Posts

[updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions 2019-10-02T08:36:27.444Z · score: 91 (44 votes)
New popular science book on x-risks: "End Times" 2019-10-01T07:18:10.789Z · score: 16 (9 votes)
Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) 2019-06-30T16:53:31.350Z · score: 51 (24 votes)
Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy 2019-05-25T18:17:05.070Z · score: 68 (32 votes)
Nick Bostrom on Sam Harris' podcast 2019-03-19T11:21:09.483Z · score: 17 (9 votes)
[EAGx Talk] Considerations for Fundraising in Effective Altruism 2019-01-15T11:20:46.237Z · score: 14 (5 votes)
EA orgs are trying to fundraise ~$10m - $16m 2019-01-06T13:51:03.483Z · score: 50 (22 votes)
New web app for calibration training funded by the Open Philanthropy Project 2018-12-15T15:18:54.905Z · score: 17 (8 votes)
Impact investing is only a good idea in specific circumstances 2018-12-06T12:13:46.544Z · score: 75 (37 votes)
Effective Altruism in non-high-income countries 2018-11-15T17:18:42.761Z · score: 37 (21 votes)
“The Vulnerable World Hypothesis” (Nick Bostrom’s new paper) 2018-11-09T11:20:42.330Z · score: 22 (10 votes)
Why donate to meta-research? 2018-11-08T09:29:58.740Z · score: 17 (5 votes)
[link] Why donate to (scientific) research? 2018-10-29T11:13:25.026Z · score: 7 (2 votes)
Announcing: "Lets-Fund.org: High-Impact Crowdfunding campaigns" & "Let's Fund #1: A (small) scientific Revolution" 2018-10-25T21:22:14.605Z · score: 39 (31 votes)
A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good 2018-02-18T17:41:31.873Z · score: 22 (14 votes)
69 things that might be pretty effective to fund 2018-01-21T22:47:32.094Z · score: 34 (30 votes)
Some objections and counter arguments against global poverty/health interventions 2015-08-05T09:44:11.863Z · score: 9 (5 votes)
Giving What We Can's response to recent deworming studies 2015-07-23T18:19:59.535Z · score: 9 (9 votes)
Long-lasting insecticide treated nets: $3,340 per life saved, $100 per DALY averted. How is this calculated? 2015-07-13T16:08:20.169Z · score: 9 (5 votes)
An update on Project Healthy Children 2015-06-08T13:36:16.414Z · score: 7 (3 votes)
Room for more funding: Why doesn’t the Gates foundation just close the funding gap of AMF and SCI? 2015-06-03T14:48:07.317Z · score: 4 (4 votes)
Feedback and $2k in funding needed for EA essay competition 2015-05-13T15:13:29.362Z · score: 15 (11 votes)

Comments

Comment by haukehillebrandt on JP's Shortform · 2019-10-07T16:56:30.839Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Mandatory field 200 characters summarizing the blogpost.

Mandatory keywords box.

Better Google Docs integration.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Long-Term Future Fund: August 2019 grant recommendations · 2019-10-07T14:28:59.722Z · score: 28 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for the detailed write-ups.

I will focus on where I disagree with the the Chris Chambers / Registered Reports grant (note: this is Let’s Fund’s grantee, the organization I co-founded).

“Chambers has the explicit goal of making all clinical trials require the use of registered reports. That outcome seems potentially quite harmful, and possibly worse than the current state of clinical science.”

I think, if all clinical trials became Registered Reports, then there’d be net benefits.

In essence, if you agree that all clinical trials should be preregistered, then Registered reports is merely preregistration taken to its logical conclusion by being more stringent (i.e. peer-reviewed, less vague etc.).

Relevant quote from the Let’s Fund report (Lets-Fund.org/Better-Science):

“The principal differences between pre-registration and Registered Reports are:

  • In pre-registration, trial outcomes or dependent variables and the way of analyzing them are not described as precisely as could be done in a paper
  • Pre-registration is not peer-reviewed
  • Pre-registration also often does not describe the theory that is being tested.

For the reason, simple pre-registration might not be as good as Registered Reports. For instance, in cancer trials, the descriptions of what will be measured are often of low quality i.e. vague, leading to ‘outcome switching’ (i.e. switching between planned and published outcomes) [180], [181]. Moreover, data processing can often involve very many seemingly reasonable options for excluding or transforming data[182], which can then be used for data dredging pre-registered trials (“With 20 binary choices, 220 = 1,048,576 different ways exist to analyze the same data.” [183]). Theoretically, preregistration could be more exhaustive and precise, but in practice, it rarely is, because it is not peer-reviewed.”

Also, note that exploratory analysis can still be used in Registered Reports, if it’s clearly labelled as exploratory.

–-

“Ultimately, from a value of information perspective, it is totally possible for a study to only be interesting if it finds a positive result, and to be uninteresting when analyzed pre-publication from the perspective of the editor.“

Generally, a scientist’s priors regarding the likelihood of treatment being successful should be roughly proportional to the value of information. In other words, if the likelihood that a treatment is successful is trivially low, then it is likely too expensive to be worth running or will increase the false positive rate.

On bandwidth constraints: this seems now largely a historical artifact from pre-internet days, when journals only had limited space and no good search functionality. Back then, it was good that you had a journal like Nature that was very selective and focused on positive results. These days, we can publish as many high-quality null-result papers online in Nature as we want to without sacrifice, because people don’t read a dead tree copy of Nature front to back. Scientists now solve the bandwidth constraint differently (e.g. internet keyword searches, how often a paper is cited, and whether their colleagues on social media share it).

In your example, you can combine all 100 potential treatments into one paper and then just report whether it worked or not. The cost of reporting that a study was carried out are trivial compared to others. If the scientist doesn’t believe any results are worth reporting they can just not report them, and we will still have the record of what was attempted (similar to it being good that we can see unpublished preregistrations on trials.gov that never went anywhere as data on the size of publication bias).

“Because of dynamics like this, I think it is very unlikely that any major journals will ever switch towards only publishing registered report-based studies, even within clinical trials, since no journal would want to pass up on the opportunity to publish a study that has the opportunity to revolutionize the field.”

This is traded-off by top journals publishing biased results (which follows directly from auction theory where the highest bidder is more likely to pay more than the true price; similarly, people who publish in Nature will be more likely to overstate their results. This is borne out empirically. See https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050201)

Registered Reports are simply more trustworthy and this might change the dynamics so that there’ll be pressure for journals to adopt the registered Reports format or fall behind in terms of impact factor.

--

“As a result, large parts of the paper basically have no selection applied to them for conceptual clarity,”

On clarity: Registered reports will have more clarity because they’re more theoretically motivated (see https://lets-fund.org/better-science/#h.n85wl9bxcln4) and the reviewers, instead of being impressed by results, are judging papers more on how detailed and clear the methodology is described. This might aid replication attempts and will likely also be a good proxy of the clarity of the conclusion. Scientists are still incentivized to write good conclusions, because they want their work to be cited. Also, the importance of the conclusion will be deemphasized. In the optimal case of a RR, “ a comprehensive and analytically sophisticated design, vetted down to each single line of code by the reviewers before data collection began,” https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0652-0 is what happens during the review.

What is missing from the results section is pretty much only the final numbers that are plugged in after review and data collection and the result section then “writes itself”. The conclusion section is perhaps almost unnecessary, if the introduction already motivates the implications of the research results and is already used as a more extensive speculative summary in many papers.

I think the conclusion section will be quite short and not very important section in registered reports as is increasingly the case (in Nature, there’s sometimes no “redundant” conclusion section).

>>Excessive red tape in clinical research seems like one of the main problems with medical science today

I don’t think excessive red tape is one of the main problems with medical science (say on the same level of publication bias), that there are no benefits of IRBs, nor that Registered Reports adds red tape or has much to do with the issue you cite. I think a much bigger problem is research waste as outlined in the Let’s Fund report.

Most scientists who publish Registered Reports describe the publication experience as quite pleasant with a bit of front-loaded work (see e.g. https://twitter.com/Prolific/status/1153286158983581696). In my view, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

On differential tech development and perhaps as an aside: note that more reliable science has wide-ranging consequences for many other cause areas in EA. Not only global development has had problems with replicability (e.g. https://blogs.worldbank.org/impactevaluations/pre-results-review-journal-development-economics-lessons-learned-so-far and the “worm wars”), but also areas related to GBCRs (e.g. there’s a new Registered Reports initiative for research on Influenza see https://cos.io/our-services/research/flu-lab/).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on JP's Shortform · 2019-10-07T11:43:18.713Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'd be interested in seeing views/ hits counters on every post and general data on traffic.

Also quadratic voting for upvotes.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2019-10-07T09:29:03.326Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for your kind words Sam.

On discounting:

Of course, philosophically, pure time discounting is wrong, but:

"Another reason to discount is that far future benefits are more speculative, and changes to the world in the meantime can disrupt your project or make it irrelevant. For example, a vaccine development project that hopes to deliver a vaccine in a few decades faces a higher risk of being defunded or the disease in question disappearing, than does a similar project that expects to deliver a vaccine in a matter of years. This is a good reason to discount future benefits and costs, but the appropriate rate will vary dramatically depending on what you are looking at, and will not necessarily be the same every year into the future."

https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/post/2013/04/was-tutankhamun-a-billion-times-more-important-than-you/


The social cost of carbon is generally highly sensitive to the pure rate of time preference.

