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[Linkpost] Updates on the FP Climate Fund 2021-05-30T17:16:41.973Z
Founders Pledge Climate & Lifestyle Report 2020-02-11T09:57:30.289Z

Comments

Comment by jackva on Do we need to keep increasing energy consumption? · 2021-06-17T12:30:04.623Z · EA · GW

On your questions more directly:

Q1: In a world where a focus on lifestyle advocacy makes a large difference to emissions (i.e. is cost-effective), I am fairly unconcerned about climate -- this is not a world with a lot of climate risk.
Conversely, in the worlds where most of the risk is -- high growth pressures and low willingness to pay for climate -- such a strategy will not be cost-effective whereas a strategy focused on making low-carbon energy the option of choice irrespective of concern about climate will (what I called the "shit hits the fan principle" in the GWWC talk).

Q2: We know that there is at least one energy source that could reliably and sustainably power civilization for centuries (nuclear fission) and likely there are several more (solar, nuclear fusion, advanced geothermal). This mostly seems a problem if one wanted to power the entire civilization only with intermittent renewables in their current state (e.g. without them becoming more resource-efficient).

Comment by jackva on Do we need to keep increasing energy consumption? · 2021-06-16T21:13:51.488Z · EA · GW

This also strikes me as pretty relevant in this context, essentially the IPCC's scenarios do not include futures where energy demand does not increase and a doubling (compared to 2010) is roughly in the middle of considered scenarios (of course, this is very simplistic, not all of those scenarios are equally plausible, nor does the IPCC necessarily capture the entire range of possilble futures, but it gives a good sense of how unlikely a scenario such as the one the paper you cite uses is in the overall range of views).

 



https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378016300681

Comment by jackva on Do we need to keep increasing energy consumption? · 2021-06-16T20:17:42.865Z · EA · GW

Thanks, James!

More on this later, but for now just two points:

I. Doubling is not dramatic: Doubling of energy supply is not a dramatic increase in at least two ways:

  1. It looks quite conservative when considering the demographic and economic dynamics you mention (60% population increase, hopefully at least a tripling in GDP per capita, i.e. something like a 5x larger economy). Saying one expects energy demand to only double by end of century assumes a lot of reductions in energy intensity, i.e. increased efficiency, structural change, and, possibly, demand reductions.

  2. Relatedly, it is by far not the at the upper end of plausible futures the IPCC and many other bodies consider. Indeed, it would not be terribly surprising if energy demand by end of century increased by much more than just a doubling and this is something our responses should be robust to.

II. Carbon intensity of energy to ~0 is the sine qua non of climate success.

Per the Kaya Identity, the only way to get to zero emissions is when the carbon intensity of all economic activity is zero, it's the only necessary condition and it's also sufficient. Because there is also carbon removal and the goal is net-zero not zero it's not quite as logically necessary (though it's still sufficient).

Comment by jackva on Event-driven mission hedging and the 2020 US election · 2021-06-15T08:56:34.046Z · EA · GW

We have two things going on here beyond just partisan switch (discussed in more detail in the report) that do make this a special moment unlikely to re-occur.

(1) Elevated importance: The importance of the 2020 election for climate policy was much elevated because of COVID-related stimulus spending, the difference between Trump-Biden is much starker than the difference Trump-Clinton was in 2016 because of the much enlarged policy opportunity.

(2) Carbon lock-in: the leverage that US climate policy has  is declining sharply as its main benefits in terms of global emissions (effects on emissions globally through innovation and global leadership) is becoming less valuable every year as more and more of future emissions get locked-in by infrastructure and long-lived capital asset decisions in emerging economies.
 

Comment by jackva on Event-driven mission hedging and the 2020 US election · 2021-06-14T16:04:50.509Z · EA · GW

Interesting!

Some decision points in climate that could be interesting to use this for:

* 2021 German elections (which will impact EU climate policy, though it is a bit unclear in which direction)
2022 US mid-term elections (more value if Democrats can beat the odds and keep Congressional majority)
 

Comment by jackva on Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead · 2021-06-06T15:06:21.643Z · EA · GW

Bill Gates' How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is a pretty good introduction to the challenge, very accessible and framing the challenge of climate change in the wider context of  a developing world with rising energy needs (something the debate too often forgets).

Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air  is somewhat dated now, but a classic and available freely on the internet (https://www.withouthotair.com/).

The Citizen's Guide to Climate Success by Mark Jaccard is also good, although it does not give a full overview in the way the other books mentioned here do.

Comment by jackva on Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead · 2021-06-06T15:02:08.509Z · EA · GW

My position is roughly the following:

1. I agree with this line of reasoning in the way that CATF presents it, i.e. that while there is a possibility that intermittent renewables alone could be sufficient, this is not particularly like and, crucially, this is not where most climate risk is that we should hedge against.

Of course there is (and CATF acknowledges this) a future where intermittent renewables solve almost the entire decarbonization challenge, but this requires a lot of things to go right including (1) continued cost reductions, (2) solving the challenge of seasonal storage, (3) massive transmission infrastructure, (4) very cheap conversion technologies to zero-carbon fuels (related to 2) for storage, transport applications and industrial applications, etc., (5) a world where many regions with poor renewable resources are happy to remain / become more energy-dependent,  (6) a re-organization of the global energy market that finds a way to provide revenue to zero-marginal-cost resources, etc.

This is probably not impossible, but it does not seem very likely. In the same way that we are prioritizing AGI-safety interventions that do not assume that AGI is inherently safe, I don't think we should assume this to all work out when thinking about high-impact philanthropic interventions. Indeed, because damage is concentrated in world where this does not work out, we should probably focus on stuff that works in those futures.

2. Storage would solve some of this, in particular if it is chemical storage (rather than electric) because zero-carbon fuels can also be used to create heat for residential and industrial applications, to power heavy-duty transport, to store energy over seasons, etc.  But it needs to get really cheap if we only rely on intermittent renewables (because the storage/conversion tech would not work 24/7, i.e. not be optimally economical). 

It doesn't solve potential problems around land use and potential energy, of course.

3. I would say advanced nuclear & super-hot-rock geothermal are tied for first position from an environmental and public health perspective, gas with carbon capture would be much better than coal with carbon capture (15x less air pollution), comparing this with large-scale hydro or large-scale bio-energy would be tricky and I am a bit out of my depth here. But neither of those second-best options is really great.

 

Comment by jackva on Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead · 2021-06-06T14:47:01.572Z · EA · GW

Many US-based advanced nuclear companies aim for first commercial plants by end of this decade, here's an overview over timelines:
https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/why-advanced-nuclear-reactors-may-be-here-sooner-than-many-imagine 

I am not particularly optimistic about nuclear in much of Western Europe (with the possible exception of UK, Netherlands and France) because of the strong anti-nuclear sentiments you mention. 

But a more serious climate conversation (how to actually reach targets) could also lead to changes here. That said, my main theory of change for advanced nuclear is advanced nuclear innovation in a couple of key jurisdictions (US, maybe UK & Canada, Korea, China, Russia) and then global adoption, particularly in emerging economies where emissions are raising and the costs of air pollution are felt very acutely. 

Europe is fairly optional in this story (though, of course, things get easier when Europe is less anti-nuclear).

Comment by jackva on Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead · 2021-06-05T21:25:39.083Z · EA · GW

This is one consideration among many, but if low-coordination futures are (a) a significant part of the probability mass (b) and are sufficiently bad (both of which seem plausible) this can be an important consideration in favor of innovation / solutions that work when shit hits the fan.
 

At FP, we're trying to get a better handle on the quantitative import of this consideration and others to be able to make more informed statements about how the balance shakes out (e.g. hypothetically, what if policy leadership was really neglected and super high leverage?) 

That said, policy leadership could also be really good if impactful policy indeed cascades. The main barrier I see to this right now is finding policies that are cascading and are effective in a variety of settings. E.g. carbon pricing policies are arguably cascading, but implemented at such weak levels that they are relatively inconsequential with regards to global emissions. And something like the Climate Change Act, a binding commitment to an emissions trajectory, seems hard to pull off in a developing/emerging economy.

 

Comment by jackva on Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead · 2021-06-05T21:12:26.850Z · EA · GW

Yes, I (and I think we?) very much agree with that -- that's why we (FP) are supporting Carbon180 as the key advocacy org focused on this solution:
https://founderspledge.com/stories/carbon180-high-impact-funding-opportunity

Comment by jackva on Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead · 2021-06-05T21:06:26.188Z · EA · GW

I agree with that answer, I think now is not the time on climate to do something that takes 10 years to have significant effects. Apart from that, it seems unlikely that the marginal climate scientist will have much impact on climate progress.

 

Comment by jackva on Climate change questions for Johannes Ackva and John Halstead · 2021-06-04T07:43:46.471Z · EA · GW

I am happy to address this tomorrow!

It's a trade-off, for sure, but I tend to believe the differentials are much larger than 10x because of the various independent impact multipliers from advocacy  * neglectedness * innovation.

Comment by jackva on [Linkpost] Updates on the FP Climate Fund · 2021-06-03T19:09:14.099Z · EA · GW

Hi James,

thanks for the questions!

Re 1:
This is a conservative guess (something like 90% confidence that it is at least 2x as impactful, possibly quite a bit more than that). We hope to more analysis on this once we have more data (e.g. the fund running longer). 

But here are some more of the underlying data and observations:

a. Our 250k grant to TerraPraxis grant was the first major (>50k) philanthropic grant to this org (incl. its predecessor, Energy for Humanity) and put it the org significantly more on the map, then being able to crowd in 1 million in funding shortly thereafter. TerraPraxis has also stressed that the initial grant gave them the ability to be way more intentional about their pursuits, so we see this as an example of trajectory-shaping grantmaking that will, over time, have a really large multiplier.  There were other similar opportunities with large multipliers.

b.  In our conversations, charities often stress the importance of funding stability / predictability, something a fund can provide but individual donors cannot as easily (this then leads to less cost-effective ways of using money, such as using part-time consultants rather than staffing up full-time staff when there is no trajectory certainty). So, there is multiplier here from deploying capital more effectively, with more planning certainty.

c. There were several instances of time-sensitive opportunities, such as after the Biden victory or - more surprisingly to many (and therefore less prepared for) the Democrats winning Georgia - where there were acute funding needs that required fast decisions (we did not take up all of those instances, sometimes others acted first but we would have if they hadn't, etc.). So, there's something here both in terms of some times being particularly important (and timing matters), but also about not overfilling funding gaps.

Re 2:
Many events that they are linking to on their website are free-to-attend (https://www.terrapraxis.org/upcoming-events). We will also update our TerraPraxis analysis in time (though this is not imminent).

