Comment by halstead on The case for delaying solar geoengineering research · 2019-05-17T13:31:40.768Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I agree it's not technically the right name, but people generally know what it means which was important for a blogpost. In the paper I actually call it the mitigation obstruction argument. I explicitly discuss the irrationality assumption required for the mitigation obstruction argument in my paper. I think the question of how irrationally people/governments will respond to research is an open one.

Comment by halstead on Centre for the Study of Existential Risk Six Month Report: November 2018 - April 2019 · 2019-05-03T08:26:18.961Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · EA · GW

3. I have a sceptical prior against EU studies of scientific issues because the EU has taken an anti-science stance on many issues under pressure from the environmental movement - see e.g. the effective prohibition of GMOs. The fact that the report you cite advocates for increased organic farming adds weight to my scepticism. The report also says that the estimate of the economic costs is extremely uncertain and potentially a massive overestimate.

4. There are many things in the world that impose substantial economic costs, including inefficienct taxation, labour market regulation, failure to invest in R&D, etc. While they may indeed create economic costs, I fail to see the connection to existential risk.

5. While it is a small part of your portfolio, there is limited political attention for existential risk, and if CSER does start advocating for the view that biodiversity loss deserves serious consideration as a factor relevant to existential risk, that comes at a cost. In this case, the fact that Partha Dasgupta is an influential person is a negative because he risks distracting policymakers from the genuine risks

Comment by halstead on Centre for the Study of Existential Risk Six Month Report: November 2018 - April 2019 · 2019-05-03T08:05:19.102Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · EA · GW

There are lots of risk factors for societal resilience to catastrophes, including all contemporary political and economic problems. The key question is how much of a risk they are and I have yet to see any evidence that biodiversity loss is among the top ones.

Comment by halstead on Centre for the Study of Existential Risk Six Month Report: November 2018 - April 2019 · 2019-05-02T16:28:49.833Z · score: 47 (14 votes) · EA · GW

Can you explain what the mechanism is whereby biodiversity loss creates existential risk? And if biodiversity loss is an existential risk, how big a risk is it? Should 80k be getting people to go into conservation science or not?

There are independent reasons to think that the risk is negligible. Firstly, according to wikipedia, during the Eocene period ~65m years ago, there were thousands fewer genera than today. We have made ~1% of species extinct, and we would have to continue at current rates of species extinctions for at least 200 years to return to Eocene levels of biodiversity. And yet, even though significantly warmer than today, the Eocene marked the dawn of thousands of new species. So, why would we expect the world 200 years hence to be inhospitable to humans if it wasn't inhospitable for all of the species emerging in the Eocene, who are/were significantly less numerous than humans and significantly less capable of a rational response to problems?

Secondly, as far as I am aware, evidence for pressure-induced non-linear ecosystem shifts is very limited. This is true for a range of ecosystems. Linear ecosystem damage seems to be the norm. If so, this leaves more scope for learning about the costs of our damage to ecosystems and correcting any damage we have done.

Thirdly, ecosystem services are overwhelmingly a function of the relations within local ecosystems, rather than of global trends in biodiversity. Upon discovering Hawaii, the Polynesians eliminated so many species that global decadal extinction rates would have been exceptional. This has next to no bearing on ecosystem services outside Hawaii. Humanity is an intelligent species and will be able to see if other regions are suffering from biodiversity loss and make adjustments accordingly. Why would all regions be so stupid as to ignore lessons from elsewhere? Also, is biodiversity actually decreasing in the rich world? I know forest cover is increasing in many places. Population is set to decline in many rich countries in the near future, and environmental impact per person is declining on many metrics.

I also find it surprising that you cite the Kareiva and Carranza paper in support of your claims, for this paper in fact directly contradicts them:

"The interesting question is whether any of the planetary thresholds other than CO2 could also portend existential risks. Here the answer is not clear. One boundary often mentioned as a concern for the fate of global civilization is biodiversity (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 2012), with the proposed safety threshold being a loss of greater than 0.001% per year (Rockström et al., 2009). There is little evidence that this particular 0.001% annual loss is a threshold—and it is hard to imagine any data that would allow one to identify where the threshold was (Brook, Ellis, Perring, Mackay, & Blomqvist, 2013; Lenton & Williams, 2013). A better question is whether one can imagine any scenario by which the loss of too many species leads to the collapse of societies and environmental disasters, even though one cannot know the absolute number of extinctions that would be required to create this dystopia.