But:

"The national social costs of carbon of faster growing economies are less sensitive to the pure rate of time preference and more sensitive to the rate of risk aversion" from Tol

and from the Ricke paper:

"CSCCs were calculated using both exogenous and endogenous9 discounting. For conventional exogenous discounting, two discount rates were used, 3 and 5%. the results under endogenous discounting were calculated using two rates of pure time preference (ρ=1, 2%) and two values of elasticity of marginal utility of consumption (μ=0.7, 1.5) for four endogenous discounting parameterizations."

So maybe it's not highly sensitive to just discounting anymore.

But both the Ricke and the Tol paper use sensitivity analyses on their SCC and different parameterizations make SCC 10s to 1000s of $ per tonne and I guess they'll use "sensible" ranges for this.

I would love others to look into this more as well and could well imagine new research uncovering facts that would dominate this analysis.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2019-10-07T08:45:00.784Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Excellent point

I think it's a mixture of the following:

1. African countries are relatively small

2. the social cost of carbon measures the cost to GDP - and if your GDP is not very big to start with then there's not a big cost to you.

It is quite unintuitive/ disconcerting that the official social cost of carbon for the DRC (one of the poorest countries, 80 million people, close to the equator and particularly affected by climate change), only has a social cost of carbon of 30 cents per tonne, whereas the US has one of $40 - see:

https://country-level-scc.github.io/explorer/

As I said above, there are contributors to (true) social cost of carbon not fully captured by empirical, macroeconomic damage functions, and their likely impacts on the social cost of carbon (see Table S5 in the paper’s supplementary material and Table 1 in[21]). For instance:

  • Adjustment costs (short-term costs of adaptation)
  • Non-market damages (biodiversity loss, cultural losses, etc.)
  • Tipping points in the climate system (catastrophic climate events, hysteresis etc.)
  • High inertia effects of CO2 (ocean acidification, sea level rise)
  • General equilibrium effects (spillover, trade, etc.)
  • Macro-scale adaptation (long-term restructuring of economy)
  • Political instability and violent conflicts
  • Large migration flows
  • More extreme weather and natural disasters
  • Bresler finds that explicitly accounting for climate mortality costs triples the welfare costs of climate change.[22]
  • The highest social cost of carbon estimate in the literature is on the same order of magnitude ($1687[23]), and the highest figure amongst many in a recently published paper find that for 6 degrees of warming the cost will be (which has a substantial probability) is $21889 / per tonne) [24]

That's why in the pessimistic version of my model increased the SCC by 10x (higher than most estimates).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Should CEA buy ea.org? · 2019-10-06T22:40:04.298Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

We got this one, which was quite cheap:

http://ea.do

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2019-10-02T18:17:18.901Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA · GW

The changes have been very substantial, because the first version was a much more simple model.

The main difference are that the first version had an error as pointed out by AGB in the comments.

Here's a comparison doc between the two version:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1a-6xC7WjSq2-AtSuUPKaQf1ielxYFrElxfATVDBfMA4/edit?usp=sharing

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2019-10-02T08:55:57.551Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you- I've now included this in my model:

"Some global development interventions have been estimated to be 17.5x more effective than cash-transfers (e.g. deworming).[34] We use this as the optimistic case."

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2019-10-02T08:54:18.974Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Also, I agree that climate modelling is very uncertain, but we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Quote from my analysis above:

"one study estimated a lower bound of the global social cost of carbon at US$125 and argues that:

“Quantifying the true SCC value is complicated because of various difficult-to-quantify damage cost categories and the interaction of discounting, uncertainty, large damages and risk aversion [...] The best that can be offered is a lower bound based comes from a conservative meta-estimate that aggregates studies using high and low discount rates, it does not account for various climate change damages owing to a lack of reliable information, and it does not consider a minimax regret argument addressing damages associated with extreme climate change.”

Also, as an aside, outside of prioritization, for optimal policy (e.g. carbon pricing) the social cost of carbon should be:

  1. Set to the marginal abatement cost, which can be optimal and easier to estimate.[17] or
  2. Set to err on the side of overestimating externalities[18] (while reducing other non-Pigovian taxes)."

Also I now include more optimistic estimates (in the sense that the SSC won't be that high) in my sensitivity analysis.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2019-10-02T08:49:12.648Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for this comment. Relevant quote from my updated analysis above:

"The new paper’s social cost of carbon figure is controversial and has been criticized for being too high for various methodological reasons.[6] For instance, one very critical new paper also now estimates the social cost of carbon on a country-level, suggesting that the global social cost of carbon is only $24 (and, using various sensitivity analyses, values ranging from $3.38/tCO2e to $21,889/tCO2e).[7]

To account for the new paper overestimating or underestimating the social cost of carbon, below, we use sensitivity analysis to show how our model responds to over- or underestimating the true social cost of carbon by 10x."

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2019-10-02T08:47:59.149Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for catching this mistake.

I've updated the analysis to reflect this.

I emailed the authors but they didn't reply.

But I think the social cost of carbon figures should generally be interpreted as current US dollars. They are then discounted for decreasing returns to consumption for future people who live in countries with higher consumption.

So we should divide the $417 figure by the 100x multiplier (or more, see my sensitivity analysis).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on AID Data · 2019-09-01T07:42:59.493Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

The OECD is the main source for data on Official Development Assistance- see

https://stats.oecd.org/

https://data.oecd.org/searchresults/?hf=20&b=0&q=aid&l=en&s=score

https://stats.oecd.org/qwids/

The World Bank also has some interesting data:

https://data.worldbank.org/

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Best EA use of $500,000AUD/$340,000 USD for basic science? · 2019-08-27T10:29:08.877Z · score: 39 (18 votes) · EA · GW

I'm the co-founder of Lets-Fund.org.

We do independent, in-depth research to help foundations and individuals to donate to the most effective policies to solve today’s most important global challenges (e.g. the replication crisis, climate change).

One of our two campaigns is on improving all of hypothesis-driven science by implementing a new publication format called Registered Reports.

You can find our in-depth write-up on this here:

Lets-Fund.org/Better-Science

We've already crowdfunded $75,000 for this campaign (this includes a grant recommendation that the EA Long-term Future fund is currently very strongly considering), but I believe the grantee can productively absorb more money. This would fund a teaching buyout for the grantee, Professor Chris Chambers (who happens to be a fellow Aussie!).

Chris Chambers has already hired assistants to push his Registered Reports advocacy forward and I’m exceedingly excited about his work. There was an editorial in Nature about it a few weeks ago, but in brief, he has implemented the new Registered Reports publication format at more than 200 journals now (including PLoS Biology, a top biology journal). More promisingly, he is also lobbying PNAS, generally considered to be the best journal after Nature and Science, to implement the format through an open letter signed by 250 other scientists.

If he is successful and scientists realize that they can get a publication in PNAS just by submitting a paper with exceptional methodology, but independent on whether the results are positive, then it might cascade into changing science in a fundamental way in the near future. I think Chris is very driven and can productively use additional funds.

There has also been some recent interest in global development about Registered Reports (see: https://blogs.worldbank.org/impactevaluations/pre-results-review-journal-development-economics-lessons-learned-so-far ) so I feel like this could prevent another Worm Wars situation (see https://blog.givewell.org/2017/12/07/questioning-evidence-hookworm-eradication-american-south/ ) , and so this grant opportunity would also work for someone interested in improving global development.

Let me know if you have any questions at (happy to jump on a call):

Hauke@Lets-Fund.org

Comment by haukehillebrandt on EU AI policy and OPSI Consultation · 2019-08-11T09:28:41.541Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

just came across this - deadline has already passed but perhaps this might still be useful:

OMB Seeking Input on AI R&D

In support of the administration’s artificial intelligence R&D strategy, the White House Office of Management and Budget is accepting public comments on ways to improve the accessibility and quality of relevant federal datasets and models. OMB notes that domain areas of particular interest include weather forecasting, manufacturing, agriculture, and national security, among others. Comments are due Aug. 9. 

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/07/10/2019-14618/identifying-priority-access-or-quality-improvements-for-federal-data-and-models-for-artificial

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution · 2019-08-03T11:12:09.707Z · score: 16 (9 votes) · EA · GW

Generally I really find this research agenda interesting. I have only skimmed this post, but I also like your analysis the way you go about it.

One nitpick:

As it turns out, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT all get rid of Cluster Headaches in a majority of sufferers. Given the safety profile of these agents, it is insane to think that there are millions of people suffering needlessly from this condition who could be nearly-instantly cured with something as simple as growing and eating some magic mushrooms.

I think this is hyperbole. I reviewed the literature a while ago, and while I do agree that there is some suggestive evidence that this is true, I do not think that it is so strong as to warrant the claims you make and there are many qualifications. Also, I think you should cite the relevant studies on this subject (https://scholar.google.com/scholar?as_ylo=2015&q=LSD+cluster+headaches&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on The Unit of Caring: On "fringe" ideas · 2019-08-02T12:33:14.434Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Also see Linch's excellent summary of the philosophy paper "The possibility of ongoing moral catastrophe":

https://docs.google.com/document/d/18ZzC-WkDcWK-WPlIzKvDv83j8aBwSfdOxnZRmoio-zE/edit

Comment by haukehillebrandt on There are *a bajillion* jobs working on plant-based foods right now · 2019-07-20T10:12:49.368Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · EA · GW

This post got me wondering whether there should be Glassdoor for EA.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-07-11T06:59:17.763Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, this is an intuition I had as well.