Re 3:
We are not at the level of identifying orgs yet, we are earlier than that. This is more of an example of the kinds of things we are looking at, right now we are scoping out what seems best to go deeper on and this example -- finding orgs that prevent carbon lock-in in emerging economies -- appears a fairly promising angle. But the first thing to understand there before recommending orgs would be to identify localities where climate mitigation + overcoming energy poverty are not in conflict, but ideally synergistic (e.g. in geographies where renewable resources are very promising).
 

Comment by jackva on Don't we need political action rather than charity? · 2021-05-17T21:16:46.360Z · EA · GW

It's true that political action is a necessary step towards achieving meaningful, lasting change. However, the dichotomy between political action and philanthropy is a false one. Both play an important role in improving the world, and they can be mutually beneficial.

 

This (and the infographic that follows) seem quite contradictory to me -- first stating it is a false dichotomy but then reinforcing that false dichotomy but describing the two as distinct components that can be complementary. 

The article then later focuses on what seems the stronger evidence of the false dichotomy claim -- showing how lots of giving opportunities EAs focus on are very political, i.e. that the critique does not really apply, when you decide for high-impact charity you might very well decide to focus on high-impact charity working on systemic change.

Comment by jackva on HIPR: A new EA-aligned policy newsletter · 2021-05-12T20:08:31.750Z · EA · GW

The goal is to make this newsletter very accessible and useful both to anyone interested in policy (not just EAs) and get people thinking more about what the most impactful, influential policy really is.


Thanks for this work! Commenting on the climate section (the topic I know most about, not really expert in the other domains you cover), inferring importance and influentialness from the write-up seems hard -- it looks like a round-up of interesting developments, but with little prioritization and assessment between them.

E.g. the American Jobs Plan is arguably the most important climate legislation right now,  > 10x larger than the climate piece of the Recovery Act and quite a momentous shift in the willingness to invest in low-carbon infrastructure, but this is not clear from the write-up which gives similar weight to fairly marginal issues such as methane regulation for new oil and gas fields (short-lived pollutants in a subset of the economy, and only new installations) or state policies (Washington state having a target that is 10-15% more ambitious than what other Democratic-leaning states are doing seems fairly inconsequential).

I think this makes sense as a round-up, but I do think it does not meet the goal of focusing on the most impactful / influential developments. So I'd agree with Larks and Evelyn that a narrower, but deeper newsletter could be more accurate and more in line with the goal of highlighting particularly important developments.

Comment by jackva on Defusing the mitigation obstruction argument against geoengineering and carbon dioxide removal · 2021-05-07T09:24:12.244Z · EA · GW

Great post, thanks! Some thoughts:

1. I agree that the mitigation obstruction argument is over-sold and not particularly strong, for many of the reasons you outline (in the real world, it seems to me that most pressure to do something on climate is not addressed by geo-engineering, so politicians face little incentive to over-emphasize geo-engineering, rather they will underemphasize it compared to potential given the demonization and the perceived strength of the obstruction argument in public discourse).

2.  That said, you do seem to miss one key aspect of solar geo-engineering compared to other environmental interventions, that it is incredibly cheap and quickly to implement, which is not true of other climate solutions with similar mitigation / damage prevention potential. So there is  a way in which the obstruction argument could be stronger "let's not do this expensive infrastructure investment into clean tech now, let's do cheap geo-engineering in 10 years if things go bad". 

3. I think the mitigation obstruction argument should not matter much either way for relatively small-scale marginal actions (such as supporting charities that advance geo-engineering research, or carbon dioxide removal, etc.). That is because those ideas exist and it seems implausible that the strength of mitigation obstruction arguments working in public discourse is very sensitive to whether we (societally, globally) spend 5 or 20 million a year working on this, either way you can point to solar geo-engineering as a reason to not act (this is related to 2, the low cost makes this more likely).

4. The worlds I am worried about the most are worlds where that mitigation obstruction argument did some work with obstructing (a) climate action and (b) action on geo-engineering, carbon dioxide removal, etc. and then we are actually not ready to deploy even if we wanted to. 

5. I think this is a real risk for carbon dioxide removal solutions (hence, supporting Carbon180) as finding things that work reasonably cheaply when we want to mass deploy requires targeted innovation and search now; I am less worried about solar geo-engineering because it can be researched and deployed quickly (that it is too expensive is not a concern with solar geo-engineering, it's all about risk trade-offs and governance) .


 

Comment by jackva on International cooperation as a tool to reduce two existential risks. · 2021-04-19T20:45:04.212Z · EA · GW

Interesting post! My colleague Stephen Clare (at Founders Pledge) is currently doing an investigation into this topic, it will be great to exchange.

Comment by jackva on What key facts do you find are compelling when talking about effective altruism? · 2021-04-19T20:38:11.937Z · EA · GW

The scope neglect examples in "On Caring" 

Comment by jackva on [deleted post] 2021-04-12T23:05:24.243Z

I would suggest not "naturalizing" diminishing marginal returns ("as it usually is"), this is just an empirical question which, in my experience, often gets baked in as a fact/unquestioned assumption even when there are no substantive reasons to assume a particular slope.

Comment by jackva on AMA: Toby Ord @ EA Global: Reconnect · 2021-03-13T11:53:41.828Z · EA · GW

Are "existential risk / security factors" what you'd see as the current frontier in longtermist intervention research?

Comment by jackva on Feedback from where? · 2021-03-13T11:00:50.098Z · EA · GW

I asked someone from our impact analytics team to reply here re FP, as he will be better calibrated to share what is public and what is not.

But in principle what Ben describes is correct, we have assessments of charities from our published reports (incl. judgments of partners, such as GiveWell) and we relate that to money moved. We also regularly update our assessments of charities, charities get comprehensively re-evaluated every 2 years or so, with many adjustments in between when things (funding gaps, political circumstances) .

So, this critique seems to incorrectly equate headline figure reporting with all metrics we and others are optimizing for.
 

Comment by jackva on Feedback from where? · 2021-03-11T22:16:29.511Z · EA · GW

Indeed. I can speak to Founders Pledge which is another of the orgs listed here:

              Founders Pledge focusing on the amount of money pledged and the amount of money donated,                       rather than on the impact those donations have had out in the world. 

While these are the metrics we are reporting most prominently, we do of course evaluate the impact these grants are having. 
 

Comment by jackva on Assessing Climate Change’s Contribution to Global Catastrophic Risk · 2021-02-20T16:46:09.608Z · EA · GW

Note also that the global catastrophe is the shock (hazard) plus how it cascades through interconnected systems with feedback. We're explicitly suggesting that the field move beyond 'is x a catastrophe?' to 'how does x effect critical systems, which can feed into one another, and may act more on our vulnerability and exposure than as a direct, single hazard'. 

My understanding is that we all agree on that (I certainly do). 
It just seems that the direct risk to food security is overstated in the article.

Comment by jackva on Assessing Climate Change’s Contribution to Global Catastrophic Risk · 2021-02-19T21:25:37.617Z · EA · GW

I was researching the food security -- climate link a couple of years ago for German policy-makers. Two findings stood out:

1. While climate has an effect on agricultural productivity, the effects of increasing yields and a decreasing rate of population growth will very likely lead to a less food-insecure future in terms of global food supply (in line with Halstead's comment).

2. Obviously, this does not mean that climate change will not lead to famines in some places, but this will not be an issue of global insufficiency, but of unequal vulnerability and access.

I am very worried about the destabilizing effects of climate change because of  mechanisms related to 2 and other indirect effects -- the risk for civil strife,  political instability, migration, knock-on effects etc.  

But it seems very unlikely that climate change will cause a collapse of the global food system constituting a global catastrophe as a direct effect.

Comment by jackva on Do power laws drive politics? · 2021-02-10T20:39:47.295Z · EA · GW

If EA's can identify government actions with potentially high payoff, it could be a very good way to be effective.

This seems incomplete.

The criterion for effective action here would rather be something like a  (1) correctly estimated (2) high expected value of (3) marginal effort, e.g. that additional donations or work can affect the probability of important policy changes.

It  could be true that policies follow a power-law without this implying many effective actions (e.g.  this could be true in policy spaces that are crowded and where additional effort for one "side" leads to counteracting by another).

Most EAs working on issues outside global development seem to believe that funding marginal policy change in fairly technical issue areas (such as, before 2020, bio-risk, and AI policy, and also the top recs in climate) is very high EV,  with top recommended funding opportunities usually ones that influence policy in some way (in  a wide understanding of "policy", where this includes field building / coalition building). Matt's piece linked below gives good evidence for why that seems a reasonable assumption.

Comment by jackva on Do power laws drive politics? · 2021-02-10T19:52:34.168Z · EA · GW

There's some related discussion and empirical evidence here.

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-02-03T09:45:26.019Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your comment! I agree with Alex on his points and -- apparently, a lot with you as well :) --  but adding some clarifications on questions/assumptions in your comment re FP research on this:  (1) whether or not FP would research TSM or other similar interventions (absolutely!), (2) additional reasons why CATF is a robust rec and TSM is not (3) where credence in CATF comes from. 

1. Would FP or similar orgs exclude TSM because of low measurability?
I don't really know where this idea originated, but the answer is clearly that we would not exclude an org like TSM because of low measurability. We would absolutely examine TSM or other similar orgs if we had reasons to believe to find something high impact in this space.

Yes, TSM is very uncertain and the path is a bit more indirect than with CATF or similar, but this is a gradual difference, not a qualitative one -- there are clear quantitative ways in which one could think about TSM; indeed reading the GG work on TSM and the discussion here has already given some indications on how this would look like.

As I wrote in another reply, we constantly evaluate and recommend uncertain hit-based opportunities.

The reason for not investigating TSM more deeply at FP right now is that from GG's analysis and this forum discussion it is pretty clear that this is not a particularly high-impact option -- (a) it's clearly not neglected, (b) there is a lot of downside risk,  and (c) there isn't a strong marginal case -- nothing that would leave us to expect that giving more money to TSM would lead to much stronger TSM, let alone a much better world.

(I) Given that it takes 120+ hours to vet a funding opportunity, (II) the goodness of existing climate recs with remaining funding gaps and (III)  the vast impact differentials between excellent and average opportunities (easily 100x), at FP we believe that this time is better spent at finding things that have a plausible chance of being really high impact.

I think the most plausible case for this to be a grassroots movement would be outside the US, because a lot of the downside risk for TSM comes from features specific to its partisan nature and the structure of the American political system. If in the US, my best guess would be Republican pro-climate grassroots.