While there are data that relate local reductions in species richness to altered ecosystem function, these results do not point to substantial existential risks. The data are small-scale experiments in which plant productivity, or nutrient retention is reduced as species numbers decline locally (Vellend, 2017), or are local observations of increased variability in fisheries yield when stock diversity is lost (Schindler et al., 2010). Those are not existential risks. To make the link even more tenuous, there is little evidence that biodiversity is even declining at local scales (Vellend et al., 2013, Vellend et al., 2017). Total planetary biodiversity may be in decline, but local and regional biodiversity is often staying the same because species from elsewhere replace local losses, albeit homogenizing the world in the process. Although the majority of conservation scientists are likely to flinch at this conclusion, there is growing skepticism regarding the strength of evidence linking trends in biodiversity loss to an existential risk for humans (Maier, 2012; Vellend, 2014). Obviously if all biodiversity disappeared civilization would end—but no one is forecasting the loss of all species. It seems plausible that the loss of 90% of the world’s species could also be apocalyptic, but not one is predicting that degree of biodiversity loss either. Tragic, but plausible is the possibility of our planet suffering a loss of as many as half of its species. If global biodiversity were halved, but at the same time locally the number of species stayed relatively stable, what would be the mechanism for an end-of-civilization or even end of human prosperityscenario? Extinctions and biodiversity loss are ethical and spiritual losses, but perhaps not an existential risk."

Comment by halstead on Does climate change deserve more attention within EA? · 2019-04-18T20:06:53.486Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Energy for Humanity is a great underfunded pro-nuclear NGO working in the EU. Clean Air Task Force and Third Way are also great.

I also think the current emphasis on solar and wind in some places could be a barrier to sensible low carbon policies in the long-term, especially as they don't go very well with nuclear. It also doesn't make a great deal of sense to combine intermittent renewables with nuclear, as France bizarrely recently considered doing, since it just makes nuclear run below capacity when the sun is shining, which doesn't make economic sense.

Comment by halstead on Does climate change deserve more attention within EA? · 2019-04-18T20:02:30.666Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'll focus on point 2 because I think it is the most important. I don't see the argument for it being true that for the vast majority of people, working on climate change promises more leverage on the problem of nuclear war, than does working directly on nuclear war. Nuclear war is easier to make progress on, more neglected and more important than climate change.

Comment by halstead on Does climate change deserve more attention within EA? · 2019-04-18T19:56:42.089Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Yes I think you are in fact right that plausible priors do seem to exclude ECS above 5 degrees.

You pick out a major problem in drawing conclusions about ECS - the IPCC does not explain how they arrive at their pdf of ECS and the estimate seems to be produced somewhat subjectively from various current estimates from instrumental and paleoclimatic data and from their own expert judgement as to what weight to give to different studies. I think this means that they give some weight to pdfs with a very fat tail, which seems to be wrong, given their use of uniform priors. This might mean that their tail estimate is too high

Comment by halstead on Does climate change deserve more attention within EA? · 2019-04-18T19:34:51.074Z · score: 44 (20 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that the environmental movement is extremely poor at optimisation. This being said, there are a number of very large philanthropists and charities who do take a sensible approach to climate change, so I don't think this is a case in which EAs could march in and totally change everything. Much of Climateworks' giving takes a broadly EA approach, and they oversee the giving of numerous multi-billion dollar foundations. Gates also does some sensible work on the energy innovation side. Nevertheless, most money in the space does seem to be spent very badly, e.g. on opposing nuclear power. This consideration might even make the environmental movement net negative wrt climate, though I haven't crunched any numbers on that.

I would also add that sensible EA answers in this space face substantial opposition from the envionmental movement. I think a rational analysis argues in favour of advocating for nuclear and carbon capture, for energy innovation in general, and for financial incentives for preventing deforestation. All of these things are opposed quite strongly by different constituencies in the environmental movement. Maybe the one thing most people can agree on is carbon pricing, but that is hard to get through for other reasons

Comment by halstead on Does climate change deserve more attention within EA? · 2019-04-17T21:12:33.367Z · score: 21 (9 votes) · EA · GW

On Bayesianism - this is an important point. The very heavy tailed estimates all use a "zero information" prior with an arbitrary cut-off at eg 10 degrees or 20 degrees. (I discuss this in my write-up). This is flawed and more plausible priors are available which thin out the tails a lot.

However, I don't think you need this to get to there being substantial tail risk. Eyeballing the ECS estimates that use plausible priors, there's still something like a 1-5% chance of ECS being >5 degrees, which means that from 1.5 doublings of GHG concentrations, which seems plausible, there's a 1-5% of ~7 degrees

Comment by halstead on Does climate change deserve more attention within EA? · 2019-04-17T21:04:45.752Z · score: 40 (15 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this. It's useful for the community to think about this kind of thing and this is well-argued.