Carbon tariffs (or border carbon adjustments) might prevent some, but not all,[156] carbon leakage and reduce emissions. But they are quite difficult to calculate (calculating the carbon intensity of every imported good) and might lower trade flows and welfare, especially in emerging economies.[157]

Generally, I thought there was surprisingly little research on carbon tariffs, even though, as your intuition shows, they should go hand in hand with carbon taxes.

Crucially, even if we were to have perfect carbon taxes and tariffs, UK emissions only make up 3% and shrinking of the global total.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Defining Meta Existential Risk · 2019-07-09T19:49:27.686Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Very interesting - you might be interested in my recent post on Corporate GCRs, where I make a similar argument.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2019-07-08T14:43:30.140Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Many thanks for your kind feedback. I thought your review and deconstruction of the issues were excellent and I concur with many points that you make. I have updated the Google Doc version of the manuscript that I believe you also kindly commented on. I might update this post to reflect this if I choose to do another version of this post.

Please see my inline response below.

>>It is definitely true that there are incentives for firms to grow up the their efficient size. However, equally there are incentives not to grow further

You are absolutely right that I ignored mentioning that there are indeed some incentives for corporations not to grow further. However, overall, I think on net incentives to grow are slightly stronger than to stay at the current size, as evidenced by growth in corporate size.

>> one of your proposed policies would actually increase corporate revenue as a % of GDP.

I’m really sorry for being unclear: I did not actually propose breaking up corporations, because I do not think it’s politically tractable. I merely mention it because people will probably think about this.

>>Revenues of the Fortune 500 increased from 58% to 73% of US GDP
>>This is very misleading.
>>People more commonly look at S&P profits as a % of GDP, which is better, but still not great. You mention as an aside that this is partly due to international revenues, but without noting how this undermines the point. Over the last few decades we have seen considerable globalisation, as US companies have expanded into overseas markets, so this ratio would have increased even if the compositition of the domestic US economy remained totally unchanged.

I’m sorry I was being unclear here — the point here is not the size of states relative to their domestic firms, but the size of the largest corporations (proxied by the Fortune, even though Fortune Global would be better) and the largest state actors (the US).

Why compare corporate revenue to state tax revenue?
>> There is no actual justification for assuming that a company with revenues of $100bn is more powerful than a state with taxes of $90bn.

I agree that the authors of that paper could have provided more reasoning on the measure and source they cite (you there original source is here). I absolutely agree that better measures of corporate power are conceivable — however I only found this one dataset.

However, I feel like there’s something to be said for using revenues instead of profits. As I write, the revenue is the budget a corporation has to fulfill its goal (often to sell things), which I had defined as being roughly proportional to its power. Profits usually benefit shareholders and not the corporate entity itself. There are corporations might have high profits but that are somewhat small and can’t use much revenues to fulfil its objectives.

You also outline some very telling differences between Australia and Walmart that I absolutely agree with. However, there might be more similarities between corporations and states that it might at first superficially appear. For instance, yes states ‘can imprison people’, yet, corporations can decide on supply chains and effectively keep many people in modern slavery.

>>This article, however, rather than interrogating the claim that corporate revenues can be directly compared to state taxes, instead accepts it completely.

I did mention that “corporate revenue is a crude, but useful proxies for their power (despite corporations and states spending on different things).” My thinking here was “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

In the space of a few short paragraphs we move from proposing it as an interesting idea to accepting it as the basis for claims like:
71 out of the 100 most powerful actors are corporations

Sorry I did postulate that I use revenue as a proxy for power, but have changed this (will be reflected in a future version of this doc). I did optimize for brevity while writing and so I agree that the reasoning can move quite fast, and a future version could benefit from much more hedging.

"Shell’s revenue/budget to sell fossil fuels is $272bn"
Where does this number come from? I checked their 2018 numbers on bloomberg and got revenue of $388bn.

I’m sorry I should have cited this more clearly - this is from the paper I cite, which is based on the Fortune Global 2017.

More importantly, revenue is not at all the same thing as 'budget to sell fossil fuels'. That would be part of SG&A, which is obviously much smaller - around $11bn. Instead, most of their revenue is spent buying physical inputs for e.g. their refining business.

That’s an excellent point - fixed costs for buying physical inputs can significantly curtail corporate power. I agree that ‘budget to sell fossil fuels’ was poorly worded. What I meant by that is the budget available to get fossil fuels to the consumer (which includes extraction of fossil fuels etc.).

According to OpenSecrets, the largest US corporate spender on lobbying in 2018 was Alphabet (Google), spending just under $23m. It is technically true that their budget could increase to over a billion; however, this would require a >33,000% increase.

Yes, I do cite numbers on lobbying expenditures, and agree that they are not as big yet. My point was merely that in theory there is a potential for large increases. In fact, corporations might spend significantly more - as your source suggests: https://www.opensecrets.org/dark-money

If states are weakened by entitlement spending, it is because they choose to do so.

In staunchly democratic states where many people receive entitlements, political realities being what they are, it is difficult, but agreed, not impossible, for states to cut spending.

smaller pieces would only reduce externalities if those externalities were super-linear in corporate size. This doesn't seem to be the case however - if you split up corporation with two factories, you still have two companies with one factory each, producing just as much pollution in total.

I do agree that in some cases externalities might not increase with corporate size. However, because bigger corporations have bigger economies of scale, and one big corporation is often better at increasing consumer surplus and growth, they should also be ‘better’ at explointing profits from untaxed externalities. My intuitions here might be bias me though because I have never understand why anyone would want to fight 1 horse sized duck, effectively a dinosaur, as opposed to 100 tiny duck sized horses.

The article might also have benefited from discussion of the track records of non-capitalist systems,

My agenda was probably a bit simpler than you might have supposed – I just wanted to highlight that there might be something about corporate power that needs altruists attention.

I wholeheartedly agree that non-capitalist system are strictly worse than capitalist ones and have cited evidence that corporations do a huge amount of good in the world.

Although my agenda was fairly simple, the issues raised may well require more serious consideration – of the sort that you have offered.

You might be surprised to hear that I consider my own political leanings very free market.

I'm not denying that reducing ill-effects from socialist systems (see Venezuela) still deserve a lot of attention.

However, I think it's a false dichotomy that we cannot worry about the ill effects that socialism can have while at the same time seriously considering whether corporations can have increasingly ill effects as well and perhaps deserve more regulation/attention.

It is not possible to reduce corporate power in a vacuum - the proposed solutions largely instead transfer it to governments.

My policy solutions come in different flavors. True, the sovereign wealth fund idea would be more statist, but with minimal government interference in the market. Tax incentives for private individuals would be a more market-y solution, even though that too is technically state interference.

Entities which in the past have repeatedly brought mankind to the brink of nuclear war - an externality far greater than that of any mere corporation.

I agree that states have historically created more risks (such as nuclear war), however, I myself was quite surprised by the evidence of corporate influence when it comes to nuclear war. In particular, the dilution of the Biological Weapons Convention protocol by the bio industry. I would want altruists to look into this more.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on New study in Science implies that tree planting is the cheapest climate change solution · 2019-07-06T09:23:52.255Z · score: 44 (18 votes) · EA · GW

I have not looked at this deeply, so take all of this with a grain of salt, but a quick scan makes me believe that this is very hyped.

Having skimmed the paper it seems the only thing the authors do and what is peer-reviewed is estimate earth's theoretical maximum capacity for reforestation.

There are few problems:

1) Feasibility: "200 GtC is a technical potential assuming every hectare of forestland on earth is increased to 100% forest cover"

https://twitter.com/hausfath/status/1147190442145898496

"An assessment of the biophysical capacity for restoring global tree cover provides a necessary but insufficient foundation for evaluating where tree cover can be feasibly increased. The kinds of trees as well as how and where they are grown determine how and which people benefit. In some contexts, increasing tree cover can elevate fire risk, decrease water supplies, and cause crop damage by wildlife. Reforestation programs often favor single-species tree plantations over restoring native forest ecosystems. This approach can generate negative consequences for biodiversity and carbon storage (5), threaten food and land security, and exacerbate social inequities. How restored lands are governed determines how reforestation costs and benefits are distributed."

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6448/24

There are no dollar signs or economic feasibility analysis in that paper. So the people who wrote it just cited some number that is not peer-reviewed and even if loosely based on previous numbers might not work at the scale.

--

2) There seems to be no scientific consensus how much (or even if!) new trees are a GHG sink on net. Some legitimate papers even suggests that new trees could be a net GHG source. (the paper does not make any new contributions to this question and I think just assumes that trees absorb GHG).

For instance, see this recent paper in Nature communications:

a) "Limited capacity of tree growth to mitigate the global greenhouse effect under predicted warming" https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-10174-4

b) this recent paper in PNAS (top journal as well)

"On-going carbon uptake due to forest demography is large, but much smaller than previous influential estimates have suggested. Contrary to previous findings, these latest data sources indicate that the sink is predominantly in mid-high latitude, rather than tropical, forests."

https://www.pnas.org/content/116/10/4382.short

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2019-07-04T19:10:53.319Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, that's a interesting point.