2. There are a least 4 additional reasons beyond those you outline why we should expect CATF to be very robust and TSM not to be. I discuss those in the second part of this comment:

The TL,DR of it is as follows:

1. There is a lot of expert support for the CATF recommendation and there is a lot more uncertainty regarding TSM.

2. CATF looks very good on the theory of change/frame most relevant to effective climate action -- maximizing global decarbonization benefit -- and the argument for TSM on that frame is not made.

3. Charity evaluation methodology is our friend and allows us to draw useful inferences even in highly uncertain situations.

4. The length and depth of engagement that led to the CATF and similar recommendations should itself be a reason for confidence, more so than the GG comment suggests.

3. Our current credence in CATF as a top-recommendation does not build primarily on the 2018 report which "discovered" CATF but in multiple re-evaluations of CATF as well as additional evaluations by other orgs. I summarize this here (emphasis new):
 

 CATF looks very good on a theory of change focused on maximized global decarbonization impact when taking into account some of the most important stylized facts about the climate challenge (widely recognized as median views in the respective expert communities):

1.   Global energy demand will grow and restricting energy demand growth is very problematic from a humanitarian perspective.

2.   Effective global decarbonization requires a much larger set of technologies than those currently available. Most of those technologies are not on track and many necessary technologies are in early stages.

3.   Attention to many of those technologies is not on par with their importance, there is systematic neglect of key solutions.

4.   More active US energy innovation is expected to be a very cost-efficient way to reduce emissions in the US and, crucially, this does not even include the global benefits.

You can then combine this with two CATF-specific features:

5.   CATF is a strong organization that translates money into effective advocacy. This is not controversial within the EA community, something GG agrees on. It was first established in the FP 2018 report and it appears that at least 4 EA orgs had multiple calls with CATF, often dozens, that reaffirmed this conclusion (FP, Legacies Now, SoGive, Giving Green).

6.   CATF has very productive funding margins, projects that are currently unfunded and that make a lot of sense from the above stylized facts and the theory of change.

This is all you need to come to CATF as a likely local optimum in effective climate philanthropy.

None of this is controversial and – indeed – each of the claims above about the world in general (1-4) follow directly from median expert views on those respective topics and the CATF-specific claims (5-6) are even entirely uncontroversial across the EA community.

In contrast, motivating TSM as a top-choice requires a lot of controversial claims, such as (a) that we are sure that the impact of marginal TSM donations is not negative in expectation and (b) that additional effort can lead to significant change beyond what is already baked in despite the approach of Sunrise being partisan and thereby, quite plausibly, limited in its ultimate potential given the structure of the Senate and the Electoral College.

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-02-01T21:43:50.148Z · EA · GW

Again, thanks for your work on XR and Animal Rebellion and for your comment!
 

With apologies for the delay, here are my responses:

1. My criticism of the TSM recommendation is of a particular funding opportunity at a particular time and place -- my view on XR could be quite different (I actually don’t have strong views on XR at this point). 

I think it’s important to recognize some important differences here between TSM and XR, namely TSM’s association with a very well-funded movement (progressive Democrats), something that doesn’t really have a clear equivalence in case of XR as far as I am aware.

I think the argument for funding (a) a partisan grassroots organization in the US (b) at a time where this organization is relatively mature, (c) has lots of support from progressives, (d) and where there is a lot of risk from backfiring because the most effective actions require some level of bipartisan support (and, ideally, a continuing Democratic majority rather than a severe backlash due to perceived progressive over-reach), is implausible to be the best thing we can fund in climate at face value and the analysis by GG doesn’t alleviate those concerns. 

This is quite different from saying that XR should not be funded or that TSM would not have been worth funding some years ago. It is even different from saying TSM should not be funded, just that it is fairly unlikely to be the best use of marginal climate dollars.

2. We regularly fund high-risk high-reward bets with the FP Climate Fund. We are very much into hits-based giving, e.g. last year we made the first larger grant to TerraPraxis/Energy for Humanity (they had no received more than 45k/year in philanthropic support before, we granted 250k for that organization to achieve a step change). We are evaluating another such grant at the moment. I certainly would have considered funding Greta had I been a climate philanthropist some years ago.

3. As Alex points out, not funding grassroots is not necessarily reflective of risk aversion -- it can just be because of low expected value. 

4. Should we automatically assume high expected value of social movements?
You seem to suggest that the rise of progressive climate movements proves their high expected value and, thereby, the mistake to not fund them.

While I think this is a bit of a different question (see 1, 2; it is totally consistent to be positive about those movements without wanting to fund them now), I would also want to challenge the assertion a bit that social movements are definitely always positive. 

This is a bit more anecdotal than the rest, but I think one of the big mistakes of the environmental movement -- for example -- has been its ideological narrowness and framing environmental problems in very particular terms (I have a bit more about this in my new comment). I think on balance modern environmentalism and progressive grassroots activism are probably good, but it is not as obvious as it seems at first glance -- for example, we would probably have a lot more nuclear if not for the modern environmental movement which would greatly help with the problem this movement now cares the most about. I say this as someone who literally walked through the streets of Frankfurt protesting against nuclear power in my FoE days.

While somewhat anecdotal, this shows the risk of funding social movements which will often have ideological or other lock-ins that may create a lot of damage. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fund social movements, it just means that it has a lot more uncertainty attached to it than more targeted interventions and we need to reflect that (not with risk aversion, but including it in our EV calcs).

5. Neglectedness is a tricky beast. I go into this a bit more in my new comment but I don’t think we should just infer from low funding levels of XR in December that it is underfunded. 

Ultimately, we are interested in high marginal returns to funds -- i.e. in this case that giving more to XR would make a meaningful difference to XR’s success and that XR’s success would lead to less emissions, in expectation. There’s uncertainty along the way with each step.

The point is not that it cannot be true that XR is high impact to fund at the margin, the point is that such an argument would require a lot of additional evidence such as (a) productive funding margins, (b) impact of XR on emissions, (c) absence or low relevance of downside risks, etc.

As I lay out in my new comment, I think it is quite implausible that a large organization has very productive funding margins, this has nothing to do with grassroots per se, but just the size of the overall effort.  Do we really think that a movement with thousands of people willing to give their time could not mobilize more than 50k if they had great use for it? This seems quite implausible to me.

6. Type of activism.  It is true that WWF et al. are different from TSM and XR, but they fundamentally serve the same purpose -- mass mobilization / building public support / engagement (shifting the Overton window). They do so with different approaches, but it is not clear that the TSM approach, in particular, highly partisan mobilization, is the most useful one at the margin. 

If it is, we should expect more of that public engagement funding to go into that direction, that part of climate philanthropy is in principle open to TSM. Also, note that as I stressed in my initial comment, that ⅔ of climate philanthropy or so are from individuals, many of which will be quite happy to fund grassroots in the US. This is really quite different from the situation in the UK, I think.

7. Incremental vs. transformational. 
[Aside: Hopefully without being too nitpicky, the Paris Agreement isn’t legislation, in the case of the US it is not even a binding treaty, but an accord that any President can choose to commit to or not (effectively). Also, the President has little power to enforce emissions targets, this would either need executive orders that could be revoked by the next President or a binding law that seems infeasible in the US (would need 60 votes in the Senate or getting rid of the filibuster).]

Ultimately the point for CATF not being incremental is exactly that those policies that CATF et al advance are often very robust -- tax credits, innovation budgets, etc. -- a lot more robust than executive orders; while Trump scrapped almost all of Obama’s executive orders (or tried to so), he failed to reduce innovation budgets (defended by Senate Republicans), he even approved lots of new essential innovation policy (such as 45Q and bills on advanced nuclear innovation) and, crucially, even the tax credits for renewables are constantly being renewed. 

Ultimately, of course, the goal is not for legislation to exist, but for emissions reductions to materialize. But this makes the point even stronger: If we woke up tomorrow and California and Germany would be governed by climate-denying psychopaths, we would still have cheap solar, electric cars approaching market parity etc. Which is to say there are a lot of transformative benefits from seemingly incremental policies and the evidence for this is much clearer than for the benefits or more bindingly looking policies that would also always be unstable in the US.

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-02-01T08:03:51.140Z · EA · GW

Thanks, James! This is very clarifying. Always curious for studies that systematically study the impact of things, so if you come across something for XR that more directly links it to changes in opinion, political opportunity windows, feasibility, emissions etc. please do send (johannes@founderspledge.com).

Will reply to your comment in full soon, hopefully tomorrow.

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-31T18:48:08.607Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your work for XR and Animal Rebellion and for your comment!

I wanted to reply but could not find the claim that XR is the largest influencer on climate change in your link. Could you clarify what you mean?

They are linked as #1 in Twitter (?) influence on the sub-topic of education in climate change at one climate conference which is quite a bit different from "XR was found to be the largest influencer on climate change according to research presented at COP25" which suggests large impact on emissions.

Am I missing something?

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-31T16:50:06.266Z · EA · GW

Thanks again, Dan & team, for your gracious and constructive comment! This is what I love about this community most. I think there are still lots of misunderstandings on the nature of the criticisms and severe and consequential disagreements on epistemics and empirics to which I reply to below. But before I do so, just a meta-point on why I engaged in this criticism in the first place.

Why I engage in this criticism

I do not enjoy criticizing. The fact that I engage in criticism is impact-related and not personal. Indeed, John (Halstead) and I spent much of the last year criticizing each other’s reasoning which is one of the reasons I believe the FP climate recs are very robust.

It is also not a criticism that I make as an FP-representative, it just happens to be the case that the goals of FP and of myself are perfectly aligned which is why I joined FP and why I now happen to lead its climate work.

So, that said, my criticism serves two purposes:

  1. Clarify for the community what the current state of knowledge is on climate from an EA perspective.
  2. Offering paths forward for GG to improve so that GG can realize its positive potential.

That said, and with constructive intent, onwards to the disagreements. I first discuss key-takeaways from the debate and then dive into one particular fundamental area of disagreement that is prominent in GG's comment -- on what we know and can now.

What are the key take-aways from this debate?

You write “Johannes thinks” a lot which, in my view, makes the debate unnecessarily personal but, more importantly, also misrepresents the debate. (I will use “GG” in the following exactly to make it less personal).

I did not add any new points in my original comment, I just expanded on points that were already in Alex’s original post, made them more explicit and explained them in a more stepwise manner, giving more evidence and context to make it easier to follow (though arguably tediously long, apologies!).