1. It's a good point that since the top AI fields seem oversubscribed, it might be worth some people moving into the next best causes. Another possibility is that they should wait until the number of organisations catches up with the number of people. It might even be that the most valuable options is having a reserve of a large number of people who could, with some probability, be a good fit for the highest-impact orgs, even though most of these people never end up working for high-impact orgs. This puts a new slant on the demandingness of EA: rather than making sacrifices by donating, EAs make sacrifices by being prepared to accept the substantial probability of themselves never having impact. This would be hard to take psychologically, but might be the right thing to do in a crowded talent space.

2. On indirect risks, another point I make in the FP report is that while climate change is an indirect stressor of other risks, this suggests to me that working on those terminal risks directly would be a better bet than working on climate change since climate change is such an indirect stressor, is very crowded and seems difficult to make progress on. What do you think of that argument?


3. I don't think it is right that problems with high tractability should be de-prioritised. I think what you mean is that we should focus on things that shift the long-term trajectory of humanity. But these could be highly tractable. e.g. the problem of not starting nuclear war was tractable for Vasili Arkhipov, but plausibly had large long-term effects. Having looked at it in some depth, climate change does look an intractable problem overall and this is indeed a reason not to work on it.

4. Another good point on how there could be increasing returns to scale in climate change, as we could affect the huge pool of funds going to the space through engagement.

5. Really, the ITN perhaps shouldn't be used when we have cost-effectiveness estimates. On the 80k rendering, ITN is literally a cost-effectiveness estimate. But we now have cost-effectiveness estimates of climate charities. If we can make plausible estimates of the impact of bio, AI and nuclear, then we should use those, rather than appealing to the ITN. similarly, for use of time as well as money.

5. It is premature to say that work on climate change could be tractable. I think careful analysis is needed to figure out whether the things you list are indeed a good bet compared to other things that EAs could do.


6. Climate Action Tracker suggests that on current policy, we are in for 3.1 to 3.5C, which is different to the 'baseline' trajectory estimate that you give. I think the current policy trajectory is most relevant for that part of your argument. (But note that this is only by 2100)

7. The impact of climate change on food production is in fact predicted to be fairly modest, as I discuss here. Yields might fall by 10-20% but this will be in the context of rising productivity and improvement in the other factors that determine the supply of food.

8. The emphasis on water shortage throughout is a bit overblown. We don't need to ration water, we just need to price it properly (which is efficient rationing). If we did that, there would be no water problems today or in the future, anywhere (provided people had enough money).

Comment by halstead on The case for delaying solar geoengineering research · 2019-03-31T19:52:35.460Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

2. I don't think this is right, for reasons discussed in this Nature paper. Firstly, solar geoengineering could be used to slow the rate of warming even if it is deployed temporarily. You could deploy it over e.g. a fifty year period and thereby delay the point at which we reach peak warming, and then taper it out gradually. Secondly, as you say, an exception is if CO2 emissions stay above zero. Solar geoengineering could in principle buy us time to abate emissions and to take CO2 out of the atmosphere in which case it would not have to be deployed for the full lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere. In this case, solar geo would slow the rate of warming and reduce peak warming.

Thirdly, I don't see why solar geoengineering would ever be stopped suddenly once we started. The reasons for this are discussed in the Parker and Irvine piece on solar geoengineering. All countries would have a reason to prevent it from stopping suddenly and would have the means to do so given how cheap it is. A catastrophe causing termination would have to be extraordinarily specific.

3. To clarify, is your point here that we should focus on mitigation because then we'll be left with some spare oil come a later catastrophe?

[Link] New Founders Pledge report on existential risk

2019-03-28T11:46:17.623Z · score: 39 (13 votes)
Comment by halstead on The case for delaying solar geoengineering research · 2019-03-27T18:54:08.815Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW


I'm not completely sure I follow why your first paragraph is a critique. I don't expect governance to improve on its own. My claim is that we do not need 50 years of governance research to get governance to a sufficiently good level should we need to deploy solar geoengineering in the future. The hope is that we will be wise enough not to have to use it because we will start serious mitigation, and I'm worried that geoengineering research could be one of many factors that could derail those efforts.

It is true that developing geoengineering technology would create incentives to improve governance mechanisms for geoengineering. I'm not sure why that is a critique of my argument.

