Effective Altruism Is Exploring Climate Change Action, and You Can Be Part of It

post by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2016-04-22T16:39:30.688Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · EA · GW · Legacy · 4 comments

 

Related: Effective Altruism, Environmentalism, and Climate Change: An Introduction

I could perhaps have listed "effective environmental altruism" as focus area 5. The environmental movement in general is large and well-known, but I'm not aware of many effective altruists who take environmentalism to be the most important cause for them to work on, after closely investigating the above focus areas. In contrast, the groups and people named above tend to have influenced each other, and have considered all these focus areas explicitly. For this reason, I've left "effective environmental altruism" off the list, though perhaps a popular focus on effective environmental altruism could arise in the future.

- Luke Muehlhauser, 2013, Four Focus Areas of Effective Altruism

Multiple EA organizations have, very recently, begun exploring or updating research on important, neglected, and tractable interventions on climate change, and how they help. I find this promising, because I believe there are many bridges effective altruism can build with the movements surrounding climate activism, as we're all motivated to help the same classes of beneficiaries in broad ways: currently living humans; non-human animals; and future generations (both human and non-human). It seems climate change advocacy and mitigation has become a cause in its own right for millions of people worldwide because it cuts across all these areas. I believe, even beyond the climate though, effective altruism can extend concern among environmentalists to causes more broadly, including issues such as:


Giving What We Can has a nearly complete profile up on the effects of climate change on human well-being in two parts: one on the importance and neglectedness of climate change's impact on poverty and global health, GWWC's classic foci, and one on tractable interventions in the space. They've also released an updated report on Cool Earth, what GWWC considers a top charity in reducing carbon emissions, as well as going into great detail to explain the cost of donating to Cool Earth to save a life relative to their top-recommended charities such as the Against Malaria Foundation, and the other impacts Cool Earth has on developing communities. 

I consider all these reports highly impressive. Originally, I was thinking I'd have to go digging myself to find these results and report the research for everyone else to read. I think this might be wholly unnecessary because of Giving What We Can's quality work. What's new in these reports most of us didn't already know? Well, Giving What We Can compares the potential impact of different types of climate-change interventions, including policy advocacy to reduce emissions, direct action, and geoengineering. These reports also give an overview of the range of plausible and non-negligible impacts of climate change on human well-being through the 21st century, including the potential impact of the extreme tail-risks of runaway climate change. I consider it worthy reading even if poverty alleviation, global health, or climate change aren't your own top-priority causes.

80,000 Hours has recently published a new profile on why effective altruists might consider themselves best suited to prioritizing mitigation of the extreme tail risks from climate change, and how they would use their careers to do so as either advocates or researchers. This also includes recommendations on what are some of the most concrete actions one can take towards effectively mitigating the worst impacts of climate change. That's great, because I'm sure many of us know friends who are committed environmentalists, and these recommendations work just as well, if not better, for them in pursuit of a high-impact career. Spread the news! This is part of 80,000 Hours' new and ongoing series on the biggest problems in the world, and what can be done about them.


The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, out of the University of Cambridge, is hiring a post-doctoral research associate for environmental risk. This research would be in the same vein of what 80,000 Hours recommends researchers pursue (see above). I'd like to highlight this is a great opportunity because this may be the best current opportunity to have a direct individual impact on this cause for many effective altruists, outside of research in engineering and climate science. From the job posting:

This first hire is likely to seed a broader programme in this space for us, in collaboration with a range of partners in Cambridge. Relevant disciplines might include: biology, ecology, conservation, mathematical modelling, planetary science, anthropology, psychology, human geography, decision and policy sciences. Please share the word as widely as possible! As Huw's and my own networks are not primarily in environmental and climate risk, we are very grateful for the help of our colleagues and friends in reaching the right networks. 

Even if you yourself or your close friends aren't fit for this job, I recommend reaching out as far as you can to help get this position filled. As stated, this first hire is likely to precipitate a broader programme, and the ability to influence that marks the potential for huge impact from one individual. The deadline for applications is May 11th. Applications can be submitted here.


Students for High-Impact Charity is a recently launched EA project, aiming to design curriculum and provide an introductory education on effective altruism to secondary school students, covering a wide range of causes, including effective environmental and climate change-related charities. They're currently seeking volunteer students or teachers to help run a course, or one of the individual modules, in schools all around the world. Contact information is here, or you can learn more and get involved directly by joining their Facebook group, SHIC Roots.


Other recent efforts from the EA community at large are the recent announcement of an independent research team making a renewed effort to evaluate effective interventions and organizations on emission reduction and climate change mitigation, as well as environmental pollution and habitat destruction, in greater depth. From Josie Segar, a co-leader of the team:

The aim of the project is to critically evaluate whether environmental issues and organisations might fit well into the remit of Effective Altruism. Environmental issues, including anthropogenic climate change, have been cited by major international organisations such as WHO and the IPCC as important issues with huge potential for severely negatively impacting sentient lives globally. These organisations are beginning to reframe these topics such that they align very well with many of the core issues that EA already tackles, e.g. global health, poverty, animal welfare and existential risk. Therefore, given the scope and scale of these problems, we think it possible that they align themselves with the fundamental values and objectives of EA.

There is also an Effective Environmentalism Facebook group, now boasting 75+ members.

 


Other EA organizations which focus on many causes, including the extreme tail-risks from climate change, include the Open Philanthropy Project, and particularly their cause report on geoengineering, and the Global Catastrophic Risks Institute.

Environmentalist, effective altruist, both or neither, if you and/or your friends care deeply about climate change, I encourage you to get to pursue some of the above avenues. Why? Because this is an opportunity to get on the ground floor to build climate change mitigation as its own cause within effective altruism, and the work of a handful of individuals do now could carve out a new niche in not one, but multiple social movements, and steer the trajectory of a cause for years to come, as effective altruists have already done in dynamic new disciplines like evidence-based charity evaluation, AI safety, and awareness campaigns for other neglected causes. As Kaj Sotala wrote,

At the moment, the core of effective altruism is formed of smart, driven, and caring people from all around the world. When you become an effective altruist and start participating, you are joining a community of some of the most interesting people on Earth.


4 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by RayTaylor · 2019-03-25T06:50:18.443Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

yes nice summary

I liked the Founders Pledge work on this also:

https://founderspledge.com/research/Cause%20Report%20-%20Climate%20Change.pdf

I agree there's an overlap with poverty and catastrophic risk. I used to work on cloud feedbacks and options for slowing global warming, but (seeing the slow progress of governments) I switched to working on a possible consequence of climate change, namely multiple bread basket failure (MBBF) and abrupt global famine, and how to prevent that. So with David Denkenberger I co-founded ALLFED.info - could ALLFED be considered a climate initiative in the new review?

comment by cafelow · 2016-04-23T03:50:32.134Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Evan, that is a really useful summary.

comment by Sean_o_h · 2016-04-23T10:45:07.042Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Strongly agreed!

comment by MathiasKirkBonde · 2019-03-25T08:07:08.347Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Nice writeup, I learned a worrying amount of stuff. The fact that you were able to find all of this information, yet I needed a writeup before hearing about any of this indicates an inferiority in my ability to find information.

Did you think "I wonder about EA and climate" and then looked specifically for that information, or it rather "I am seeing this new pattern of climate interest, I should make a collection of this information"?

If it's the latter, then I'm very dissatisfied with the fact I was aware of none of these things in advance. I'd love to hear a bit about your reading habits, as I'm clearly not as well informed as you.

also, none of the ggwc links worked for me. If I remove the 'preview.' part, I get a 404.