However, I think given that there's a lot of regulatory capture going on, it is increasingly hard for governments to influence large amounts of corporate revenue, and corporations should work actively against this. This is evidenced by states being increasingly unable to collect corporate taxes.

Also, even if there's some truth to it and states control some corporate revenue, then this might be offset to an extent by state power being curtailed by mandatory and entitlement spending taking up an increasing share of their budgets (e.g. >70% in the US).

I've seen countries' GDP being compared colloquially to corporate revenue, but have never seen a paper on this. Do you know of one?

In terms of value added vs. revenue as a measure of corporate power - I think value added doesn't quite capture it, because a high revenue, low value add company (think: Walmart) might still have substantial influence due to economies of scale of their lobbying (even if they just spend a small percentage of their overall revenue on this, it will be quite high).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2019-07-04T14:09:55.007Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Great point.

I think it makes sense:

  • Revenues of the Fortune 500 increased from 58% to 73% of US GDP
  • Bigger, Fortune 100, corps grew even faster: from 33% to 46% of GDP. Their share of Fortune 500 revenues increased from 57% to 63%

That means that the larger the corporation the larger its growth.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2019-07-04T13:58:52.132Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, good point - I have not modelled this with actual data. There are some other ways of how corporations influence the political process e.g. through think tank funding as well (https://www.necir.org/investigations/think-tank-viz/).

I meant that lobbying spend seems to be not increasing linearly with inflation or GDP, but lobbying spending becoming a bigger and bigger share of GDP.

Evidence about this from my citations:

"Lobbying by banks increased in absolute terms over most of this time period, rising from a trough of $36.3 million in 1999 to a peak of $88.2 million in 2014. When scaled by the industry valueadded (i.e., gross domestic product-by-industry), this pattern remains largely unchanged (see Figure 2)."

"Google, Amazon, and Facebook all spent record amounts last year lobbying the US government

They spent a combined $48 million — up 13 percent from 2017"

also see this graph:

https://lobbyfacts.eu/charts-graphs

if you were to smooth it and perhaps squint your eyes a bit you might see a something hyperlinear / exponential there instead of a linear trend.

But see this graph which paints a different picture:

https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/

I'll revisit this claim in the next version of the paper.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-07-04T13:07:49.273Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks so much, Matthew for your detailed response. I will just briefly respond to a few points of disagreements.

Additionally, I think the choice to use the German example of clean energy subsidies is unrepresentative. In the U.S., which is responsible for 35% of clean energy R&D, the ratio is much closer https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=35952 to 1:1 (post-ARRA). And while the subsidies in Germany didn't go to R&D, they encouraged learning in manufacturing and production, which greatly drove down the price. While this isn't included as R&D, it has a similar effect of making renewable energy cheaper.

The US is the biggest funder of clean energy R&D, so yes the ratio is definitely better. However, globally clean energy deployment subsidies are >$120 billion whereas clean energy R&D is just $22bn.

I also disagree with your distinction between “technology” vs. “economic or policy limitation”. Policy tractability is a function technology. As clean energy gets cheaper it will get adapted more readily.

  • ITIF's target R&D areas are broadly correct, and will surpass the challenges above. Mix of agreement and disagreement.

Note that recommendation of ITIF does not hinge on their technology missions. While you might have disagreements on the particular technology missions they propose, they too are experts on this topic, and there are many more experts that agree with them. We mostly believe that most of the value from this comes from encouraging all countries to increase their energy R&D through Mission Innovation. Generally, increasing in spending will lead to increases in the clean energy that the technocratic consensus deems most effective.

In the report we write (citations available there):

"Our analysis focused exclusively on the climate policy solutions that are most effective. This seemed to be our competitive advantage. We saved time by not analyzing in-depth the impacts of climate change (we had done a shallow literature review on this in a previous analysis ,). Instead, we relied on the scientific consensus on this topic. Also, unlike other analyses, we did not compare the effectiveness of different energy sources. For instance, is nuclear really good and its drawbacks are overstated? Are renewables like solar underestimated? Can coal perhaps be made clean through carbon capture? We intentionally steered clear of these controversies and have not engaged with these questions on a deep level. There seems to be no expert consensus on whether any one technology is much superior and unreasonably neglected than others. Instead, we feel there is some mild consensus amongst energy experts that the world's future energy supply must come from a diverse mix of energy sources and it is best to opt for 'technology neutrality', i.e. being agnostic with regards to which low-carbon technology is best. We assumed that clean energy R&D budget increases will either lead to all technologies becoming better across the board or one technology will emerge more readily as the 'winner'.

Relatedly, our views on the importance of clean energy innovation also seem uncontroversial within large parts of academia, but have not made it outside of academia yet. We came across a few recently published and unpublished papers that reached similar conclusions to ours and so we believe in the coming years our views might be more mainstream.,"

>> And I think the U.S. climate philanthropic sector has largely correctly identified policy interventions in India and China as the highest priority. From an EA angle, I think the most neglected climate-interventions are in adaptation in poor countries that are most vulnerable to climate change, and in understanding and adaptation to extreme warming scenarios.

On adaptation: I disagree that adaptation is more effective than what I outline in my report, as it is not a global public good. On the understanding to extreme warming scnearios I actually agree a bit, above I write:

Funding more research on such topics might be even be more cost-effective than clean energy R&D funding. However, the overall funding gap is likely much lower (perhaps in the hundreds of millions) than for clean energy R&D (which is in the tens of billions) and so diminishing returns will set in earlier. Consider that, in the US alone, climate change research funding is 1.7% of total research grants and about $1.5 billion annually. Thus, while investing in climate change research is quite cost-effective, there is an upper bound on the benefits. Put simply, the engineering challenges of creating cheaper clean energy technology are vast and need many more billions, whereas the value of information from climate change research might be very high, but there diminishing returns set in earlier, and we already have a lot of funding in place. “

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-07-03T16:08:49.750Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'm very much pro regulation and we rank it very highly in my comparison of climate policies :)

>> If regulators don't think about the unintended consequences, then yes, I agree we risk unintended consequences. But surely the solution is to do regulation well?

>>With proper consultation with industry, regulation could induce innovation as Khorton suggested. With proper thought, it could set the right incentives and not encourage outcomes that are only marginally help. Indeed part of the point of lobbying should be to help governments see where they might go wrong and help them to get it right.

Yes, absolutely, this is an excellent point. However, I feel sometimes governments do not do regulation very well. Regulation is sometimes not set into in the future (and then sometimes when the time comes around there is industry push-back and the regulation is diluted), phasing in regulation to minimize switching costs is not done, making regulation 'revenue neutral' by reducing other non-Pigovian taxes does not often happen, making regulation technology neutral (see comment above).

>>A large company cannot move to a different jurisdiction at the drop of a hat. If the regulation is done well, with proper consultation, firms would rather work towards a regulation with a proper lead time than move countries.

Yes, you're absolutely right - companies can't move very easily and this point is frequently overstated. However, supply chains often can sometimes be switched more effortlessly and carbon leakage has been demonstrated empirically (I cite some studies on this). More crucially though, if you look at the carbon intensity of different economies:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_intensity

you see that advanced economies have already moved energy intensive industries abroad. Thus, regulation in our advanced economies will not create the right incentives that are optimal from a global perspective.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-24T13:22:24.685Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · EA · GW

They will first find a way to do X cheaper, and that can be innovation or producing elsewhere.

I write about the subtleties in a section on regulation in the appendix:

"Many countries use regulation to set environmental standards (e.g. for cars) or ban certain technologies completely (e.g. coal power).

Take non-electric car bans: France, the UK,[242] and even China and India[243] have all announced plans to ban sales of non-electric cars by 2040. More than ten countries have targets for electric vehicles in place.[244],[245]. Unfortunately, these initiatives are often not technology-neutral and exclude synthetic fuels, hydro-fuels, and biofuels, which can decarbonize transport. However, there are also legitimate arguments against technology-neutral policies.[246] For instance, they might incentivize only slightly greener technology that is more cost-effective in the short term (think: biofuels), but lock out emerging energy technologies that would be better in the long term (think: electric cars). Frontloading technology-specific policies may actually be more optimal.[247]

The benefits of regulation and setting emission standards can diffuse throughout the world. Due to pressure from advanced importing economies that have adopted stringent emission standards, emerging economies have more rapidly adopted these standards.[248] And this is not only so that they meet the requirements for export, as evidenced by the fact that some countries, such as China, now have emission standards even though local car manufacturers cannot compete in international markets.[249] Rather, emerging economies have adopted these emission standards because the technology is now cheap enough that, in the case of China, for instance, adoption makes sense to reduce heavy air pollution.[250] Thus, environmental regulation can be a successful strategy for international technology transfer, and more ambitious future non-electric car bans should be implemented. Moreover, many countries already have generous tax breaks for electric vehicles,[251] which could be expanded in tandem with bans.

It makes sense to regulate emissions standards for cars, for which the demand is probably relatively inelastic. To an extent, this might also be the case for residential electricity usage, which, unlike industrial electricity usage, does not suffer from carbon leakage. The global passenger car fleet causes around 9% of total global energy-related emissions;[252] innovating to make electric cars cheaper might therefore be a great global public good.