I agree that war is unlikely for the reasons you outline.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-26T16:47:34.153Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Was deleted for tone, no interesting content

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T22:42:46.279Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · EA · GW

ok thanks, understood. i hope it wasn't grasping at straws, but maybe this debate has got too sidetracked and should draw to a close.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T19:23:26.901Z · score: 11 (8 votes) · EA · GW

We were debating the claim "Hmm, it is not at all clear to me that the accusations that are being discussed here [the Brown accusations] are separate from the accusations that appear to have caused his apology." Julia Wise's comments has confirmed that the claims were separate. The term 'separate' here means 'different instance of sexual harassment'.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T19:11:38.493Z · score: 10 (8 votes) · EA · GW

The question is about probabilities of guilt/innocence. If you have multiple people accuse you of sexual or non-sexual harassment over the course of at least 7 years in different communities, then you are either extremely unlucky or you have actually harassed people. He also admits guilt

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T19:03:15.624Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · EA · GW

I know the two are not the same - this argument was about your claim: "Hmm, it is not at all clear to me that the accusations that are being discussed here [the Brown accusations] are separate from the accusations that appear to have caused his apology."

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T18:58:02.533Z · score: -10 (7 votes) · EA · GW


Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T18:53:06.496Z · score: 1 (4 votes) · EA · GW


Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T18:51:57.942Z · score: 10 (9 votes) · EA · GW

I am not disputing the claim that numerous complaints over the course of my life about my behaviour would be strong evidence that I have behaved badly. I have been defending this throughout this whole thread. The outside view is strong evidence, of course. The question is whether I would know the details of these complaints if I were told of this outside view evidence. The answer for the vast majority of neurotypical people is 'yes'. I would be able to recall specific cases in which I stepped over the line and I would know how I erred.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T18:40:25.030Z · score: 9 (10 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that the could be the case once in a person's life for a single mild misdemeanour. But the reference class here is actions sufficient to make numerous individuals complain to the overall organisation leading a movement you are a part of, as well as additional evidence of people complaining to your university about you earlier in your life. I don't think the vast majority of people would fail to know what they had done wrong in these cases.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T18:35:18.461Z · score: 2 (5 votes) · EA · GW


Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T18:33:30.692Z · score: -6 (7 votes) · EA · GW


Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T10:13:56.419Z · score: 21 (11 votes) · EA · GW

Oli, this doesn't make sense.

1. In the Brown statement, he strenuously denies wrongdoing and does not admit the possibility of having done something wrong.

2.You are saying that this is an admission to the possibility of having done something wrong and that this refers to the Brown allegations.

This implies:

3. He has changed his view of the Brown allegations.

You deny 3. This is not consistent. Please tell me which part of this you disagree with.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-25T10:04:06.648Z · score: 18 (15 votes) · EA · GW

I don't think it is true that the above statement is not evidence of guilt. Firstly, you say yourself that we should take Jacy at his word, and he explicitly apologises for mistakes in the above and admits wrongdoing. Secondly, clearly his statement and the wider evidence is evidence of guilt in the sense that it is an update (a very large one) in favour of the proposition (1) that he has committed wrongdoing. This is true even if you think, as many commenters here seem to, that there is some probability that: (2) this is a kangaroo court and this is a coerced confession; or (3) that he's apologising for things out of deference to the judgement of CEA, but he does not actually judge himself to have done anything wrong and therefore that the statement is, despite appearances, not an admission of guilt. Clearly, everyone should massively increase the probability of (1) given the evidence, very plausibly well past 50%. FWIW, in my personal view (2) and (3) are extremely unlikely, and I am surprised to see them get such support here.

I cannot identify with your hypothetical. If someone came to me and said "you have done something wrong, please apologise", I definitely would not apologise and withdraw from public life without knowing what I was meant to have done. If I thought I had not done anything wrong, I would not apologise. And this is a clear case in which I would have first-person authority on whether I did anything wrong. The norm of taking responsibility regardless of whether you know you did anything wrong seems very bad, and definitely not enlightened. Consider the implications for criminal law - does this imply that all people accused should submit guilty pleas merely because they have been accused?

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-24T23:37:30.962Z · score: 11 (10 votes) · EA · GW

This feels like something that CEA could confirm or deny quite easily without damaging confidentiality or legal factors.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-24T23:33:56.873Z · score: 15 (8 votes) · EA · GW

As I mention below, he admits the allegations above but not the brown ones. Are you saying he is admitting to the brown ones in the statement above and therefore that he lied in 2012? And If he denied the brown allegations in 2012 in the public spotlight, why would he stop doing that now just because someone has raised the brown complaints to CEA?

