Starting a conversation about Effective Environmentalism
post by Chriswaterguy
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:
- Good information exists – quantitative, probabilistic and rational approaches to environmental issues. As examples I nominate Sustainable Energy – without the hot air and the Ecomodernist Manifesto.
- Inaccurate information is often better known than good information, especially in the broader population. The most prominent environmental organisations (e.g. Green parties, Greenpeace) tend to have ideological positions on some major issues, rather than evidence-based positions. Some of this bad info is very hard to tackle (climate change denialism or ideological opposition to certain energy sources, or support of other sources) but some may be more possible to address. E.g. environmentalists repeating incorrect information about energy production or prioritising things that have negligible impact – I think it's relatively easy to contribute constructively to such discussions.
- Environmental debate is largely polarised and ineffective. Creating opportunities for more constructive discussion could be very helpful.
- Large amounts of money and time are spent on environmental issues. If it's possible to nudge even a small amount towards more effective action, this could be a significant positive.
- We have a Facebook group – largely as a way of discovering who is interested in EE. (If you're not on Facebook, then you're probably very sensible – let me know and I'll keep you in the loop.)
- We had a discussion group on the topic at EAGx Melbourne 2016. The group raised issues including impact per person, scaling & influence, marginal impact of environmental action (and how that compares to other actions that would prevent a certain amount of suffering or death), and individual vs collective action (e.g. what is the market effect of me not consuming something, and how does that compare with political action?)
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.
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comment by Richard_Batty
) · GW
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:
- Ecosystems with less human interference are intrinsically good, so we should save and increase them
- 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
- The welfare of wild animals matters so we shouldn't harm them through e.g. by destroying their habitat
- 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 MatthewDahlhausen
) · GW
re-posting my comments here from the FB group a while back:
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 https://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-compare/.
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.
copying some other good resources here too:
comment by Sean_o_h
) · GW
+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
) · GW
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?