Another way for governments to stimulate clean energy innovation through regulation is banning certain technologies. Consider bans on coal power. More than 20 states have joined “Powering Past Coal Alliance”[253] to phase out coal power and signed a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage (incidentally, the International Energy Agency estimates that carbon capture and storage has been dramatically underinvested in, receiving only $1.2 billion in investment in 2016 (total low-carbon energy investments amounted to $850 billion). Admittedly, the signatories did not use much coal power in the first place.

Finally, the EU’s “Biofuel FlightPath Initiative” aims to replace 4% of current EU jet fuel consumption with biojet fuel derived from renewable sources by 2020.[254] Aviation causes about 5% (2%–14%, 90% likelihood range) of climate change.[255]

Regulations such as these bans are theoretically equivalent to a punitive carbon tax and might have positive spillovers for the world, yet they have drawbacks similar to the carbon pricing described above (e.g. carbon leakage). In contrast to outright bans, future expected regulation and phase-ins have the benefit of guarding against abruptly high switching costs. Commitments to ban environmentally harmful technology in the future might be politically easier to push for than regulating the present and might seem like quick policy wins. But the effectiveness of future regulation is traded off with how credible commitments are against industry pressure on policy-makers when the time comes around to actually phase out environmentally harmful technology.

Finally, in theory, elegant carbon pricing based on estimated externalities (here the social cost of carbon) is more welfare maximizing than crude bans or arbitrary environmental standard setting."

all citations at: Lets-Fund.org/Clean-Energy

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-24T10:34:10.684Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Re research on climate change. Let's assume that we're at a stage where we'll shortly be seeing diminishing marginal returns on this sort of research (as you claim) and that a small amount of extra research might be more valuable than a small amount of extra research of clean energy. Might that not (maybe) be a better thing to campaign for? E.g. if $1bn of climate change research outperforms $10bn of clean energy research (obviously these are made-up numbers) then campaigning for $1bn of extra government spend might be easier than campaigning for $1obn of extra spend.

Yes, campaigning for more climate change research funding has the potential to have a higher benefit-cost ratio, but the benefit minus the cost might not be as high. I have some ideas on how to go about increasing that funding as well but I don't think it's very suitable for crowdfunding campaign. If anyone knows an ultra high net worth donor who would be interested in it please get in touch (hauke@lets-fund.org).

Re regulation

I don't think there is a strawman here. I think you're right that regulation can be done poorly and done very well. For instance, as I write in my report in contrast to outright bans, future expected regulation and phase-ins have the benefit of guarding against abruptly high switching costs. I also didn't come down very hard on regulation and talk about it's technology spillovers.

However, the basic economic fact remains that if you have two countries, one with regulation, one with less tight regulation, then, all else being equal, there is the potential for carbon leakage and that's why many people worry about economic competitiveness.

Also, regulation has similar drawbacks to carbon taxes in that it doesn't induce innovation which is the crucial consideration of this report.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Announcing the launch of the Happier Lives Institute · 2019-06-21T22:52:07.444Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

people living in high density cities underestimate how stressed and unhappy they actually are

Can you say more about this?

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [Link] Ideas on how to improve scientific research · 2019-06-21T21:44:39.582Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks very interesting!

I have a long report on meta-research and funding opportunity here:

lets-fund.org/better-science

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-12T10:12:25.720Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · EA · GW

You're absolutely correct that biases and beliefs often creep into many kinds of researchers.

I just meant to convey that ITIF is much more unbiased and non-partisan than one might expect and certainly more than many think tanks with a clear political leaning.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-11T08:20:00.777Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

explain how this can lead to more spending on previously neglected R&D

Mission Innovation is an international agreement under which many countries have coordinated to spend part of GDP on clean energy R&D. Unfortunately, signatory countries are currently not on track to fulfill their pledges. One of the focus areas of ITIF's clean energy innovation program is the Mission Innovation agreement, the importance of which Hart has highlighted since the agreements inception in 2016.

Mission Innovation tries to solve the 'free-rider problem', i.e. countries not spending as much as others (relative to their GDP) on clean energy R&D. Because the agreement attempts to coordinate many countries to spend a non-trivial part of GDP on clean energy R&D, Mission Innovation provides great leverage.

This is a typical policy instrument and there are many precedents for spending part of GDP or GNI on global public goods to increase global cooperation on an issue. For instance:

  • NATO member states hold each other accountable to ramp up defense spending to 2% of GDP
  • OECD member states have committed to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid
  • EU member states spend around 0.7% of GNI to finance the EU budget
  • EU member states have agreed to spend 3% of GDP by 2020 (3.5% of GDP by 2025) on research and development

Though countries often fall short of their commitments, international agreements to spend part of GDP adds up to massive amounts. The international agreements to spend on global public goods might have also contributed to these issues being higher up on the policy agenda.

Recently Cunliff wrote a policy brief titled "Omission Innovation: The Missing Element in Most Countries' Response to Climate Change". There, Cunliff argues that "only significantly greater levels of public investment in clean energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) will produce the level of innovation necessary to dramatically reduce emissions from unabated fossil fuel consumption." Cunliff highlights that countries are not on track to fulfill their Mission Innovation pledges and "If the member countries stay on their current feeble growth trajectory, [Mission Innovation] will reach only 50% of its target." Another example of ITIF’s work on this is a recent op-ed by Hart in which he calls for the US to lead on international coordination of long-duration grid storage R&D.

what the money would be spent on

We think the main mechanism of their impact will be high-quality, unbiased policy research on smarter spending on clean energy R&D. Communicating this research to policy-makers might then result in policy changes. We imagine this to happen through typical think tank outputs such as books, reports, policy briefs, blogs, conferences, workshops, commentaries, formal briefings and informal discussions with policy-makers, government officials, and key stakeholders.

ITIF could spend money productively by hiring staff such as policy researchers or assistants. In fact, ITIF has recently hired for another Senior Policy Analyst in Clean Energy Innovation to scale up, but seems to only have secured funding for one year so far. Hiring competent staff for several years can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The typical budget/staff ratio at the top 20 US think tanks is roughly $153,000—ITIF's ratio is very similar at ~$152,000.

Conservative case: $500,000 over three years ($167,000/year), equivalent to the mean salary of 1 additional staff. Medium case: $1,500,000 over three years ($500,000/year), equivalent to the mean salary of 3 additional staff. Optimistic case: $2,000,000 over three years ($667,000/year), equivalent to the mean salary of 4 additional staff.

Note that the funds will be intentionally restricted only to the ITIF clean energy innovation program. However, within clean energy innovation Hart and Cunliff can use the money flexibly in whatever way they see fit. For instance, they might decide that it is better to spend funds on travel to give more talks or organize events and workshops on clean energy innovation.

Also, the very first graph says "CO2 emissions by region in the NPS", but what's the NPS?

Sorry this is International Energy Agency slang - I've added this to our website. NPS = New Policies Scenario. The NPS aims to provide a sense of where today's policy ambitions seem likely to take the energy sector. It incorporates not just the policies and measures that governments around the world have already put in place, but also the likely effects of announced policies, including the Nationally Determined Contributions made for the Paris Agreement.

what is your relationship to the stated authors Hart & Cunliff

For this grant evaluation, we cold contacted ITIF, who we had no prior contact and so declare no competing interests.

The most important consideration is that their work focuses on the most effective policy: higher and smarter spending on clean energy R&D.

In other words, our search for a funding opportunity in climate change was very theoretically motivated: we first considered what the most effective policy area is, and only then looked for organizations with a focus on clean energy R&D policy. ITIF fit the bill perfectly.

I've added this to the website as well.

how does Bill Gates fit in?

We use his explainer video because it's very succinct and in our quotes section as an endorsement for our view:

"“If we create the right environment for innovation, we can accelerate the pace of progress, develop and deploy new solutions, and eventually provide everyone with reliable, affordable energy that is carbon free. We can avoid the worst climate-change scenarios while also lifting people out of poverty, growing food more efficiently, and saving lives by reducing pollution.

To create this future we need to take several steps:

One step is to lay the foundation for innovation by drastically increasing government funding for research on clean energy solutions. Right now, the world spends only a few billion dollars a year on researching early-stage ideas for zero-carbon energy. It should be investing two or three times that much.

Why should governments fund basic research? For the same reason that companies tend not to: because it is a public good. The benefits to society are far greater than the amount that the inventor can capture.”

Bill Gates Philanthropist, Gates Foundation"

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a private sector coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates, has started a venture to invest in breakthrough energy projects.

As far as I know they focus exclusively to get billionaires to invest directly in private energy companies.

The Gates foundation also does not make grants within climate policy, but focuses on US education and global development.

Thus Gates does not directly fund climate change policy research and this might be reason to think that this area is still neglected.

Generally, clean energy innovation is neglected by philanthropists. US philanthropists gave only $115,000 in grants to promote government clean energy R&D spending and only $20,000 to promote the role of government in fostering innovation annually on average from 2011-2015. This suggests that there are likely still increasing returns to scale.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Summary of x-risks? · 2019-06-04T21:14:21.806Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · EA · GW

John Halstead at Founders Pledge has written an excellent, accessible, yet in-depth report on x-risks, which you can find at:

https://founderspledge.com/research/fp-existential-risk

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-04T14:14:34.127Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Here, neglectedness is taken as a reason for tractability, while it should be a reason for marginal cost-effectiveness.

No sorry that's incorrect. These are two separate points.

