist, how should someone decide whether to donate to FP's top climate charities than to GiveWell's top charities?

This post is not for my own donation choice, since I am more interested in donating to other types of EA/EA-aligned charities than climate change or GiveWell recommended charities, but I want to have more informed and nuanced thoughts on this matter. I'm also interested to hear if anyone has good arguments as to why donating to GiveWell's top charities is good from a longtermist perspective too. If you think I should also just wait 1-2 years until someone at Founders Pledge or in the EA community investigates this further, then that's a valid response too. Thanks!


answer by BrianTan · 2020-11-26T08:57:57.663Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Upvote this if you think that someone who identifies as a longtermist should donate to Founders Pledge's top climate charities rather than to GiveWell's top charities.

comment by Anonymous 9 · 2020-11-27T16:04:36.491Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Meta: I suggest that when upvotes are used to implement a poll, the post author would also provide a comment to be downvoted by poll participants in order to balance the the author's karma (so as to not create a norm that might be exploited by others for gaining karma). 

Also, I suggest placing all the poll comments under one parent comment.

comment by BrianTan · 2020-11-28T03:59:59.255Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Good suggestions! Thanks for flagging. I think a better, longer-term way to solve this is we need a poll feature then on the Forum, rather than just the downvoting solution.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2020-11-28T20:06:05.602Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I like what you've done here. 

I don't see how a poll feature would be specifically better than this is currently. How do you think it could be improved?

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2020-11-28T20:07:33.417Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I suggest upvoted comments are those people like and hence are a legitimate means of gaining karma. If people don't like the comments, they won't upvote them, right?

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2020-11-28T20:08:34.734Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think "poll comments" are a normal form of comment which should sit amongst normal comments rather than being relegated to a parent comment. Some people like to show appreciation for consensus statements, others like to upvote very specific blocks of text. This upvote system lets us order the two.

Thanks for your work Anonymous 9.

answer by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-11-26T14:29:33.104Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Brian,

Just a very quick answer from me to your first question.

At 80k we rate climate change ahead of global health since it seems more pressing from a longtermist perspective (e.g. Toby Ord thinks it's a significant existential risk factor).

So, I would say that longtermists should donate to climate change over global health from an impact perspective, if choosing equally good charities from each cause (though I think it would be even better to donate to GCBRs of AI safety).

One might think that GiveWell is better at selecting charities than FP (and they've certainly done more research), but I think the edge on charity selection is unlikely to be big enough to offset the difference in cause area.

Another difference is that GiveWell focuses on evidence-backed interventions, whereas FP takes more of a hits based approach, but that seems like another advantage of the FP picks to me.

Finally, I'm focusing more on direct impact above. There could be other reasons to donate to global health (e.g. for advocacy reasons - since lots of great people have entered EA via global health), though I'm pretty unsure those factors would tell in favour of global health going forward (e.g. it seems plausible to me that EA should make climate change our standard 'mainstream' cause rather than global health).

PS Hauke's post is comparing GiveWell recommendations to climate change on a neartermist perspective, so doesn't answer your question.

comment by BrianTan · 2020-11-26T14:53:22.381Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks so much for writing this answer Ben! And yes thanks for clarifying that Hauke's post is comparing GiveWell recommendations to climate change on a neartermist perspective. I didn't know that because I didn't read the full thing yet (and I think it would be quite difficult for me to fully understand).

comment by BrianTan · 2020-11-26T15:09:08.092Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Are you willing to share your views Ben of whether a longtermist should donate to a top biorisk organization (i.e. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security) versus a top AI safety organization (i.e. the Centre for Human Compatible AI)? 

Both of the sample organizations I mentioned above are recommended by Founders Pledge, although I don't know how much to trust their recommendations in the x-risk space (I have read more about their research into climate change than x-risk organizations).

Given that Toby Ord thinks that the chance of an existential catastrophe from unaligned AI is 10% and from biorisk is 3.33%, then I might reasonably conclude that as long as CHAI is not 3x worse than JHU CHS, it would be more effective to donate to CHAI. I'm not sure how to trade off the efforts of organizations between those two spaces though, or if people should even do that - maybe it's just robustly good to donate to either, and that there's not much point trading off between the two causes. What do you think?