But essentially, Alex and I, and, by their comments, Sanjay and John Halstead, as well as many other commenters all agree on the critiques. In other words, rather than writing “Johannes thinks” it would be more accurate and less personalizing to say that ~all EAs that have expertise in climate charity evaluation disagree with GG on TSM and broadly think the same thing namely that:

1.From the weight of the evidence, it does not seem justified to think that we are unsure whether TSM or CATF is better, the evidence points in the clear direction of CATF > TSM

a. Note that saying “the weight of the evidence points in direction CATF > TSM” is not equivalent to saying “we know that CATF > TSM” or “we know that TSM = CATF”, it just says that, based on what we know now, we should assume that CATF > TSM. This is a more humble position than implied in the comment, about our current state of knowledge -- not final truths.

b. This also means, to your point about humility, that further analysis into TSM is welcomed. Our work is never finished. I am open to finding TSM > CATF or that TSM and CATF are incomparable but both certainly good (which seems your position). 
It would make my life a lot easier, because people like TSM so much and I could then treat directing people to TSM as high impact rather than convincing them of the opposite. This is another reason for skepticism on TSM being highly impactful, it would be a case of “suspicious convergence” is something that is like the  “cat shelters” of climate change in terms of popularity would also be the highest impact option.

c. But it also means, via humility, that even if GG does not believe our criticisms, given that lots of people -- many of which with significant experience in climate and on advocacy-charity evaluation -- disagree with GG, it would be reasonable for GG to update rather strongly from that.

2.There are serious and, in our view, unaddressed concerns that marginal donations to TSM are net-negative, making the world worse, in expectation (not only about particular realizations, which, as you point out and everyone agrees, will always be true and should not be disqualifying).

3.Even if TSM is not net-negative, there appears near-consensus that -- from what we know -- it is likely that the impact of marginal TSM donations is very low -- maybe positive, maybe negative -- and unlikely to be large either way. This is quite different from CATF which means that there is concern that dollars that could go to CATF will go to TSM instead, with the TSM recommendation being net negative via that mechanism even if TSM alone is not.

4.When offsets and TSM are seen as a lot-lower impact than CATF or other high-impact recs, then “dilution” becomes an issue that needs to be modeled and managed to understand how good GG is from an EA perspective, how “dilution” plays out against crowding in additional money and how much that money is optimized.

I do understand the value proposition of Giving Green and I can imagine worlds where Giving Green’s approach, “meeting people where they are”, creates a lot of benefit even if these will often be comparatively low-impact options,  because a lot of people are not willing to change their mind very much.

Indeed, I can imagine and hope for a world where the approach of Giving Green (optimizing giving of people not willing to change their mind much) and the approach of the wider EA community (incl. FP) focused on the highest-impact options is complementary.

So, I am not suggesting you should de-recommend TSM, I am just saying you should be clear to the EA community and -- ideally, but I know this is a stretch -- to your wider audience (e.g. on the website) that you have reasons to think that TSM < CATF in terms of expected benefit, just like offsets < policy.

To meet EAs “where they are”, GG should enable EAs that want to maximize positive impact in expectation. The charity that is most likely to lead to that in the climate space right now happens to be CATF.

On the flipside, I think this would also make many people here quite concerned about GG somewhat less concerned with GG if the risk -- that impact-maximizing EA climate dollars go to TSM or offsets that are considered clearly worse -- would be mitigated.

Also note that our theory of change is not only focused on energy innovation -- we also examine other paths that lead to global leverage such as policy leadership and cascading effects (we evaluated CLC from that angle but came to the view that it won't work).

What do we know and what can we know?

A lot of the discussion and disagreement seems to be about what we know and what we can know.

As I alluded to above, I agree with GG that humility is super-important -- the entire endeavor of EA is doomed without epistemic humility.

I do, however, think humility in this context mostly points to GG trusting EA climate mainstream more (see above)  for four reasons (which also explain a bit more how FP is thinking about research).

The TL,DR of it is as follows:

1. There is a lot of expert support for the CATF recommendation and there is a lot more uncertainty regarding TSM.

2. CATF looks very good on the theory of change/frame most relevant to effective climate action -- maximizing global decarbonization benefit -- and the argument for TSM on that frame is not made.

3. Charity evaluation methodology is our friend and allows us to draw useful inferences even in highly uncertain situations.

4. The length and depth of engagement that led to the CATF and similar recommendations should itself be a reason for confidence, more so than the GG comment suggests.

1. What can we learn from which experts?

As GG rightly points out, asking 50 climate (policy) experts for their favorite charities isn’t a scientific approach to identifying effective charities, but of course it is evidence of some kind for something. In this section, I will ask “what for?” as well as what I would consider the relevant expert evidence in support of CATF.

Why typical US climate experts are not experts for the question at hand

For the questionwhat are the most effective charities to support to have the most positive impact on climate?” – the questions that EAs asks when trying to identify the highest-impact opportunitiesthe typical US-based climate (policy) expert is not an expert. This is so for at least three reasons:

1. The US-debate is focused on the US, the typical expert does not ask “what is the most effective thing one can do to have an effect on global decarbonization?” but rather “what seems best in the US?”. As per theory of change discussion, those two things aren’t necessarily related very much at all.

2. The overall climate debate in Western countries is quite biased – and predictably and importantly so. Compared to their real importance, there is an overemphasis on renewables, energy efficiency, and electric cars, there is an over-emphasis on lifestyle changes vs technological changes and there is an underappreciation of the technological challenge – but rather an emphasis on the political challenge and a typical framing that all that is missing is political will.

All of this makes sense (is predictable) if we think about where mainstream environmentalism comes from – ideologically speaking – from an egalitarian philosophy that prefers to solve problems with virtue rather than technology, that prefers “small is beautiful” and “in harmony with nature” over big centralized solutions (such as nuclear power or large dams), that has a moral need to demonize large centralized structures such as the state or capitalism, etc. Of course, not all experts are steeped in this ideology and not all experts that are follow it to the fullest extent. But it is notable that the overall climate debate is very biased by a particular worldview, an egalitarian / green view, that systematically hypes solutions that fit into the ideological priors – such as decentralized renewables and micro-grids and appealing to individual morality – and, equally systematically, disregards others – such as nuclear power build outs or CCS or a large-scale innovation agenda in line with the climate challenge.

Of course, a naïve narrative that solely focuses on technological innovation is equally biased, which is why I stressed so much in my original comment that I did not come to this topic with techno-optimist priors. All of those simplified ideological stories have kernels of truth to them and we need to judge the overall bias of the debate.

But if you look at the overall climate debate in Western countries it is hard to argue that the innovation arguments are getting their fair share – that innovation is emphasized enough compared to its importance (also see theory of change section).

It is not surprising that in this biased conversation Sunrise comes out on top – it serves all the ideological priors of those voices dominating the climate conversation – but that does not make it correct.

[Aside: Indeed, I would argue that because of the unfortunate situation that the innovation arguments tends to be made by those more that do not really want to act, the innovation agenda is neglected compared to its importance.

Climate activists downplay it because they like existing solutions as well as a framing of the problem as one of evil corporations and the need for fundamental societal change (rather than a severe technological challenge that needs strengthened innovation policy and a move away from “100% renewables”), whereas they often suspect – and often rightly so – that arguments for innovation on the right are made in bad faith, as discursive responses justifying inaction.

This leaves us in a terrible situation where we are severely underinvesting in technological innovation despite it being the only solution to get to net zero globally. This is one of the reasons why at FP we focus on funding innovation advocates that are on the center left but that are more serious about innovation than the green mainstream and that are able to work with people making innovation arguments on the right]

3. The typical climate (policy) expert is not an impact-focused philanthropist – indeed they are not philanthropists at all. 
The best philanthropic options are those with the highest expected marginal returns to additional funding, something that a typical climate (policy) expert has very little insight into. Rather, the expert – when prompted with that question – will likely answer with something that seems good to them, that is top-of-mind, that fits with the ideological inclinations of the expert, etc. This is not data about high-impact philanthropy, this is data about the discourse.

What is this evidence for?

I am not sure that the fact that CATF does not come out on top of many of those experts is evidence of anything, but, if it is evidence of something, it seems weak evidence in support of CATF -- if it were popular with everyone we should not be funding it!

Indeed, this points to the “suspicious convergence” point on TSM v CATF. The fact that TSM is so popular and that CATF is not should make us fairly skeptical, by itself, that we should fund TSM rather than CATF, and that TSM is the most effective thing to fund.

In comparatively non-neglected causes such as climate we should be quite wary of funding the popular things. Indeed, the entire theory of value of CATF and other charities that FP champions is that these are charities that improve societal resource allocation in a field that receives a lot of resources but where those are spent fairly inefficiently.

In other words, it is precisely because CATF is focused on inconvenient and neglected things – CCS, advanced nuclear, zero-carbon fuels, industrial decarbonization, etc. – that we should not expect them to be popular but very much worthy of support.

Who are the relevant experts for the question at hand?

There are two types of experts that seem most relevant for finding high-impact climate philanthropy options:

1. Aligned climate philanthropists
Among aligned climate philanthropists – those that want to have the maximum impact on global decarbonization solutions with their dollars and approach this topic rigorously – CATF and/or the approach it stands for has a lot of supporters.

Most prominently that would be Bill Gates who does not get tired to advocate for innovation and technology pluralism. But there are also many climate philanthropists at US and European foundations that are strong supporters of CATF for exactly the reasons that we support them (not sharing publicly here, but happy to share in PM). As such, there are many relevant experts that would support CATF as a top choice.

2. Experts on sub-topics that help inform the theory of change, identify effective interventions, etc.
Experts are of course essential to form a view of effective interventions in the climate space and of effective organizations pursuing these.

Indeed, as I mentioned, the FP research is informed by hundreds of conversations with experts.

But apart from experts on particular organizations or interventions, the way expert views flow into the research is mostly via getting a sense of the most effective interventions, the bottlenecks, the neglected areas, the overall theory of change. There is a lot of information and expert opinion out there supporting the choice of CATF more generally that does not mention or is even aware of those organizations at all which leads me to my next point, “what is the appropriate theory of change?”

2. What is the appropriate theory of change?

Global decarbonization, not US policy change

GG states that there are several theories of (political) change and this is undoubtedly true.

It is important to recognize, though, that the theories of change that GG focuses on – theories of change in the US political context – are not directly related at all to a theory of change that focuses on maximal global decarbonization impact.

While this would be fine if the goal would be to identify the best charities reducing emissions in the US, it becomes problematic when it is claimed based on GG analysis that we are entirely ignorant about the expected value of donations to CATF or TSM.

If we ask “what’s the most effective climate funding opportunity to support at the margin that we know of?”, theories of political change in the US only matter insofar as emissions reductions “travel” – in a causal sense -- through US political change.

Given that US emissions are only ~15% of global emissions and that this share is declining as the rest of the world gets richer and the US is decarbonizing (even if on current trajectory), but that the US has roughly half of the world’s energy innovation budget, is generally considered the most capable innovation economy, and that the US is – for the moment, in any case – the leading global power, it stands to reason that the most effective things one can focus on in the US with regards to climate are interventions that maximize indirect effects and that might be quite different from those maximizing US emissions reductions (in expectation).