Clean energy R&D is neglected because only $22 billion globannually are invested - Norway could in theory triple this if they wanted to and it would have a very large effect on global emissions.

Carbon taxes are also neglected. But if Norway were to implement a carbon tax the effect on global emissions would be tiny.

Increasing public clean energy R&D does not necessarily require strong multilateralism or harmonized national policies. This makes it very tractable politically and uniquely positioned in the space of all climate policies as a decentralized approach.

Even if clean energy R&D spending would be relatively higher (say 100 billion), it might still be more tractable for a small country to increase it than to implementing carbon taxes.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-04T09:00:26.471Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Better understanding the relative rankings I would be interested to know: For "Research on climate change", you say in your spreadsheet that neglectedness is only 2 because "Much research funding already in this area and returns are probably diminishing" Do we know how much? (or any other reason for thinking that returns are diminishing here but not in the clean energy arena?)

This is an excellent question. I think there are some research projects on climate change which are plausibly more cost-effective than clean energy R&D.

Examples of high-impact climate research include: Research on the transient climate response, global scale flood forecasting systems, Research on the ethics and feasibility of global geoengineering, Research on the feasibility of using ocean alkalinity as a scalable and cheap way to absorb large amounts of carbon (for as little as $10 per tonne of CO₂ averted), Research on reducing emissions from unconventional sources, and Research on super-pollutants.

Funding more research on such topics might be even be more cost-effective than clean energy R&D funding. However, the overall funding gap is likely much lower (perhaps in the hundreds of millions) than for clean energy R&D (which is in the tens of billions) and so diminishing returns will set in earlier. Consider that, in the US alone, climate change research funding is 1.7% of total research grants and about $1.5 billion annually. Thus, while investing in climate change research is quite cost-effective, there is an upper bound on the benefits. Put simply, the engineering challenges of creating cheaper clean energy technology are vast and need many more billions, whereas the value of information from climate change research might be very high, but there diminishing returns set in earlier, and we already have a lot of funding in place. I hope this makes sense?

For Regulation, why is importance smaller than it is for research on clean energy? (or research on climate change, for that matter?)

Great question.

Regulations such as these car or coal power plant bans are theoretically equivalent to a punitive carbon tax and might have positive spillovers for the world, yet they have drawbacks similar to the carbon pricing described in the report (e.g. carbon leakage). Put simply, if you ban carbon intensive energy in the UK (e.g. coal) industry might move abroad. This might also not stimulate energy innovation in the best areas (e.g. the UK might just rely more on old nuclear technology that won't be used in emerging economies). In contrast, if you invest in basic clean energy R&D this might create the low carbon technology cheaper around the world.

For Regulation, why is tractability scored lower than governments funding research when regulation costs (roughly) no money? For Regulation, when I read section 8 of your document, I wasn't sure how to interpret some of your comments. You pointed out ways that current approaches to regulation are sub-optimal. Does that mean you think there's an opportunity to campaign for regulations to be done differently? It seemed to me like a write-up that was very positive about regulation.

Great question. For me tractability in this comparison is not about cost but political tractability that is a function of monetary costs. The great thing about clean energy R&D increases is that few people will object to it whereas with regulation often creates a lot of industry push-back. Put simply, my sense is that a politician would have a harder time shutting down 5 coal power plants than increasing the clean energy R&D budget by 50%.

In contrast to outright bans, future expected regulation and phase-ins have the benefit of guarding against abruptly high switching costs. Commitments to ban environmentally harmful technology in the future might be politically easier to push for than regulating the present and might seem like quick policy wins. Put simply, it is often easier for a politician to announce "By 2030 no diesel cars will be allowed any more in this country.". But the effectiveness of future regulation is traded off with how credible commitments are against industry pressure on policy-makers when the time comes around to actually phase out environmentally harmful technology. I think in the past politicians have sometimes announced that this or that environmentally harmful technology should not exist anymore but then when the time came around there was renewed industry push-back and times were extended.

"if there were billions more dollars thrown into this field that would be great because we have loads of leads to follow and I could list out a load of them off the top of my head if you wanted me to"

A 2018 meta-analysis summarized the results of several studies[25] that all asked several experts by how much clean energy prices if clean energy R&D were to increase by several billions. The meta-analysis concludes:

"[...] experts largely believe that increased public RD&D investments will result in reductions in future technology costs by 2030, although possibly with diminishing marginal returns. [....] for all technologies, experts see the possibility of breakthroughs that would make the technology cost competitive, envisioning sustained annual rates of cost reduction on the order of 10 percent per year. Moreover, such breakthroughs appear more likely under higher RD&D."[26]

The results from these experts surveys: moving from low to medium or high R&D investment scenarios might decrease clean energy costs by several percent.

This view is shared by a number of academics, international organizations, and members of the private sector, including:

  1. Daron Acemoglu, the most cited economic scholar in the recent decade, who argues that optimal climate change policy requires both carbon pricing and subsidies for clean energy research. Clean energy research should be heavily front-loaded to carbon taxation, which can be phased in gradually to minimize switching costs for industry.[19] This argument is not about how high carbon taxes should be in absolute terms or when exactly they should come. It merely suggests that we need to prioritize clean energy R&D, because it would not make much sense to create better clean energy technology later this century. In short, there is good reason to prioritize clean energy R&D.

  2. The International Energy Agency notes that public R&D on energy technologies grew at an average rate of only 2% per year in the last 5 years.[20] For that reason, they argue that more spending on public and private clean energy R&D would be productive and is needed.[21]

  3. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition,[22] a private sector coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates, has started a venture to invest in breakthrough energy projects. According to recent analyses, public energy R&D can productively absorb large amounts of additional funding[23] and should increase 5-fold to be socially optimal. The US R&D budgets should even increase 10-fold.[24]

You can find all citations and the full report here: https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy

the discussion section suggests that the constraints for funding are likely to come from there being an adequate pool of scientist and engineering personnel available.

I guess this is a question about Talent constraints. My sense is that there are more talented scientists and engineers who currently work in the private sector that could be mobilized. Generally my sense is that ‘Idle talent’ can be mobilized quickly for science if research funding is available. For many years most researchers have trained more researchers (e.g., graduate students, postdoctoral researchers) than are needed to replace themselves, and so there is a pipeline of highly qualified young researchers who could be rapidly mobilized to take on extra work if there was more money in the system. Increasing salaries and working conditions might be another effect to get people from the private sector to do basic research —

it also raises the possibility of government funding crowding out private sector funding

As a rule, the less applied the science the less private sector funding there is, so I feel this should not be a concern here, because I'm arguing for basic clean energy R&D such as that done by government. There's also a factor pushing in the other direction: the more basic R&D, the more private sector funding is crowded in later down the R&D pipeline.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-01T13:20:30.451Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I do not have a super strict definition of the ITN framework, but we are inspired by 80k's ITN methodology. The arguments and findings from the ITN analysis, sometimes serve as inputs to the fermi estimate.

Tractability for instance we mention several times throughout the report:

"Public clean energy R&D is neglected: only $22 billion is spent per year globally. Many advanced economies such as the US could unilaterally increase this substantially i.e. even without international coordination—which makes this policy uniquely politically tractable. "

"Increasing public clean energy R&D does not necessarily require strong multilateralism or harmonized national policies. This makes it very tractable politically and uniquely positioned in the space of all climate policies as a decentralized approach (see Figure 4)."

Or:

"Political tractability of carbon pricing approaches

Carbon pricing is becoming increasingly unpopular and politically difficult to implement.[173] One commentator writes that “the carbon tax’s fading appeal, even among groups that like it in principle, shows the difficulties of crafting a politically palatable solution to one of the world’s most urgent problems”.[174] It might be an even larger political challenge to increase the carbon tax to reflect the social cost of carbon (i.e. the true price of the externalities).[175] The political feasibility of a carbon tax is further decreased by the seemingly endless debates on how high it be should be (although it would make sense to set the carbon price to the marginal abatement cost, which is easier to estimate than the marginal social cost of carbon,[176] or use the lower bound of the social cost of carbon,[177] and/or simply err on the side of overestimating externalities, while reducing other non-Pigovian taxes).

On the positive side, carbon pricing might face less industry pushback and regulatory capture than many might assume: Major fossil fuel companies are advocating for carbon pricing.[178] This might be a case of ‘Bootleggers and Baptists,’[179] a phenomenon in which profit-driven corporations cause externalities (bootleggers) to align politically with socially motivated governments (baptists) trying to reduce externalities, as pushing for tighter regulation of their own industry (e.g. alcohol, carbon) gives them an advantage by making it harder for new competition to enter the market. On the other hand, the fossil fuel companies have invested over $1 billion on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying.[180]

In the appendix, we list two different ways of measuring national efforts to price carbon. The first is the country’s environmentally-related tax revenue as a percentage of GDP (e.g. gas taxes etc.). The second measure takes into account both carbon taxes and emission trading systems to calculate the effective carbon rate."

"Cheaper clean energy technology might save the world a lot of money and might reduce both emissions and poverty. Many people also suggest that this would make a carbon tax more politically palatable."