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-24T10:05:17.833Z · score: 24 (21 votes) · EA · GW

So you think a serious possibility that we should consider is that people at Brown from 7 years ago have come to CEA to complain about Jacy?

Comment by halstead on The case for delaying solar geoengineering research · 2019-03-24T09:54:49.782Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Hello, good points! I discuss this supposed free driver/unilateralist's curse feature of solar geoengineering in section 3.2 of my paper. This is a recurrent worry in the literature, but I don't find it plausible. Quoting from ym paper:

"In my view, the risks of unilateralism are overstated. Firstly, as argued in Section 1, the cost estimates relied upon are likely to be a significant underestimate, plausibly by an order of magnitude. Secondly, as Parson (2014, 98) has argued “these scenarios overstate the distribution of capabilities and thus the risk of unilateral action, because they focus too narrowly on financial cost as the determinant of capability and neglect other, non-financial, requirements and constraints.” An SAI programme large enough to make a non-trivial sustained impact on the climate would be hard to conceal and vulnerable to military attack. “[U]nilaterally achieving a climate alteration that matters would require not just the money, technological capability, and delivery assets, but also the command of territory, global stature, and ability to deploy and project force necessary to protect a continuing operation against opposition from other states, including deterring their threats of stopping it through military action.” (Parson 2014, 99) This suggests that scenarios in which small states or rich individuals deploy SAI are vanishingly unlikely"

I then argue that multilateralism is actually the guiding logic of solar geoengineering:

" Indeed, Horton (2011) has persuasively argued that SAI is actually characterised by a logic of multilateralism. The success of an actor’s SAI programme would depend on whether other actors were also pursuing their own SAI programme and would be ineffective without coordination. Moreover: “States opposed to geoengineering have a number of tools at their disposal to counteract climate interventions. In the case of SAI, for example, fluorocarbon gases could be deployed to offset cooling effects. Alternatively, the strategic use of black carbon could neutralize artificial albedo enhancement.”(Horton, 2011, 62) In short, if powerful actors were opposed to an SAI programme by a state or a collective of states, they could effectively discourage it using ordinary military threats or by counteracting the effects of SAI. The foregoing suggests that the decision to deploy unilaterally would not be taken lightly, given the incentives created by conventional military threats and the ease with which SAI schemes can be disrupted. Even for a case in which a major power is facing very severe climate impacts, SAI without support from other major powers would likely either be counter-productive or ineffective. In my view, this suggests that unilateral deployment even by a powerful state or some coalitions of powerful states is not a serious danger, provided that there are some dissenting major powers (though it should be noted that many experts disagree)."

Imagine that India is deciding whether to launch a solar geoengineering programme that would dramatically affect the weather in China. I think it is clear that they would not proceed without Chinese agreement, given the enormous risk of war.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-24T09:34:56.772Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · EA · GW

I'm saying he must have some idea of what the allegations are otherwise it wouldn't make sense for him to apologise.

To be clear is your view is that this is likely or with some non-negligible probability, not a real apology, and he is not actually acknowledging wrongdoing?

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-24T09:29:01.862Z · score: 28 (14 votes) · EA · GW

Jacy denies one set of allegations but not the others, so presumably they must refer to different cases at different times

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-24T09:25:52.123Z · score: 2 (16 votes) · EA · GW

I don't think it does seem reasonable. Putting myself in his shoes, I find it difficult to accept that I would ever make an apology for numerous acts of wrongdoing without knowing what I am meant to have done. I don't understand why I would trust someone else's judgement more than my own on matters such as this where I obviously know exactly what happened. As the commenter below notes, he acknowledges that some of his other behaviour on the misdemeanours he doesn't have the details of was more problematic than some instances he does have information on. This is odd.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-23T18:17:32.284Z · score: 13 (14 votes) · EA · GW

This also makes me concerned about Jacy's apology. He is apologising for his mistakes while claiming not to know the details of the accusations. If he is apologising for things he knows he has done wrong, then he must know the details of the accusations. If he does not know the details, why is he apologising?