This is at the heart of the misunderstanding of CATF as “incrementalist”. CATF might be framed in that way if one is focused on US emissions and US political change. OK.

But the reason that most EAs support CATF as high-impact climate org is not because of the reduced emissions in the US but, precisely, because of the large international benefits that innovation policy targeted at neglected technologies brings
All of the major success stories we have seen in climate over the past 20 years – solar, wind, coal > gas in the US, electric cars and batteries – have been the result of relatively narrow and targeted policies, the kind of which CATF advances for technologies that are less popular with greens for reasons of ideology, not merit.

Indeed, to make this more explicit, a lot of my skepticism about TSM at the margin comes from scenarios where TSM right now is relatively close to its maximum potential – lots of sway on Democrats, little sway on Republicans – but where binding climate legislation or more sweeping legislation still remains off the table and will remain so for relevant periods (getting a binding climate target in the US in 2035 is not that useful).

In that world, TSM will put lots of pressure on Biden and Democrats to advance executive orders (we can already observe that) that are ultimately unstable and open to court challenges rather than seizing the opportunity that presents itself to make much stronger innovation policy happen. This is a real danger and this is why I am very wary of stating certainty of positive impact in expectation of marginal TSM donations.

While one might be quite fatalistic about mandatory climate targets of the kind we have in Europe for the US, the response to that shouldn’t necessarily be – just push harder and harder and some day the Democrats will get rid of the filibuster or find a way to make executive orders robust and then we will win – but rather to make the most of the opportunity that the US presents for climate – an unparalleled energy innovation system that has a serious shot at breakthroughs in CCS, advanced nuclear, etc. Ambitious economy-wide climate legislation in the US is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for climate progress globally.

Climate is not, fundamentally, a problem like civil rights or the other analogies where a solution will need a strong legislation passing Congress and for which a large grassroots movement and even one larger than Sunrise right now might be essential.

CATF and similar charities look very good on a theory of change focused on the global picture

And CATF looks very good on a theory of change focused on maximized global decarbonization impact when taking into account some of the most important stylized facts about the climate challenge (widely recognized as median views in the respective expert communities):

1.   Global energy demand will grow and restricting energy demand growth is very problematic from a humanitarian perspective.

2.   Effective global decarbonization requires a much larger set of technologies than those currently available. Most of those technologies are not on track and many necessary technologies are in early stages.

3.   Attention to many of those technologies is not on par with their importance, there is systematic neglect of key solutions.

4.   More active US energy innovation is expected to be a very cost-efficient way to reduce emissions in the US and, crucially, this does not even include the global benefits.

You can then combine this with two CATF-specific features:

5.   CATF is a strong organization that translates money into effective advocacy. This is not controversial within the EA community, something GG agrees on. It was first established in the FP 2018 report and it appears that at least 4 EA orgs had multiple calls with CATF, often dozens, that reaffirmed this conclusion (FP, Legacies Now, SoGive, Giving Green).

6.   CATF has very productive funding margins, projects that are currently unfunded and that make a lot of sense from the above stylized facts and the theory of change.

This is all you need to come to CATF as a likely local optimum in effective climate philanthropy.

None of this is controversial and – indeed – each of the claims above about the world in general (1-4) follow directly from median expert views on those respective topics and the CATF-specific claims (5-6) are even entirely uncontroversial across the EA community.

In contrast, motivating TSM as a top-choice requires a lot of controversial claims, such as (a) that we are sure that the impact of marginal TSM donations is not negative in expectation and (b) that additional effort can lead to significant change beyond what is already baked in despite the approach of Sunrise being partisan and thereby, quite plausibly, limited in its ultimate potential given the structure of the Senate and the Electoral College.

What is more, as Robin pointed out, the fact that CATF operates not only in the US is another source of believing in it to be higher impact -- CATF can optimize marginal resources across many jurisdictions, many of which are often more fruitful than the US context, which is very fruitful now but might as well dry up significantly.

3. What can we know through charity evaluation methodology?

A lot of the arguments for GG’s skepticism about being able to figure out the goodness of CATF v TSM comes from non-marginal arguments, from the stated inherent incompatibility between different approaches.

While I do disagree with these incomparability claims -- see my original comment -- even if one agrees with these there is a lot of traction from the methods that “EA-style” (for lack of a better word) charity evaluation provides.

Neglectedness

Neglectedness is a proxy, but it is a very useful one. In a world with millions of funding margins which we can never all evaluate in detail, neglectedness gives crucial information (as a prior, also see my long comment).

If a field is flooded with attention and money, like progressive climate activism, then the probability that there are great things to be funded is low for three fundamental reasons:

  1. Declining marginal returns: A strategic actor will order projects such that the lowest value ones are at the margin and the further we are down that margin, the lower we should expect the value to be (ceteris paribus, which is key, e.g. CATF’s expansion into other geographies, changing its funding margins is an argument in another direction).

  2. Declining probability of true additionality: The more money and attention goes into a particular direction or org the less likely it is that additional funding there will be truly additional -- it is more likely that actors “satisfice” and, when the funding environment is fertile, additional dollars will not always be additional, as there might be funding targets or, at the very least, a declining eagerness to fundraise more. That’s the point about 10,000 volunteers and inspiring the public imagination of an entire wing of the dominant American party -- if in that situation you are seriously funding-constrained, this would be quite surprising.

3.** Declining probability of money being the impact-constraining resource:** The more money you have and the easier it is to get more money if you need it, the lower the probability that money really is your constraint on higher marginal impact.

While I won’t name names here, there are many great climate charities which I believe are doing incredibly important and good work, which we are not recommending because of such considerations -- this is not something that only applies to TSM.

Aggregating expert views

When we have an issue where relevant experts disagree strongly -- such as whether a more partisan approach to climate policy is good or bad -- epistemic humility pushes us closer to a lower value (zero).

This is where a lot of the TSM skepticism comes from.

Not from saying “we are sure that TSM is bad” but rather “when observing the debate, we notice that this is an area of severe disagreement between reasonable people” -- e.g. look at all the debates in the Democratic party between progressives and moderates on which path is more promising to ensure Democratic priorities are implemented (and the Democratic majority survives).

So, this would be an area where we would either need to set the marginal impact of TSM downwards or where more research would be needed to demonstrate that the moderate wing of the Democratic party is entirely wrong (or, more climate-specifically, that more centrist voices are unduly worried about a progressive over-reach that will backfire and lead to deadlock and no progress).

This argument is largely missing in the TSM analysis, instead it feels like an assessment that is based on the most positive expert interpretations of TSM, not the median ones, and not taking into account voices that would be critical of TSM’s impact.

4. Length and depth of engagement that led to CATF and other climate high-impact recs

This is about the “intellectual history” leading to the CATF recommendation, with the TL, DR that the recommendation is based on a lot deeper engagement than the GG comment is giving credit for.

The argument on which CATF comes out as the best recommendation we currently know of goes back to 2016 -- when the argument that EAs interested in climate should focus on (a) innovation for (b) neglected technology, (c) given a world of rising energy demand and real conflicts between climate and poverty alleviation,  was first publicly made (to my knowledge). You can watch it here and, somewhat later, but more refined, here. There’s a write-up here (though I never quite finished it because I focused on embedding this argument in the EA debate, which was achieved with John’s and Hauke’s reports, leaving me to prioritize other things).

This argument was already informed by deep engagement with climate for about a decade, reading and talking to hundreds of experts and, arguably -- in the process -- becoming an expert at being better able to evaluate the strength of different claims as well.

These arguments then found their ways into both John’s 2018 report and Hauke’s Let’s Fund report, both of whom vetted this argument against competing arguments. I don’t know the details about Hauke’s report, but I know that John talked to at least 50 experts for the first report and I know -- from, sometimes painful, experience :) -- that John does not accept any argument at face-value before he has not engaged with it himself. Crucially, both Hauke and John made charity recommendations that turned this argument into something actionable and thereby unlocking massive value.

After I joined FP in late 2019, John and I spent a lot of time revisiting our recs (which also led to not continuing some recs), working on a new report that more clearly motivates our theory of change, and identifying new recs.

The robustness of the CATF recommendation is one of the few things that stood the test of time, indeed by more clearly articulating our theory of change -- improving societal resource allocation in light of decarbonization priorities, towards innovation in neglected technologies -- we became somewhat more convinced of CATF being a “local optimum” (obviously, there might be other great options -- I for one would never claim that we will never find something better than CATF, just that until now we haven’t).

This is also true for the EA community at large: while there have been many critical reviews of FP’s work on climate (e.g. concerns about CfRN), the CATF recommendation has stood the test of time and examination.

Comment by jackva on Effektiv Spenden - Fundraising and 2021 Plans · 2021-01-27T21:04:09.065Z · EA · GW

Are you still funding-constrained?

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-27T20:37:27.703Z · EA · GW

This is a bit of a random  point on offsets, and one where I agree more with Giving Green than some of the commenters, but when we include offsets in the portfolio (which I lean against but leaving this aside), I don't think it necessarily makes sense to focus on cost-effectiveness.

Most actors use offsets to compensate a particular amount of emissions and will not change the amount of offsetting based on cost. Consumer surplus of people rich enough to buy offsets is not necessarily very morally relevant (if at all).

So, there are other considerations that might be more important. In my mind, these are two:
1) How large are the benefits that are co-benefits beyond the carbon saved?
2) How likely is it that this offset recommendation will lead to more effective behavior in the future (or, even better, that the page in which the offset is presented directly leads to a better action in the present), e.g. to donations to advocacy charities? [Edit: I actually believe this >70% of the importance, because the gain from shifting people to effective charity is much more significant given the impact of direct action (offsets) will always be low which then also holds for the co-benefits]

This is why I think Climeworks is the best offset in the Giving Green set. 

Yes, it is obviously very expensive, but rich people can afford it. But it has relatively clear co-benefits (driving down of cost curve) and -- crucially -- it embeds with the reader the lesson that driving down technology cost is an important lever to make progress for climate. 

One could then also combine it with a focus on Carbon180, saying something like "Hey, if you REALLY REALLY want to be certain you can buy those Climeworks offsets, but here is an idea: Why don't you give the same amount to Carbon180 instead, a charity that not only focuses on direct air capture, but rather that is focused on policy advocacy on accelerating all carbon removal technologies. From all we know, this will be much more cost-effective and more robust  because this will also be good if we find in  5 years that direct air capture will never be cheap."

Given how expensive Climeworks is I think even those of us more skeptical of the enormous cost-effectiveness  of advocacy charity would agree that this statement is true (you only have to believe that Carbon180 saves carbon for less than 1000 USD/t, which is an incredibly low bar for an advocacy charity with proven track record of policy influence such as Carbon180).