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-11-26T17:39:29.743Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Brian,

We're somewhat more keen to see additional resources on AI safety compared to GCBRs, but the difference seems fairly narrow, so we're keen to see people take unusually good opportunities to help reduce GCBRs (or to work on it if they have better personal fit). More here: https://80000hours.org/problem-profiles/global-catastrophic-biological-risks/

comment by BrianTan · 2020-11-26T15:25:03.938Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(e.g. it seems plausible to me that EA should make climate change our standard 'mainstream' cause rather than global health).

This is really interesting to hear from you. I wonder if community builders and people leading fundraising organizations should think about this more, and if they are willing to shift their focus and marketing to effective climate change charities than GiveWell charities.

Some fundraising-focused EA organizations still focus on global health ones only (i.e. Ayuda Efectiva from Spain and EA Norway's initiative, gieffektivt.no).

If you have time to answer, what further work do you think has to be done in this area before more EAs decide that climate change donations should be our "mainstream cause"? Or do you think more EAs should already be mainstreaming effective climate change charities more than GiveWell's already?

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-11-26T17:41:01.506Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it's a good question, but it's pretty complex, so it would take me a while to elaborate, sorry!

answer by Max_Daniel · 2020-11-26T09:57:31.548Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

[Giving just my impression before updating on others people's views.]

Very briefly:

  • I think donating to GiveWell top charities (and more generally donating to charities that have been selected not primarily for their long-term effects) clearly doesn't maximize long-term impact, at least at first glance. I think this is shown by arguments such as the following:
  • In some cases, there may be reasons other than the long-term effect of the funded charity's work in favor of giving to GiveWell charities. For example, perhaps this better maintains someone's motivation and altruism, thus increasing the long-term impact of their non-donation activities. Or perhaps this will better allow them to share their excitement for effective altruism with others, thus allowing them to acquire more resources, including for long-term causes.
    • However, I'm skeptical that these reasons are often decisive, except maybe in some extremely idiosyncratic cases.
  • I don't have much of a view on FP's climate change charities in particular. My best guess is they are higher-impact than GiveWell charities from a long-term perspective. However, I'd also guess there are other options that are even better from just a narrow impact perspective. Examples include:
  • It's much more plausible to me that among options that have been selected for having 'reasonably high long-term impacts' "secondary" considerations such as the ones mentioned above can be decisive (i.e. effect on motivation or ability to promote EA, etc.).
comment by BrianTan · 2020-11-26T13:48:17.338Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Max, thanks for this. Could you clarify what you mean by "narrow impact perspective"? Do you mean from a purely long-term impact perspective?

However, I'd also guess there are other options that are even better from just a narrow impact perspective. Examples include:

Also, I'm not sure how the donation lottery is a good opportunity from a long-term impact perspective. If I were a pure longtermist I would just trust the EA LTFF and I think that they are better suited to pick longtermist grant opportunities (given that they have more experience vetting organizations and people in this space) than me spending time myself evaluating longtermist opportunities.

comment by Max_Daniel · 2020-11-26T14:34:20.054Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Also, I'm not sure how the donation lottery is a good opportunity from a long-term impact perspective. If I were a pure longtermist I would just trust the EA LTFF

I agree that asking whether oneself expects to make higher-impact grants than EA Funds is a key question here.

However, note that you retain the option to give to EA Funds if you win the donor lottery. So in this sense the donor lottery can't be worse than giving to EA Funds directly, unless you think that winning itself impairs your judgment or similar (or causes you to waste time searching for alternatives, or ...).

Also, I do think that at least some donors will be able to make better grants than EA Funds. Yes, EA Fund managers have more grantmaking experience. However, they are also quite time-constrained, and so a donor lottery winner may be able to invest more time per grant/money granted. 

In addition, donors may possess idiosyncratic knowledge that would be too costly to transfer to fund managers. For example, suppose there was a great opportunity to fund biosecurity policy work in the Philippines - it might be more likely that a member of EA Philippines hears about, and is able to evaluate, this opportunity than an EA Funds member (e.g. because this requires a lot of background knowledge on the country). [This is a hypothetical example to illustrate the idea, I don't want to make a claim that this specifically is likely.]