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-23T18:05:23.916Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · EA · GW

Your interpretation stretches credulity and I can't help but feel you are being disingenuous. He says "I intend to step back from public life and the activism communities I’ve belonged to and reflect on my mistakes further." [my emphasis]. This is an admission of culpability, of wrongdoing.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-23T16:30:12.565Z · score: 27 (17 votes) · EA · GW

The post is called 'apology' and he explicitly apologises for numerous cases of improper conduct

The case for delaying solar geoengineering research

2019-03-23T15:26:13.119Z · score: 49 (20 votes)
Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-23T15:05:09.120Z · score: 57 (29 votes) · EA · GW

He has himself agreed to step back from the EA community more generally, and to step back from public life in general, which would be an odd move if these were minor misdemeanours. He has admitted that there have been numerous cases of improper conduct. To me, this evidence, combined with the fact that he has been treated so severely by CEA updates me towards the view that the allegations are serious. I suspect there is a lot of legal wrangling and confidentiality concerns here that don't give us full information, but the signals are not good.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-23T08:26:34.162Z · score: 10 (11 votes) · EA · GW

So your response to sexual harassment allegations is to say "please carry on doing good work minus the harassment"? Can you see why that might be the wrong response? By analogy, if Mr Kaczynski published a letter apologising for being a terrorist, would your first response be "please keep doing good work for our community, without being a terrorist"?

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-23T08:15:57.154Z · score: 38 (22 votes) · EA · GW

Obviously, a lot is being withheld, probably for legal and confidentiality reasons, by CEA. As I mention in my first comment, the wider information suggests that the allegations are serious. Could you clarify the second part of your comment please.

Regardless, even if you think the allegations are minor, "you do great work otherwise" is an extremely ill-judged response, I'm afraid.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-23T08:11:05.044Z · score: 46 (43 votes) · EA · GW

While it is good that you are apologising, I would also like to point out that the allegations are serious enough for CEA to: (1) ban you from EA events; (2) remove you from moderator roles in EA Facebook groups; (3) generally completely disassociate and sever ties with you; (4) sever ties with the Sentience Institute. These steps, to my knowledge, are completely unprecedented for CEA. For this reason, I would caution against the EA movement being overly welcoming of Jacy in the medium term at the very least.

Comment by halstead on Apology · 2019-03-23T08:04:55.360Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · EA · GW

This strikes me as a very weird thing to say in the light of sexual harassment allegations as serious as these appear to be.

Comment by halstead on Effective Impact Investing · 2019-03-06T18:29:18.399Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Yes but obviously index funds have to do much less due diligence - they don't have to look at the performance of individual companies, nor do they have to look at anything related to ESG. They only have to monitor index composition and things like that, which is less burdensome, much less so relative to the total number of investments you can make .

You initially said "...this is why I spend so much time looking at methodologies behind ESG ratings and the way mangers apply them." which suggests to me a significant time sink in the name of impact. Socially neutral investors do due diligence to try and find profit-making companies and so don't face this burden - presumably you also do due diligence on financial returns? ESG analysis wouldn't save you from doing due diligence on financial returns, would it?

It is difficult to believe that legions of investors are stupid enough to miss out on the benefits of ESG screening that you allege.

Comment by halstead on Effective Impact Investing · 2019-03-06T09:28:14.470Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · EA · GW

So your due diligence process takes no more time than a socially neutral investor's due diligence process, even though the socially neutral investor would not spend considerable amounts of time looking at ESG rating methodologies and how managers use them? Are you saying you bear the same time cost as a socially neutral investor even though you do more work? Why is this?

Worth noting also that index funds don't have to do due diligence.

Comment by halstead on Effective Impact Investing · 2019-03-05T19:14:27.771Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

We say in the report that SRI is probably more impactful than socially neutral investing. I don't think that SRI in stock markets is particularly impactful however, and I think it would be bad if foundations started doing it for the sake of impact.

If you spend so much time looking at ESG methodologies, and you need to do this to have social impact, then this is an additional cost of SRI, and a reason to expect you to get lower returns than someone who doesn't care about impact.

Comment by halstead on Effective Impact Investing · 2019-03-02T12:36:34.382Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · EA · GW

3. One important point that we mention in the report - I strongly suspect that ESG ratings don't track social impact very closely. e.g. a quick glance at Philip Morris' ESG rating puts it in the 72nd percentile in terms of ESG, meaning that it has the same ESG rating as Kellogg's, and Philip Morris scores better on social indicators than Kellogg's. Unless, unbeknownst to me, Kellogg's use the funds from Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes to make cluster bombs for the Saudis, something has gone awry here. As far as I can tell, Philip Morris' climate-friendliness and water preservation receives the same weight as its impact on consumer health: making your cigarettes with fair trade solar panels gets you a bump up the ESG ratings.

Re why the market hasn't moved into SRI, this sort of persistent market inefficiency that would be pretty surprising, and the evidence suggests it is highly unlikely.

4. The trends towards SRI seem less important given that much SRI is not very strict.

Are you saying that your marginal contribution is small, or are you saying that you have a greater contribution by being involved in a wider movement? If the first, then we agree, if the latter, then I don't see the argument for it.