 

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-27T18:13:10.252Z · EA · GW

Kudos, Dan & team, for this reply!

I will need a bit of time for  a full reply, but I wanted to let you and team know that I really appreciate the thoughtful, gracious, and civil reply.

While we do have many disagreements on epistemics and empirics -- and I think I also still deeply disagree with many things in the post above  (to be explained) -- we are united in the same purpose, making the world better the best we can.

So the point of this comment is just to recognize that and thank you.
 

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-25T20:58:36.940Z · EA · GW

I am planning to look into China's climate philanthropy landscape later this year.

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-25T20:51:26.488Z · EA · GW

CATF operates in China, albeit with a small program (but one could fund that to grow!). They are also generally expanding and have recently been funded to set up a somewhat significant presence in the EU as well. 
 

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-25T12:15:26.765Z · EA · GW

"Finally, I struggle with way this entire discussion revolves around US policy change. I suspect the amounts of money spent on lobbying in the USA is hugely more than in most countries, but I don't see any consideration of neglectedness at the country level."

This is actually another important and independent reason why we should expect CATF > TSM, CATF can optimize marginal resources across different geographies whereas Sunrise is limited to the US environment.

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-24T20:44:21.002Z · EA · GW

Thanks!

To answer your question there are two pieces here:

1) Sunrise is most useful right now in pressuring Democrats, it is quite partisan and does not hold as much sway over Republicans. As such, when the overall situation is less Democrat-leaning, the usefulness of Sunrise is lower overall. Sunrise-candidates will not challenge Republican incumbents so an important mechanism of creating pressure on Democratic officials does not exist.

2)  Yes, of course Sunrise could hurt Democrats' election chances. This was, with regards to moderates and progressives more generally, an active debate after the disappointing (compared to expectations) election in November. One mechanism would be that pressure on Democratic candidates moves them closer to the left to deal with that pressure, which then reduces their election chances. Another mechanism would be that the progressive wing's perception hurts candidates in moderate/conservative districts. Going forward, a mechanism would be that the Sunrise/progressive agenda is perceived as a partisan overreach that leads to a "punishment" in the mid-terms. 

Just to be sure, these are active debates within the party and I am not suggesting that the moderates blaming progressives are always right. I am just saying that when we form a distribution over outcomes of the goodness of Sunrise we should include those mechanisms as well, because they are a plausible part of the overall story (they are explanations held by many people, and the TSM analysis by GG does not refute it). That is a mechanism that pushes the EV of funding Sunrise down.


 

Comment by jackva on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-24T15:22:51.788Z · EA · GW

Thanks, Alex, for writing this important contribution up so clearly and thanks, Dan, for engaging constructively. It’s good to have a proper open exchange about this. Three cheers for discourse.

While I am also excited about the potential of GivingGreen, I do share almost all of Alex’s concerns  and think that his concerns mostly stand / are not really addressed by the replies. I state this as someone who has worked/built expertise on climate for the past decade and on climate and EA for the past four years (in varying capacities, now leading the climate work at FP) to help those that might find it hard to adjudicate this debate with less background.

Given that I will criticize the TSM recommendation, I should also state where I am coming from:
My climate journey started over 15 years ago as a progressive climate youth activist, being a lead organizer for Friends of the Earth in my home state, Rhineland Palatinate (in Germany). 
I am a person of the center-left and get goosebumps every time I hear Bernie Sanders speak about a better society. This is to say I have nothing against progressives and I did not grow up as a libertarian techno-optimist who would be naturally inclined to wanting to solve climate change through technological innovation. Indeed, it took me over a decade of study, work in climate policy, and examination to get to the positions I am holding now which are very far from what I used to believe.

I should also state upfront that my credence in CATF and other high-impact climate charities does not come primarily from the cost-effectiveness models, which are clearly wrong and also described as such, but by the careful reasoning that has gone into the FP climate recommendations. John spent nine months working on the original FP Climate Report (to which I advised), I spent the majority of the last year reviewing many charities -- including CATF, CfRN, CLC, ITIF, Carbon180 and TerraPraxis -- and recommending some of those as high impact. Do I literally believe any of John’s or mine or anyone else’s model of an advocacy charity? No, of course not. 

But the process of building these models and doing the research around them -- for each FP recommendation there is at least 20 pages worth of additional background research examining all kinds of concerns --  combined with years of expertise working in and studying climate policy, has served the purpose of clearly delineating the theory of value creation, as well as the risks and assumptions, in a way that a completely qualitative analysis that has a somewhat loose connection between evidence, arguments, and conclusions (recommendation) has not. 

The fundamental concern with Giving Green’s analysis that I, and I think (?) Alex, have is not the lack of quantitative modeling per se, but the unwillingness to make systematic arguments about relative goodness of things in a situation of uncertainty, rather treating each concern as equally weighted and taking an attitude of “when things are uncertain, everything goes and we don’t know anything”. The impression one gets from reading the Sunrise recommendation and its defense is that a grassroots activism recommendation was needed for organizational variety reasons (given Giving Green’s strategy to reach a wider audience of segmented donors). 

While one can have different opinions about the value of that given dilution concerns that Alex also mentioned, this is in principle not problematic with regards to the analysis. Where it becomes problematic is when pretending that the same rigor and reasoning that underlies a recommendation of CATF has been applied to the Sunrise analysis, which does not seem to be the case (while I lead the climate work at FP now, I should state here that John Halstead did the original analysis recommending CATF, so this is not quite as self-serving as it sounds).

While I am concerned about recommending offsetting in general and --as Alex mentions in his post -- think we should be very carefully modeling dilution effects before advertising offsets alongside high-impact options (or generally, before advertising low impact options), I did not read the offsetting recommendations in detail, so I will leave my comments to the TSM and TSM-CATF aspects in  this comment.

I think there are a bunch of ways in which CATF is wrongly portrayed here and, in addition, many additional reasons beyond Alex’s that should make one doubtful about the claim that “we dont know whether TSM or CATF donations are better at the margin”. 

While we do, of course, not know for certain, the evidence that we have points in a clear direction -- that donating to CATF and other similar charities (such as those featured in the FP Climate Fund) is much more impactful than donating to the Sunrise Movement Education fund (TSM in the following). Indeed, from the evidence we have, I would argue that there is a significant probability that donating to TSM at this point is net-harmful. Luckily, there is also a high probability that it is very low-impact at the margin.

Let me explain (after the summary).

SUMMARY

As I stated in my EAGx Virtual talk last year, I would like to understand the goodness of grassroots activism better. As such, I was quite excited to know Giving Green to be working on this and to read the analysis.

But reading the analysis, I don’t find myself having learned a lot about the expected goodness of the Sunrise movement because it appears more like an analysis of the positive case rather than a balanced all-things-considered-view.

As Alex has raised and I have expanded here, there are serious concerns both about (a) low marginal impact and (b) about the direction of that impact. These find no parallel in recommendations such as CATF.

While not impossible, it would be very surprising if something with (a) low marginal additionality and (b) severe uncertainty about the direction of marginal impact -- whether it is positive or not -- was the best thing we could fund in climate (or, undistinguishable from the best thing).

The main claim why we should expect that -- if I understand Giving Green correctly -- is the transformative nature of Sunrise, what they are doing just being that good. As I discuss below in the sections on “misconceptions about CATF” the claim that what Sunrise is doing is more transformative than what CATF is doing is -- at the very least -- controversial and not obviously true.

This leaves me in a situation where I would like to learn more about the goodness of the Sunrise movement from an all-things-considered analysis but where -- with the current information -- I don’t see strong reasons to think that Sunrise is anywhere close to the best things we can fund.

We are very confident that CATF and similar charities are an excellent translator of money into climate impact. We don’t know this for TSM and the weight of the evidence does not point in the direction of it being particularly likely that it is high-impact to donate to TSM at the margin.


SOME MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CATF

Before diving into the detailed comparison between CATF and TSM it is worth noting some misconceptions about CATF that matter for this comparison.

 1. Is CATF “incrementalist”?

The dominant frame in Dan’s comment and in the Vox piece with regards to CATF v. TSM is that CATF is “incremental”, “moderate” vs. TSM being “radical” and more likely to lead to transformative change. That there is something essential that can only happen if Sunrise and other progressive climate activists have more success.

I think this framing, while discursively resonant in current American debates between progressive and moderate Democrats, misses the point.

This is because the challenge of climate change is one of global technological transformation, not national politics and, as such, this frame is a lot less applicable than in issues where this framing might be more helpful (such as, say, civil rights).

While it is true that what CATF is doing -- not focusing primarily on a national target for the US etc. or advocating for a symbolic Green New Deal -- looks moderate and incremental, it is not when we consider the nature of the climate challenge which is allowing 9 billion humans to live poverty-free lives without cooking the planet. Solving this challenge has one necessary and, almost sufficient, condition -- ensuring that across all use cases low-carbon energy/industrial products are preferable to high-carbon ones or are so minimally inferior that realistic climate policy can bridge the differential even in settings with low willingness-to-pay for climate.

Because the US energy innovation system is so powerful and because the leverage from cost reductions and improvements is so large (~85% of global energy is fossil, US has a declining share of emissions and is now around 15%, cost reductions are the main driver of lowering carbon intensity in electricity etc., technological spillovers are the best way to make progress in a low-coordination, low willingness-to-pay setting), stuff that looks incremental -- advocating for tax credits for neglected technologies etc here., for a clean energy standard that also includes nuclear and CCS there etc -- is indeed quite transformative.

A better frame to compare CATF and TSM, in my view, than “incremental” vs. “transformative” is to understand CATF as an organization mostly taking political realities as a given (though doing some coalition building) that is laser-focused on ways in which they can make important differences -- with “important” informed by their deep knowledge of the issues and their proto-EA focus on things that are overlooked by the mainstream but critical to the overall puzzle. This is a transformative proposition of thought leadership, of changing the conversation, changing policy and, ultimately, the underlying technological base that allows us to decarbonize.

Indeed, it is quite plausible that this type of “quiet” climate policy -- focused on accelerating globally neglected technologies -- is far more potent than a Green New Deal that would primarily be focused on solutions that are far down the learning curves, already popular, selected for co-benefits such a job creation, etc.

TSM’s proposition is also transformative, though in a different way -- trying to increase attention to climate far more than what it is and push ambitious climate policy, embedding it in priorities that Democrats already have. This is also a transformative proposition.

In other words, we should not let our perceptions of “incremental” vs. “transformative” be guided by partisan conceptions of those terms; if we look at the climate issue closely and understand the importance of technological change at the heart of achieving global net-zero emissions those meanings might very well switch. Even if it doesn’t switch then at least both what CATF and what TSM are doing is transformative.