These points are also explained in more detail in the post on donor lotteries I linked to.

comment by BrianTan · 2020-11-26T15:00:56.767Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for pointing out that the donor could still give to EA funds if they win the donor lottery - I forgot about that. So yeah I would agree now that the donor lottery can't be worse than giving to EA Funds directly.

I guess a question I have is how much time should a donor who wins the donor lottery invest if they win it, and how many hours would be considered more than what an EA fund manager would spend? 

Also,  I do see that donors could possess idiosyncratic knowledge that fund managers don't have, or know funding opportunities that fund managers don't. Thanks for illustrating the example on biosecurity policy work in the Philippines. Unfortunately I don't think that biosecurity policy work in the Philippines is that effective to work on, given that it's probably better to do biosecurity policy work in countries with more developed research fields in biotechnology/biosecurity. I haven't looked into or thought about it that much but those would be my views currently.

comment by Max_Daniel · 2020-11-26T14:27:06.210Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Could you clarify what you mean by "narrow impact perspective"?

That was unclear, sorry. I again meant impact from just the funded charity's work. As opposed to effects on the motivation or ability to acquire resources of the donor, etc.

answer by Louis_Dixon · 2020-11-26T22:29:25.244Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In my view yes, for the reasons Ben Todd gives below. I also did some brief back of the envelope calculations using Danny's Bressler's mortality cost of carbon here [EA · GW]. This is also something Will MacAskill has been talking about a lot more recently, and he talks about the long-term importance of climate change here. And also as Ben Todd and Max say below - I also agree that it's possible there's longtermist work, e.g. on GCBRs and maybe AI, that has a higher expected impact. But I think climate change is a fairly straightforward longtermist bet. We've recently added the Founders Pledge climate fund to EA Funds here.  

answer by BrianTan · 2020-11-26T08:58:20.744Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Upvote this if you think that someone who identifies as a longtermist should donate to GiveWell's top charities rather than to Founders Pledge's top climate charities.

comment by BrianTan · 2020-11-28T11:11:19.651Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd be really interested to hear the arguments of anyone who upvoted this! I think this answer is at least plausible and worth fleshing out.

answer by BrianTan · 2020-11-26T08:58:45.726Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Upvote this if you think that it's too early to say whether someone who identifies as a longtermist should donate to Founders Pledge's top climate charities rather than to GiveWell's top charities.

answer by BrianTan · 2020-11-28T11:11:55.609Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As suggested by another user, please downvote/strong downvote this comment by an equal amount of karma (currently it's at 29) as the comments which got upvoted for karma, so that I don't get higher karma just because I am running a poll. Thanks!

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2020-11-28T20:14:03.470Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this is unnecessary. If you provide comments that people agree with that exactly the sort of thing we want to upvote and hence provide karma to.

What's more, it encourages other people to add their own statements to your poll to gain karma. To me, the incentives look entirely correct here.

Happy to be wrong. 

comment by BrianTan · 2020-11-29T12:53:01.575Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Nathan, I can imagine people abusing this though where they just keep making polls to gain karma. I think 100 karma gained via a poll is less value than 100 karma gained from posts or comments, so I'd rather balance it out by allowing people to downvote a comment. Currently, I've gotten 29 upvotes and 12 downvotes, so I think it's fair that the value of this poll is only worth roughly half the karma of a normal post/comment. I imagine in future polls, not everyone will downvote - only those that think karma gained through polls is not fair. 

comment by alexrjl · 2020-11-29T17:41:45.858Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey everyone if you think Brian is wrong about not deserving lots of Karma for posting an interesting and well thought out question you can just upvote this reply he made (I did).

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2020-11-30T11:48:54.410Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I suggest that if people were seen to be abusing the functionality people wouldn't upvote those posts.

I can understand that post karma should be worth more than comment karma though.

Also, I'm not sure how much the community cares about karma.  Not saying it doesn't, I just don't know.

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