The key issue is what impact you have compared to what you could do by giving to effective charity. I have yet to see the case that investing through the stock market has anywhere near as much impact as donating to effective nonprofits.

Comment by halstead on Effective Impact Investing · 2019-03-01T20:59:03.980Z · score: 20 (9 votes) · EA · GW

That feels overly harsh given that many economists apparently accept that SRI doesn't undermine the bottom line. Its weird to downvote something held by a significant chunk of economists for being naive.

Comment by halstead on Effective Impact Investing · 2019-02-28T15:10:07.596Z · score: 35 (15 votes) · EA · GW

Hi thanks for writing this - upvoted. (Speaking for myself here not necessarily Hauke). I think this picks out some flaws in framing and content in the report, though I don't agree with everything you have said.

1. Framing-wise, a number of people drew the conclusion that impact investing is always ineffective, which wasn't what I wanted the report to convey, and I don't think that is supported by the arguments therein. This is corrected in a more recent reworded version of the report, but unfortunately some of the damage is done from initial coverage.

2. I agree that we should have discussed shareholder advocacy in more depth. (Hauke may have some views on this, and may wish to have input here.)

3. Financial returns. We discuss the counter-arguments to this view in the report. This ultimately comes down to the judgement call of favouring theory over very noisy empirical evidence. An investor who only cares about profit would always want as many options as possible available and so would always prefer to have the option of buying stocks in successful companies that do harm, such as fossil fuel and tobacco companies. Our view also seems to be held by many leading economists, as shown in a recent IGM Poll on SRI - We discuss the potential confounds of SRI funds doing as well as or better than socially neutral investors. I pose this question: if what you say is correct, why is there not more capital outflow into SRI? Why would socially neutral investors not only do SRI from hereon in?

4. Impact investing effect on corporate decisions. You are discussing here the total effect of all impact investing efforts on corporate decisions. Even on that measure, the effects you mentioned thus far have been modest: publishing sustainability reports, mild effects on cost of debt. The impact these movements haven't had is more striking. e.g. despite the massive attention devoted to tobacco divestment, this seems to have had basically no effect on the corporate behaviour of tobacco companies, though it may have had some indirect effects by encouraging regulation.

Also, the question we should care about is: what marginal difference will an individual investor make by getting involved in these efforts? We think that effect will be small for the reasons outlined in the report. If the total effect has been pretty modest so far, the marginal effect even on the scale of a few million $s invested must also be small. There might be a tipping point in the future, but it seems a long way away - amounts of actual SRI are small relative to the market cap of major firms, let alone industries

Comment by halstead on My new article on EA and the systemic change objection · 2019-02-26T22:20:47.987Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Hi, thanks for this sensible response.

1. I think parts of the argument that you made were only part of a socialist critique, especially the part about donations doing more harm than good because they perpetuate a capitalist system. If you're Pritchett, you want to perpetuate the capitalist system! So, he wouldn't accept your second main claim. So, I think it best to distinguish your critique from other forms of the systemic chaneg critique.

2. I agree that the terrain should be move on to these type of debates, and agree that this is a flaw in current EA practice. Note that GiveWell is moving in the direction of assessing policy.

I often find that most people who criticise the prevailing "neoliberal order" can't accurately state the views in economics that they are criticising, let alone criticise them persuasively. I'm not saying this characterises you, but that is what I tend to find. (side note: The critique of capitalism in Radical Markets is different because it (a) knows the literature (b) has some compelling policy suggestions that fit in with the findings of economics.)

I do think there is straightforward empirical data strongly supporting the benefits of capitalism viz. the big fact about human history that I mentioned in my first comment: progress since 1950 has been greater than all prior human history put together. It is true that true socialism might have done better than this, but it does seem unlikely. Why think it would be better than something this good, without any evidence? Socialist states - those with collective ownership of property - have had periods of growth but tend to have flared out, failed to allocate goods well, or had colossal humanitarian costs. While we can't test the counterfactual, this makes me think that it is very unlikely (<1% chance) that socialism would have done better.

3. I see your point that the numbers could come out in your favour, and thanks for the clarification re the quantiative model. I didn't really see any argument for the view that donations to charity had any causal role in increasing support for NOYB norms. If you think it has some effect, then depending on what empirical assumptions you put in about the value of socialism, you could get that answer (though see my doubts about these empirical assumptions).

I don't see any conflict between using quantitative models and assessing systemic change stuff. Open Phil does this, and I did it for the climate charities I looked at in my Founders Pledge climate report. The argument is: quantitative models are often unrealistic but are usually better than intuition due to protecting against bias and clarifying assumptions. It's better to pull numbers out of your arse than to pull a decision out of your arse.