 2. Is there a serious chance that CATF is negative?

There is also the assertion that CATF might be negative because, by heavily focusing on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and other technologies that help existing industries become close to carbon-neutral, they are giving a life line to fossil fuels or otherwise inhibiting climate progress.

While it is true that if we got CCS to work cheaply and efficiently, this would reduce the argument for transitioning away from fossil fuels for part of the energy mix, that’s a feature not a bug. The goal of climate policy is net-zero emissions, not 100% non-fossil fuels.

Leaving aside that OilPriceInternational is not exactly a neutral voice, let’s put their estimate into perspective. 

They estimate that the 45Q tax credit could lead to something like 50 million tons of additional US emissions per year in 2035 through enhanced oil recovery (EOR) emissions. (Given the trajectory of US climate policy, this seems implausible). At the same time, right now 45Q is the most important carbon capture incentive policy in the world and it is the median expert view that -- if we are to achieve climate targets -- different forms of carbon capture (all of which covered by 45Q) will be used at Gigaton scale and that government incentives will be essential to drive down the cost and increase adoption.

So, if 45Q only leads to moving forward CCS deployment by 1GT a year, this “cost” of also including enhanced oil recovery in the 45Q bill would be a 5% cost on what would still look like an amazingly good outcome for the climate. Sure, it would be better if there were no increased emissions, but in the grand scheme of things -- and given how policy works -- better to have that policy with that negative side effect rather than having no CCS incentive policy at all.

This kind of cost is not analogous in magnitude to the very real cost of risks around Sunrise, such as an additional increase in polarization gridlocking important incrementally looking but transformative (see above) climate policy progress. It appears like a case of false equivalence.


REASONS TO EXPECT LOW MARGINAL IMPACT WHEN DONATING TO TSM

 3. Grassroots activism might be good on balance, but still an implausible recommendation at the margin

This is an important point that is easily missed when discussing TSM as some of the discussion on TSM here and elsewhere is focused on non-marginal arguments, grassroots activism being generally useful as an outside-pressure force in an outsider -- insider model. 

I would probably agree with the argument that the rise of progressive climate activism over the past four years has been net-positive, though there are also important caveats to this such as increased polarization of the climate issue, increased focus on catastrophic framings that are not in line with climate science, overly focused on 100% renewables vs. technology-inclusive decarbonization visions etc. But I take it as a given for the remainder that “on the whole” the world is better with Sunrise than without.

However, this does not at all mean that we should donate to TSM at this point. I agree TSM could have been a great philanthropic bet 4 years ago.


 4. Grassroots activism might have been neglected ten years ago, but it is not neglected now

As Alex points out, the data for the neglect of grassroots activism are outdated -- and importantly so. Using data from 2011-2015 to evaluate the neglectedness of climate activism today is like using data from the nineties to say that the internet is not a big deal. Climate activism as a mass form of engagement has risen to the prominence with Greta Thunberg, with Extinction Rebellion, with Sunrise, with the Paris Agreement and the subsequent IPCC 1.5 degree report -- all of those happening at the earliest in late 2015 and many significantly later.

Luckily more current data on climate activism philanthropy are readily available. 

For example, the ClimateWorks Foundation published a report in September 2020 which shows that US-focused public engagement -- the category under which grassroots activism falls -- received about 100 million on average between 2015-2019, which is about 27% of total US-focused climate philanthropy by foundations, a lot more than what the 2011-2015 numbers that underlie the neglectedness analysis suggest. It is also the largest share of any item in the US and far larger than the total global philanthropic spending for key neglected technologies such as negative emissions tech (25 million) and CCS or advanced nuclear (not even having their own positions, buried under clean electricity, but this will be heavily focused on renewables).

Importantly, this does not even include individual giving -- the major component of climate philanthropy -- which is likely tilting more towards grassroots activism and mainstream green solutions than elite advocacy for unpopular but critical solutions such as CATF’s. We discuss this more and why this makes it unlikely that grassroots activism is neglected in our report, quote from here (quoting in full as this is from a long report no one reads, but contains lots of material relevant here):

“According to this analysis, in the 2015-2019 period, about 100 million have been spent on public engagement in the US per year, more than a quarter of the climate philanthropic spending by foundations in the US in total. What is more, Jeff Bezos -- now the largest climate philanthropist in the world -- has focused his first round of grants on well-known Big Green groups that have a long history of raising awareness of the climate challenge, probably making that “public engagement” bucket significantly larger in future iterations of the ClimateWorks report.


Beyond philanthropy, the largest environmental NGOs have hundreds of thousands of members and even relatively new grassroots movements, such as Sunrise, have volunteers in the 10,000s, making environmental NGOs and grassroots a major political force.

At the same time, global philanthropic support for decarbonising sectors that are usually considered among the hardest to decarbonise -- transport and industry -- is less than that USD $75 million.12 Carbon dioxide removal, the technology considered most in need of additional innovation policy support, received only USD $25 million in global philanthropic support. These numbers do not allow differentiating by type of philanthropy so only a subset of these overall numbers will be focused on advocacy increasing overall societal resource allocation to these approaches; in other words these numbers are an overestimate for the type of advocacy work we are interested in assessing.

We tend to think that this presents an imbalance, given the large value of improving the allocation of public funds towards neglected technologies providing a strong proposition for advocacy. But, of course, increasing the pie is also critical and the imbalance proposition is, ultimately, a fairly hard-to-test hypothesis and almost philosophical question (we will attempt to gain some traction on this in 2021).”

Note that, while this states some uncertainty about assessing neglect, this was published before I had a chance to look in detail at the trajectory of Sunrise and progressive climate activism -- given Alex’s numbers and analysis, I would be fairly confident (> 80%) at this point that grassroots activism right now is significantly less neglected than CATF-style work.


5. Neglect is only a proxy, but it informs a prior on the usefulness of funding margins for which the TSM analysis provides little update

As an EA working on climate, I am very sympathetic to the argument that neglectedness is a proxy and can lead astray.

But in Dan’s comment above this mostly reads like shifting goal-posts, the argument for neglect was justified with financing numbers that were outdated. Even if they are just a proxy, the fact that those numbers are importantly outdated and wrong should lead to changes in the analysis (an advantage of quantitative analysis).

While it is true that the funding for CATF has increased strongly over the last few years, it has not increased by orders of magnitude. More importantly, the reason it has increased has been -- to a large part -- because of the EA community starting with John’s 2018 report and, as such, is not reflective of a wider societal trend towards the CATF-style of advocacy leading us to expect everything of that style to be funded (And, CATF has increased its geographic reach thereby extending productive funding margins (because funding margins for advocacy are a function of the goodness of improving resource allocation / policy in a jurisdiction).

Indeed, it is more likely that the opposite is the case.

After the failure of cap-and-trade in 2010 it became conventional wisdom in climate philanthropy that more grassroots activism was needed, as also stated in Giving Green’s Deep Dive.

While it is not clear that this belief was true -- the failure of Waxman-Markey in 2010 was severely over-determined with lots of plausible interpretations -- this belief had causal force.

It is thus no accident that attention to public engagement funding has increased so strongly. In other words, in climate philanthropy, the grassroots wing has been winning rather than being most neglected.

In addition, Sunrise has emerged as an important flank of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the Democrats having outraised Republicans on much smaller average donations (more grassroot-y) in the recent elections. 

As such, saying Sunrise is neglected is -- absent more current numbers that make the case -- similar to saying “Jon Ossoff’s Senate campaign is neglected” in late December after he raised more than 100 million USD. Sure, it is conceivable that there are things that Jon Ossoff would have funded with marginal donations that would have been highly effective, but we should be skeptical of such arguments precisely because a reasonably strategic actor that is not obviously funding-constrained will have a funding margin with relatively low-value activities.

In that way, neglectedness serves as a prior on the expected goodness of the funding margin. That prior can be updated by additional considerations that make something in a non-neglected field good, but this requires strong arguments. In a field that is financially well-resourced or easy to be well-resourced (when you have 10,000 volunteers and you have lots of high-value funding gaps at the margin, some more of those volunteers should focus on fundraising), it would be surprising if there are great marginal funding opportunities.

Of course there could be. 

Indeed, the argument that John Halstead, Hauke Hillebrandt, and myself have been making in various forms over the last years is that there are such opportunities within climate -- namely, around supporting (1) neglected technologies and (2) a neglected part of technology support, support for innovation, via (3) decision-maker focused advocacy that improves how the vast resources allocated to climate are better spent.

The long and short of it is that there are systematically neglected technologies and many ideological and other reasons for this neglect, that innovation is generally neglected for reasons of various market failures, as well as ideological factors, etc. In other words, there is a systematic argument for why the CATF/C180/ITIF/TP style of advocacy should be really high impact despite climate not being neglected overall.

But there is no parallel argument made -- to my knowledge -- for why in case of Sunrise we should move away from the prior that something that has increased 40x-fold in funding over the last years and has captured the public imagination and support of an entire wing of a major US political party, would have great room for funding left.


Dan’s response to this concern raised by Alex is this:
“I think that there is very little effective climate activism happening out there, and there’s huge room for effective growth.”

Essentially, the only argument for why it should be particularly high impact to give to TSM right now is a claim about the ineffectiveness of current climate activism and a proclaimed large effective growth potential, without any justification that spending more money on climate activism will lead to more effective climate activism.

With this level of unspecific justification, almost anything can be declared a highly effective funding margin to fill.

REASONS TO BE UNSURE ABOUT THE SIGN OF IMPACT

 
6. The positive marginal case is pretty unclear

It is not clear how we would evaluate success of the Sunrise Movement -- whether this would be passing the Green New Deal or whether it is just generally shifting the Overton window of climate policy. The more charitable interpretation is probably to say “Sunrise shifts the overton window of climate policy” given that the Green New Deal is mostly a symbolic policy without real prospects of passing.

This is the approach we took in our Biden report -- conceptualizing grassroots movements as “increasing the pie” (the opportunities, not only strictly budgets) and orgs such as CATF focused on improving how the pie is utilized for maximal decarbonization benefits. Quoting here (emphasis new):

“But, while it is difficult to make a statement about the relative balance [between pie-increasing and pie-improving], we think it is clear that now that we have a very climate-friendly administration -- likely under divided government, if not with razor-thin majority [this was published in November] -- the value of policy advocacy to improve how the attention to climate is spent strongly increases, easily by a factor of 4 or more (taking a conservative average from the advocacy value of the next four years, based on our timing analysis above) compared to a second Trump term.

At the same time, it is difficult to see how the value of funding advocacy focused on increasing the pie could have increased by the same amount based on the outcomes of the election.