"Theoretically, a perfect global carbon pricing regime implemented early might have been the only policy needed to prevent climate change.[143] Leading economists agree that carbon taxes are a great policy intervention.[144] Increasingly, advanced economies do price or tax carbon emissions. A global carbon price would lead to lower emissions and incentivize the private market to build cleaner energy technology. Although there are proposals and increasing public support for a global carbon tax,[145] the biggest challenge still is that they do not seem politically palatable enough.[146] Some countries, such as Russia, derive a substantial part of their GDP from fossil fuels[147] and it might thus be in their interest not to adopt a carbon price."

On neglectedness:

"Public clean energy R&D is neglected: only $22 billion is spent per year globally compared to $140 billion spent on clean energy deployment subsidies and trillions spent on energy."

"But is public spending on clean energy R&D really neglected? Is it effective to spend more? We think so. Consider that, globally, only $22 billion in public funds are spent on clean energy R&D annually—this is only 0.02% of World GDP.[18] For comparison, world energy expenditure was 6% of the World's GDP. This means we spend about 300 times as much on energy than on making energy better.

Why is there so little investment in clean energy innovation?

Generally, basic R&D is under-supplied at both the private and public level. There are several theoretical reasons for this:

  1. On a global level, basic clean energy R&D is under-supplied by both governments and the private sector. Why? Because it suffers from the free-rider problem, as all basic R&D and public goods do. Countries and firms can just let others do the basic research and then reap the benefits because knowledge is hard to protect internationally. Private R&D cannot be protected perfectly because patents expire or industry know-how diffuses to other firms and not all rents from investments can be captured. This results in a socially suboptimal investment. In other words, additional public investment through basic R&D funding and subsidies increase social surplus, because private capital can only capture a fraction of the social surplus pie.
  2. Generally, venture capital and the market neglect capital-intensive, high-risk, high-return, long time-horizon investments.
  3. Clean energy R&D, in particular, is under-supplied because externalities of carbon are not priced adequately, leading to insufficient commercial applications for clean energy R&D."

"First, generally, clean energy innovation is neglected by philanthropists. US philanthropists gave only $115,000 in grants to promote government clean energy R&D spending and only $20,000 to promote the role of government in fostering innovation annually on average from 2011-2015.[52] This suggests that there are likely still increasing returns to scale."

"Climate change is relatively non-neglected

Climate change is a high-profile topic that many people work on. It is funded by both governments and big private foundations. Thus, even though clean energy innovation in particular has been relatively underfunded within the climate policy space, it is conceivable that in the future ITIF might receive grants for their clean energy innovation program from other funders, which lowers the counterfactual impact of donating to this project. In other words, comparatively, climate change is not very neglected. For instance, the risks and expected losses of pandemics are of a similar magnitude than those of climate change, yet the area is more neglected by other funders.[75]"

You might also be interested in the cell notes in this spreadsheet that give the very quick reason for all climate policies scores on the ITN framework.

Does that answer your question?

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-06-01T12:59:18.564Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

>>what I saw as a lack of clear "final benefit" description along the lines of "assuming a middling outcome, we'd expect to prevent".

I think a thorough "final benefit" / "$ per ton of CO2 equivalent"/ "$ per degree of warming averted" calculation is not in principal outside of the realm of empirical investigation, but there are many difficulties here (e.g. the elasticity of clean energy demand, the comparative carbon intensities of other low carbon energy etc.). I might come back to that in case there is very strong demand for these numbers. But I also don't think we need these calculations for the same reason that many high risks, high return grants lauded in the EA community do not need to include a "$ per life saved" calculation. I do have a bunch of what Bostrom calls crucial considerations in this report and I think EA research should head perhaps more in that direction.

But for what it's worth we do mention the economic benefits of reducing global low carbon energy costs by several percentage points. They might be very large, because World Energy expenditure is in the trillions, [48],[49] and even a small reduction in cost by several percentage point might lead to large savings. Also there is a recent study which found that combining clean energy innovation with emission reduction policies reduces the costs of climate mitigation with a net present value of $3-6 trillion.[50]

Also, one economic model suggests that "if a carbon tax imposes a dollar of cost on the economy, induced innovation will end up reducing that cost to around 70 cents".[73] Given that political acceptability is mainly a function of cost, making clean energy cheaper might make carbon taxes more likely. Just based only on this effect, it might make this a really good reason for donating to this, but again it's hard to quantify the exact benefits.

>>Have you spoken to Open Phil about this opportunity?

I do not know OpenPhil's official position on this, but there is a cell in "Open Philanthropy Project's Public Priorities- Global Catastrophic Risks" spreadsheet which mentions that clean tech R&D might be a potential philanthropic opportunity. But the same spreadsheet also mentions says that Anthropogenic climate change (other than geoengineering) is not prioritized. I'll definitely approach them though.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-05-28T21:35:42.697Z · score: 13 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you so much for your excellent comments—there seems to be a theme in there that captures something interesting about the way people in EA think.

>>This example doesn't seem to have anything to do with "the potential for policy change".

I see what you’re saying: my example is definitely not decisive evidence for a strong causal links between ITIF’s policy research and policy change. But I feel that saying that this example doesn’t have anything to do with the potential for policy change is a bit strong. Under Obama, if you wanted to get right people talking about an issue then publishing a book at MIT press and having it reviewed in the NYT seems like a good start. I have added a statement about that the book was launched at an event at the National Press Club with Financial Times Washington commentator Edward Luce.

But yes this was just one point, for instance, elsewhere in the report we write “The launch event for this report demonstrated that ITIF had good convening power, with high-profile panelists such as a former deputy head of the US Environmental Protection Agency.[44]

And yes ITIF is a very well regarded think tank based on the top rankings on the global think tank rankings. Think tanks are generally meant to change policy and so a good ranking is likely to indicate this. This is more of a holistic argument (cluster thinking if you will).

Relatedly and re: your comment on the Fermi estimate:

In the report I write (I’ve made some minor changes now to make this more clear).

What effect will the spending increases have on clean energy costs? Above we cited a meta-analysis of studies surveying experts suggesting that energy costs will decrease by several percentage points, if energy R&D is increased from a low to a medium or high investment scenario. The table below shows how many additional million dollars in clean energy R&D the low, medium and high investment scenarios correspond to. The amount of increase for some of the medium scenarios are roughly the same order of magnitude as benefits under realistic and optimistic assumptions in our cost-effectiveness analysis ($53 million and $750 million; see Table 2) and so this project could plausibly decrease low carbon energy costs significantly.

As mentioned above, because World Energy expenditure is in the trillions, [48],[49] even a small reduction in cost by several percentage point might lead to large savings. This cost-effectiveness analysis is roughly in line with a recent study which found that combining clean energy innovation with emission reduction policies reduces the costs of climate mitigation with a net present value of $3-6 trillion.[50]

>>Is spending $2 million to generate $50 million in R&D likely to produce more good for human life than buying 400,000 mosquito nets? Maybe yes, maybe not, but I'm not sure how to figure out the range of possible answers.

One could multiply things out further if one feels inclined to, but the model uncertainty increases so much that it doesn’t allow for meaningful comparison with other causes.

This is more of a high risk, high reward donation opportunity than the low risk, low reward global development interventions whose benefits are more readily quantifiable and comparable. I think it’s definitely much better in expectation—I’d rather have a reasonable chance of lowering carbon electricity prices by a few percent than save 40 lives with 400,000 bednets.

I think we need to be careful of precision bias in EA and favouring ever more elaborate, explicit cost-effectiveness modelling of low risk easily quantifiable interventions while neglecting the more high risk "better approximately right than precisely wrong" kind of interventions.

I agree though that it’s hard to say whether this is better than funding say policy reform that would improve trade with emerging economies or biosecurity.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Crowdfunding for Effective Climate Policy · 2019-05-28T09:10:23.260Z · score: 33 (10 votes) · EA · GW

The amount spent on deployment subsidies is drastically out of proportion to how much is spent on public R&D.[188] In Germany, one study critical of subsidies suggests up to $580 billion overall will be spent till 2020 on clean energy generally, while the German government projects to only spend ~$620 billion until 2050.[189] The majority of these billions will be spent on subsidies.

German solar subsidies dwarf public R&D funding by a factor of 120 (!),[190] when economic modelling has suggested that the optimal ratio should be roughly one-to-one.[191] [192]

Globally, clean energy deployment subsidies are around $140 billion annually.[193] compared to R&D.

I have talked to several people in government about this, but our views on the importance of clean energy innovation also seem uncontroversial within large parts of the academia, but have not made it outside of academia yet.

This view is shared by a number of academics, international organisations, and members of the private sector, including:

  1. Daron Acemoglu, the most cited economic scholar in the recent decade, argues that optimal climate change policy requires both carbon pricing and subsidies for clean energy research.[202] He further argues that clean energy research should be heavily front-loaded to carbon taxation, which can be phased in gradually to minimize switching costs for industry. This argument has no bearing on the how high carbon taxes should be in absolute terms, nor how high clean energy R&D should be in the future, only that the latter should be prioritized. Put simply, it makes no sense to have most of our R&D spending later this century, but a high carbon tax can still be introduced at a later stage.
  2. The International Energy Agency, which notes that because public R&D on energy technologies grew only at an average rate of only 2% per year in the last 5 years[203], there is need for more and that more spending on public and private clean energy R&D spending would be productive.[204]
  3. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition,[205] a private sector coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates, has started a venture to invest in breakthrough energy projects.