4. Yes that makes sense, but international democracy could also choose policies that are bad for the poor or for achieving equality. International democracy could e.g. choose to give fewer resources to certain groups due to majority preference, or to criminalise innocuous behaviour such as selling enjoyable drugs. Where do socialists stand on potential international democracy vs poverty/equality trade-offs?

Comment by halstead on My new article on EA and the systemic change objection · 2019-02-17T19:29:22.990Z · score: 22 (10 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this. Some comments:

1. Labelling. I think it would be useful to distinguish different forms of the systemic change objection. The one you advance in your paper is coming from a socialist point of view, but other forms of the critique, e.g. from Lant Pritchett, come from what could plausibly be categorised as a neoliberal point of view. It might be better going forward to label your critique as the 'socialist critique' of effective altruism, which would avoid lumping it in with the neoliberal one, or any other.

2. Do you think there might be an epistemic modesty problem with the socialist critique? The overwhelming majority of economists are broadly pro-private ownership of the means of production, and pro-market. At root, opinion might be split in this way because the claim that "capitalism causes poverty" seems to be strongly in tension with the history of humanity since the industrial revolution. You seem to think it is clear that we should repudiate existing aid and development efforts, but this might be surprising to someone taking the long-view of humanity: since the 1950s, human welfare has increased on all measures by more than all of prior history *combined*. Seen in this view, what we should do is continue with the approach we started in the 1950s. (I should note that this approach - of increasing economic growth - is not what many EAs are focusing on at the moment, and I think this is an error).

3. Your argument for the claim that charity "does more harm than good" by fostering "none of your business norms" (NOYBs) seemed to me heavy on conjecture but light on compelling arguement and evidence. You note how charity as it exists today exists because people have private property and so don't need to seek approval from the rest of society before making a donation. This is true, but you don't actually argue for the claim that EA charity therefore supports the norm to such an extent that the benefits of EA charity are outweighed. You say "their very existence relies upon and thus perpetuates NOYB norms" This obviously doesn't literally logically follow. By the same token, charitable funding of the socialist part of Great Britain relied on NOYB norms, but you presumably don't think that it is therefore net harmful.

To be clear, your claim is that making a $1m donation to AMF perpetuates capitalistic norms to such an extent that the expected harm is greater than ~200 lives. I find that highly implausible.

4. Clarificatory - You argue for democratic as opposed to private control of key economic decisions, but this can come apart from the aim of reducing poverty. Democracies can and do vote for policies that damage the interests of the poor - witness immigration controls for example. Which do you think should be the ultimate aim for socialists - democratic control or poverty alleviation?

Comment by halstead on Why do you reject negative utilitarianism? · 2019-02-15T12:00:56.967Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · EA · GW

1. Most women go through extreme pain during childbirth but nevertheless do this through choice and presumably think their life worth living given the upsides of having children. This must be irrational on your view.

2. Epistemic modesty - if negative utilitarianism is a plausible view, it is extremely surprising that more professional moral philosophers don't believe it. You can find substantial support for pretty much any view out there, including some very implausible ones, but I struggle to think of many genuine negative utilitarians working today.

Comment by halstead on Climate Change Is, In General, Not An Existential Risk · 2019-01-17T10:22:37.162Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I see, yes good point.

Insomnia: a promising cure

2018-11-16T18:33:28.060Z · score: 34 (18 votes)

Concerns with ACE research

2018-09-07T14:56:25.737Z · score: 26 (26 votes)

New research on effective climate charities

2018-07-11T13:51:23.354Z · score: 18 (18 votes)

The counterfactual impact of agents acting in concert

2018-05-27T10:54:03.677Z · score: 3 (9 votes)

Climate change, geoengineering, and existential risk

2018-03-20T10:48:01.316Z · score: 13 (13 votes)

Economics, prioritisation, and pro-rich bias  

2018-01-02T22:33:36.355Z · score: 3 (9 votes)

We're hiring! Founders Pledge is seeking a new researcher

2017-12-18T12:30:02.429Z · score: 4 (4 votes)

Capitalism and Selfishness

2017-09-15T08:30:54.508Z · score: 12 (14 votes)

How should we assess very uncertain and non-testable stuff?

2017-08-17T13:24:44.537Z · score: 18 (18 votes)

Where should anti-paternalists donate?

2017-05-04T09:36:53.654Z · score: 10 (10 votes)

The asymmetry and the far future

2017-03-09T22:05:26.700Z · score: 9 (17 votes)