Starting a conversation about Effective Environmentalism

post by Chriswaterguy · 2016-08-08T01:44:27.315Z · EA · GW · Legacy · 6 comments


  Edited to add: 
  Suggestion for forum posts:

Environmentalism isn't a popular focus in EA, because it seems more positive to help stop people suffering and dying. I agree with that. However, I think many of us do care about the environment and are deeply concerned about climate change, and may even get into debates about it. 


I see a few arguments for an Effective Environmentalism effort:

What's happening?

So far:

What's in a name?

"Effective Environmentalism" is not necessarily the name to use. It may be helpful to separate it from EA so that if there are strong reactions against it, it won't negatively impact EA.

There may already be another banner to rally under. (Not sure about Ecomodernism, though. While I think their approach and conclusions are pretty good, we may not want to pre-suppose a particular set of conclusions.)

Who's doing what?


FWIW I don't see myself as a movement leader, but I do know a bit about environmental stuff (studied water engineering many years ago, have done some work in environmental engineer (technical writing on low carbon energy technologies). And I'm happy to be a contact person and organiser, and be involved in other ways. We have a bunch of informed and engaged people involved, and I'm interested to see who steps up and what emerges. 


Edited to add: 

See also on this forum:

Effective Altruism, Environmentalism, and Climate Change: An Introduction – by Evan_Gaensbauer on 10 March 2016

Suggestion for forum posts:

Use tags, e.g. environmentalism, climate.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Richard_Batty · 2016-08-08T19:10:19.012Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I can understand why we should care about climate change (because of the impact on humans) but I'm confused about what the purpose of environmentalism that focusses on preventing destruction of natural habitats is. Here are some possibilities:

  1. Ecosystems with less human interference are intrinsically good, so we should save and increase them
  2. Biodiversity (whether that's species diversity, genetic diversity, ecological diversity) is intrinsically good and so we should prevent reductions in biodiversity through e.g. species extinction
  3. The welfare of wild animals matters so we shouldn't harm them through e.g. by destroying their habitat
  4. Relatively undisturbed natural areas provide humans with beneficial things - i.e. ecosystem services

These are very different purposes that would lead to us optimising for very different things, so I think it's important to clarify what the end goal of an effective environmentalist would be.

If I were to evaluate these different possible end goals, I would think:

1 and 2 don't make much sense to me because I mainly value the happiness (and avoidance of suffering) of humans and animals. 3 could actually go against environmentalism because of wild animal suffering. 4 seems to fit in with the rest of EA well. Could have implications for poverty and global catastrophic risks.

comment by RandomEA · 2016-08-08T05:08:23.793Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I initially thought that ACE-recommended charities might be the most effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they turned out to be much less effective than I expected.[1] According to Giving What We Can, the most effective charity in this area is actually Cool Earth.[2] However, you should consider the effect of rainforest preservation on wild animal suffering before donating.[3]

[1] I no longer have the numbers I used to do the calculation. If anybody else attempts this calculation, please publish it so that there's no need for it to be done over and over.



comment by JesseClifton · 2016-08-08T15:33:17.207Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Have you seen Brian Tomasik's work on 1) the potential harms of environmentalism for wild animals, and 2) the effects of climate change on wild animal suffering?


comment by MatthewDahlhausen · 2016-08-09T15:26:10.748Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

re-posting my comments here from the FB group a while back: Some thoughts: 1) There is sufficient overlap with end factory-farming / meat production, and my initial estimate of calculating savings from vegan advocacy was that it as about ~1/3 as effective as Cool Earth. 2) "Environmentalism for the people" concerns. Much of environmentalism used to be about local air and water quality, whereas now it has shifted to global concerns about more subjective topics like the biodiversity value of a certain species. There is still a LOT of support and human health impacts from air and water quality, as the are among the most significant risk factors for DALYs 3) Some concepts like carrying capacity, finite elemental resources, and guaranteeing an energy supply are largely ignored by the EA community, which assumes more is better (signing up for cryonics, etc.). It is possible there could be an energy/resource pinch, and this could be a major existential risk. 4) Energy and food waste represent an enormous drain on economies. It is relatively easy to make great improvements in this area. For example, California is making it building code that new residential buildings be net-zero energy by 2019, and new commercial buildings by 2030.

Edit: copying some other good resources here too:

comment by Sean_o_h · 2016-08-09T11:36:03.718Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

+1 on "Without the hot air", great resource. And available freely online (by design). The author, David McKay, was truly remarkable - a physicist, mathematician, machine learning researcher, and advisor to the UK government on energy and climate change. Passed away earlier this year at a relatively young age after a battle with cancer. Delighted to see his work being shared.

comment by cdc482 · 2016-08-09T23:28:51.966Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think is a great opportunity for the information we know on acting well to be formalized into recommendations. For example, I believe the consensus is that buying organic is not particularly good for environment while going veg has a large measurable effect. There are other relatively small changes you can make to your home and place of employment like reducing waste and planting trees. Any have input?