We came across a few recently published and unpublished papers that reached similar conclusions to ours and so we believe in the coming years our views might be more mainstream.[83],[84],[85]

All citations can be found at:

https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy/

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Which scientific discovery was most ahead of its time? · 2019-05-22T07:09:32.719Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Oops- that was accidental. I wrote that paragraph. Have edited this.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Which scientific discovery was most ahead of its time? · 2019-05-20T09:56:22.957Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry if that was unclear, but it's the title of the paper by Einstein:

https://journals.aps.org/pr/abstract/10.1103/PhysRev.47.777

It's also known as the Paradox paper- which is where you might know it from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPR_paradox

Comment by haukehillebrandt on Which scientific discovery was most ahead of its time? · 2019-05-16T14:55:55.225Z · score: 18 (10 votes) · EA · GW

In scientometrics, there is a literature on "Sleeping Beauties"—papers whose relevance has not been recognized for decades, but then suddenly become highly influential and cited. The Einstein paper "Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?" is a popular example of this.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on [Link] 5-HTTLPR · 2019-05-10T12:38:59.532Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Also—shameless self-promotion—see Let's Fund's Better Science crowdfunding campaign that tries to tackle the replication crisis and make science better.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on How do we check for flaws in Effective Altruism? · 2019-05-07T09:13:41.033Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I love this idea.

Relatedly: if you have a website you're sometimes spammed by bots that tell you that you have grammar mistakes, broken links or that they can help you reduce the loading time of your page.

Perhaps there's a business idea here somewhere, where you 'mass tell' people they've incorrect statistics/beliefs etc. on their website, which they can find behind a $X paywall. Also see: http://statcheck.io/

Comment by haukehillebrandt on The most cost-efficient way to convert money into personal health · 2019-05-07T09:04:22.735Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · EA · GW
Were you under the impression that I was disagreeing with the sodium-reduction guidelines because I was merely unaware that they existed?

No, my model of your view is that you were aware of the guidelines, but believe that sodium-reduction guidelines are on net harmful. Am I correct?

Both too little and too much salt is bad, but based on two the more recent meta-analyses I linked above, that deal with this controversy in the Ioannidis article you linked, I think the WHO salt reduction guidelines are on net good.

As a rule, public health messaging should be tell people to watch their salt intake to reduce their blood pressure, because:

  • average salt consumption is much higher than the WHO recommends
  • it will likely increase due to profit motives absent policy interventions
  • many more people with high blood pressure will benefit than people with low blood
    pressure would be harmed because they adapt a very low sodium diet on the basis of sodium reduction guidelines
Comment by haukehillebrandt on What is the Impact of Beyond Meat? · 2019-05-04T08:13:19.270Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Interesting question.

Ever so rough fermi: Beyond's revenue was around $100 million - they sell their products at $1 and save an animal for every 100 products sold, then they save 1 million animals a year. Increasing their revenue by 1% through a grant or unpaid internship would save 10k animals.

But if the market is efficient, the counterfactual impact of for-profit clean meat companies is converging towards zero.

More basic clean meat R&D might be more undersupplied by the market.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on The most cost-efficient way to convert money into personal health · 2019-05-04T07:45:42.072Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that, if sustained throughout the lifecourse, then moderate consumption of salt and sugar is not harmful. I wrote this sentence with metabolic syndrome in mind - this affects very many people as they get older.

On salt: I agree that salt is essential and not new to human diets, and that for the majority of people reducing sodium by a lot is harmful.

However, many people have high blood pressure and should avoid excessive sodium consumption [see study, study]. Also, many scholars argue that salt can be described as addictive [see 'Salt addiction hypothesis'] and some implicate it in making food hyperpalatable (also see 'The Hungry Brain' by a former OPP consultant).

On sugar: the WHO recommends a reduced intake of free sugars throughout the lifecourse.

Not sure what you mean that people harm themselves (you mean that they mess with their basal metabolic rate? I think this is only happens in extreme cases, not when, say, just cutting out sugar sweetened beverages). Thinking about this in terms of the reversal test, recommending increasing sugar intake (which is happening anyway) does not make sense to me on average.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on What is the current best estimate of the cumulative elasticity of chicken? · 2019-05-04T05:44:15.795Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry I was being unclear.

I was trying to make a point about the comparative effectiveness of two popular kinds of interventions in animal welfare: animal product reduction advocacy (e.g. leafletting, corporate campaigns etc.) vs. clean meat R&D.

The effectiveness of animal product reduction advocacy relies more heavily on the elasticity.

Poultry elasticity might be higher than the—harder to measure, more meaningful—animal product elasticity. For instance, reduction in demand for poultry might lower the price of feed further down in the supply chain - reducing the price and thus increasing the demand of other animal products.

Thus, using poultry elasticity as a parameter when evaluating animal product reduction advocacy interventions overstates its effectiveness (relative to clean meat R&D).

Comment by haukehillebrandt on What is the current best estimate of the cumulative elasticity of chicken? · 2019-05-03T13:02:26.736Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Saulius - I think this is really interesting info.

However, I feel that this be misleading in that it overstates the case for vegetarianism over clean meat R&D, because what one is really interested in is meat or animal product elasticity. In other words, poultry elasticity understates the counterfactual where reduction of poultry supply due to someone's vegetarianism increases the supply of other animal products.

Comment by haukehillebrandt on The most cost-efficient way to convert money into personal health · 2019-05-01T19:32:26.806Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you so much for writing this. It’s really important to take care of one’s health and so I’m glad you bring this up.

Of course, social relationships are important, but the recent talk about the loneliness epidemic (/ depression) is there for a reason-it’s just quite hard for people to establish satisfying social relationships and I don't think anyone has quite cracked it yet. Quitting smoking, alcohol, salt, and sugar is also hard–they are quite addictive. The jury on sitting seems to still out [1, 2, 3, 4] - it might be that exercise can effectively eliminate associations with ill-health.

If you factor in time costs, willpower and other constraints, then I think the below are better ways to effectively improve your own health.

Disclaimer: this is not medical advice, please consult your doctor before doing any of this. Also, this is based on experiences of a socio-economically-privileged, abled-bodied male.

  1. One-off behaviors that have long-lasting effects:
    1. Example: routine vaccinations and vaccination refreshers. You need to get the DPT and MMR vaccine during childhood and also need a refreshers during adulthood. There might be other vaccinations that might be effective for some people such as the HPV vaccine or meningitis.
    2. (Non-elective) surgeries
  2. One-off behaviors or purchases that create semi-permanent lock-in. Examples:
    1. Annual reminder for doctor’s / dentist appointment
    2. Signing up for a gym as close to your home/work as possible (beware of trivial inconveniences)
    3. Signing up with for psychotherapy
    4. Setting an annual calendar reminder to September to get a flu shot
    5. (Fitbit) scale to track your weight
    6. Noise-cancelling headphones to reduce hearing damage
    7. Eye-mask to improve sleep
    8. Better/private health insurance
  3. Remove negative health behaviors. As a rule, it’s often more effective/easier to remove negatives (not doing bad things) from one's lives than adding positives (doing good things).
    1. For example, you can’t outrun a bad diet: drinking 500 excess calories by drinking a liter of soda is much easier than doing an hour of exercise.
    2. Smoking/drinking less alcohol is more effective and easier than exercising
    3. Cancel addictive media that encourages sedentary behavior and reduces sleep
  4. Taking supplements and medications. The benefit-cost-ratio can be very high: you just need to remember to take the pill and do it, which might improve your health by quite a bit. Many people in advanced economies have micronutrient deficiencies such as iron, Vitamin D, insufficient fiber, etc.
  5. Health behavior change through listening to audiobooks might be very effective. Kick back and relax, while a professional audiobook narrator with an authoritative voice whispers affirmative, encouraging, actionable, scientific, focus-group tested, carefully edited prose right into your ear for 10 hours straight. In my experience, audiobooks can really hit the point home—all the behavior change, none of the eye clamps. You can get them for free with an audible trial. For health:
    1. “The Ultimate Guide to Fasting” and “The Obesity Code” by Jason Fung
    2. “The easy way to quit smoking”, "The Easy Way to Control Alcohol" by Allen Carr
    3. “Why we sleep” - for better sleep
    4. “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain” for mental health
  6. Relatedly, learning about health might have a high value of information, if it makes you aware off unhealthy behaviors you could easily change (for instance, lifestyle risks for cancer)
  7. Weight loss: being overweight is one of the biggest causes of ill-health in advanced economies. I found water fasting to be really effective.
  8. Improving sleep (humans sleep a third of their life, so it scores very highly on importance).
  9. Exercise: If you want to optimize for health, keep it very short (<30 mins) because you’re quickly hitting diminishing returns, but do it more often. In the gym, do 20 mins of 1) low impact high-intensity interval training cardio (e.g. elliptical) and 2) do 1-2 exercises resistance/weight training with focus on safe and easy versions of the big compound lifts ((front) squats, Romanian deadlift, overhead press, dips, chin-ups). Increase weight slowly but steadily so that you to become strong, but stop increasing the weight when you reach your bodyweight to reduce injuries. Learn some bodyweight exercise for days you don't go to the gym.

Lately, I’ve been wondering whether this is a lot of effortful micro-optimization and whether not bigger things in life are not much more effective. For example, moving to a healthier city/country with better public health/ less air/noise pollution. Thoughts on this?