Indeed, insofar as mass mobilization and climate grassroots activism are strongly tied to the Democratic party and making Democrats more ambitious on climate, it seems likely that the value of this advocacy has decreased due to the relative underperformance of Democrats in Congressional races and the likely less Democratic-leaning environment in the midterm elections.13

On balance, we think that the election directionally shifts the balance towards advocacy to improve resource allocation and policy rather than advocacy focused on increasing overall resource allocation (increasing the pie), so we feel more certain in the relative prioritisation of this kind of advocacy in our philanthropy.”

Now that we have more information with the Georgia win and the laser-thin Democratic majority we can say a bit more than this directional shift, about the marginal impact of Sunrise in this moment.

We are now in a situation where Biden has declared climate as one of his top four priorities, where the pivot in the Senate is Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, who really likes CCS and really doesn’t like the Green New Deal.

In this situation, any passage of bills requires support from very conservative Democrats and, if not all Democrats are on board, of some Republicans (even for reconciliation, filibuster-proof climate policy is out of the question anyway).

Unless Sunrise has a great way to influence fairly conservative Senators, which is not what they have focused on to do to date, it seems a bit unclear what good a marginally stronger TSM at this  moment accomplishes.

To be sure, the pressure of TSM and others is very valuable, in principle. But now that climate is on top of the agenda of things and we face a pretty thin majority situation for the party aligned with Sunrise, is it really plausible that making this movement marginally stronger is very important?

While one could make that case, e.g. that a stronger TSM is needed now because pressure on relatively progressive legislators is still a bottleneck, or because Biden will forget about climate if we do not further strengthen TSM, this does not seem very plausible.

While arguments have been made that TSM is sitting at the table with the Biden administration and that this is a reason to fund them, this kind of reasoning would require confidence that TSM directs Biden’s climate action in the best direction. 

TSM is a grassroots organization specialized in raising attention to climate, not in advising on effective climate policy. That is something that CATF et al. specialize in. Furthermore, funding the Sunrise Movement Education Fund would not directly influence the already existing representation of TSM at the table.

When stating confidently that giving to TSM right now is highly impactful, it would be good to clarify what the exact path to impact is. 

The broad description in the theory of change of “climate change becomes a government priority” and “climate bills that reduce emissions get passed” is not very clear, and -- in particular -- does not refer to a marginal case, that more is needed to make this as likely as TSM can make those outcomes. 

Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that the answer to all of these questions is negative for TSM. I am just pointing out questions that would need analysis to make claims of high impact more credible.

 
7. Ways in which Sunrise could be negative at the current margin

Indeed, there are many ways in which existing or additional support for TSM can contribute to negative outcomes:

  • A stronger TSM could make it more likely that pressure on Democrats (fear of being primary-challenged etc.) leads to shifts towards the left that lead to losses in the House in 2022 and the loss of the trifecta.
  • A stronger TSM could intensify pressure on Biden to prioritize executive orders over legislative politics, because this looks more appealing than more incrementally seeming legislative politics even though legislative politics would ultimately be more impactful and/or more robust over time.
  • A stronger TSM could lead to an overemphasis on renewables at the cost of other clean technologies that need more support to be brought down the learning curves.


The list could go on.

Again, my point is not that these are all damning concerns but that these large uncertainties about the severity and probability of negative effects of marginal TSM donations pushes the estimate downwards.

 8. Ways in which Sunrise could be negative (in general)

More generally, beyond the current marginal case, there are other more general concerns.

Alex makes valuable points about how Sunrise could have negative impacts and I have mentioned some of them as well before (e.g. in my talk at EAGx Virtual last June) and in other contexts. Dan adds some additional ones. 

So, there are at least the following five pathways in which Sunrise could be negative:

A. Sunrise further polarizes the US climate debate thereby reducing the chance of useful climate legislation to become reality.

  1. Via pressure on Democrats to pursue proposals that fail in the legislative process.
  2. Via pressure on Democrats to pursue more executive action that is challenged in courts rather than pursue more incrementally seeming policies through Congress.
  3. Via giving credence to the Republican straw man that Democrat climate action is about fundamental social transformation rather than addressing a problem that both Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on exists.

B. Sunrise promotes a view of the climate challenge that reduces the support for effective solutions

  1. Via pressure on Democrats to focus climate policy more on favorite solutions of progressives -- renewables etc. -- rather than a technology-inclusive vision that has more bipartisan support and is more in line with decarbonization priorities.
  2. Via framing the climate challenge overly focused on 2030 US targets instead of global decarbonization -- and as a consequence under-prioritizing driving globally useful energy innovation (e.g. just phasing out coal in the US rather than getting CCS off the ground, for the US and -- more importantly -- the rest of the world).

From spending the last ten years studying and working in climate policy, I can say with confidence that both of those lines of concern are major considerations, major ways in which -- in the past -- climate activism has been harmful and major worries of very serious climate analysts about current grassroots climate activism.

These are serious concerns that warrant thorough investigation rather than a false equivalence reply claiming there is a similarly serious concern with CATF and similar orgs.

Of course these concerns are not all there is, there is a positive case, too. But those concerns need to be integrated when forming a view on TSM as a funding opportunity.


INTEGRATING CONCERNS

How does this all fit together?

Size of impact

The assumption in the TSM analysis is that there is something transformative / unique / high value in TSM that only TSM or grassroots activism can deliver. As I argued in the “Some misconceptions about CATF” section above, this claim does not seem well-supported because both technological change driven through incremental policies and climate laws could be transformative. There is no reason to assume that TSM > CATF on this at this point. One could try to model this.

Low marginal additionality (neglectedness)

Because of the explosion of attention to TSM and the increase in TSM and general grassroots funding, additional dollars change relatively little about TSM’s activities (relatively speaking), are more likely to not be counterfactually additional (if funding goals are just met in any case), and are likely to fill activities that are relatively far from the most valuable ones.

Sign of impact

If one does not study those concerns about direction in detail and convincingly shows that these are not applicable to marginal TSM funding, then what Alex states is totally justified -- there is uncertainty about the sign of the impact.

Crucially, that uncertainty is about the expected mean, not particular outcomes (something that, I think, Dan misunderstood in his reply to Alex). 

Even if that uncertainty does not move us into negative territory with regards to the mean, it pushes the expected value downwards. There are just many plausible futures where marginal TSM funding is negative and that pushes the expected value towards zero or into negative territory.
 

If one combines these three factors what emerges is a funding opportunity where we should expect a low expected value; whether we fund or not makes little difference and it is relatively unclear whether it will have a positive impact.

It would be pretty surprising if that was anywhere close in marginal impact than giving to CATF.

It could, of course, be the case, though. But to state that as likely would require a lot more research and, with current information, it does not seem warranted.

Comment by jackva on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-12-03T21:16:39.425Z · EA · GW

I haven't looked into CoolEarth myself, but I think the standard view is that the analysis on the extreme cost effectiveness of this was faulty, based on very optimistic assumptions that are unlikely to be true (indirect protection of forests etc, I believe you could find posts on this searching the Forum) . 

We will discuss our findings on REDD in our upcoming report (Q1/21). I discuss it a bit here (last question): 

Comment by jackva on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-12-02T22:27:34.431Z · EA · GW

Addendum: I guess one should always take the precise cost effectiveness estimates with a grain of salt, but it is easy to see from basic principles that offsets cannot be cost effective because offsets are always about direct interventions, whereas the world as a whole is spending hundreds of billions on climate and this is spending that can be affected by advocacy.

For offsets to be anywhere near the best advocacy charities, such as CATF and Carbon180, it would need to be true that there is almost nothing that can be done to improve societal resource allocation on climate.

This is deeply implausible because it is one of the most striking facts about climate how poor societal resource allocation is, leaving vast rooms for impact for charities that move the needle so that government budgets are spent more in line with global decarbonization priorities.

I discuss this in a lot more detail in our new report on implications of Biden win for high impact philanthropy

Comment by jackva on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-12-02T22:13:43.350Z · EA · GW

Offsets are at least 15x worse than high impact charity on climate, I recently re-did the numbers on this and even on very conservative assumptions came out with the most effective work of CATF at something like 10 cents/t (https://youtu.be/TCretlmREXk?t=773). This is their best work and certainly they will not always be that cost effective so we can multiply it by 10 to get to USD1 but the best offsets are probably at USD 15 or so (the analysis on BURN by Giving Green mentions that they don't expect 1 offset to really express 1 t).

So whenever you include offsets in a portfolio of options alongside high impact options, maybe because they are more tangible, one needs to ask "how much more money does this crowd in?" compared to "how much does this crowd out from high impact options? " Because the impact differential is so large it can quite easily be the case that even a moderate dilution, say a 10% reduction in giving to high impact, leads to a net negative outcome because the additional crowding in of money is not sufficently large.

Apart from that offsets and the surrounding logic of compensation can possibly be quite bad for popularizing the goal of impact maximization, the idea of offsettting is incredibly unambitious compared to what we inspire people to strive for.

For those reasons I think offsets should have no place in a high impact portfolio.

Addendum: I guess one should always take the precise cost effectiveness estimates with a grain of salt, but it is easy to see from basic principles that offsets cannot be cost effective because offsets are always about direct interventions, whereas the world as a whole is spending hundreds of billions on climate and this is spending that can be affected by advocacy.

For offsets to be anywhere near the best advocacy charities, such as CATF and Carbon180, it would need to be true that there is almost nothing that can be done to improve societal resource allocation on climate.

This is deeply implausible because it is one of the most striking facts about climate how poor societal resource allocation is, leaving vast rooms for impact for charities that move the needle so that government budgets are spent more in line with global decarbonization priorities.

I discuss this in a lot more detail in our new report on implications of Biden win for high impact philanthropy: https://founderspledge.com/stories/the-implications-of-bidens-victory-for-impact-focused-climate-philanthropy

Addendum 2: Just to be clear 15x differential is not my best guess, but a very conservative guess biased towards finding offsets good. My best guess would be more in the range of high-impact charity focused on accelerating neglected technologies through advocacy is 100x-1000x better, but I know that this sometimes seems like a sales pitch or implausibly large, so the goal of my post was to give a bit more of the mechanics / underlying reasons and a very conservative estimate.

I would also add that we have revised our view on CfRN so that we don't think these numbers to be the case anymore, though those revisions were for reasons that do not affect the logic on the differential to expect (it is because of a different view on what they were advocating for, not on more pessimism on the potential of advocacy more generally).

Comment by jackva on [Linkpost] Global death rate from rising temperatures to exceed all infectious diseases combined in 2100 · 2020-08-15T21:25:41.208Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the link, this is interesting!

A couple of quick thoughts from glancing at the paper (more hopefully later):

1) It is a first draft / working paper, not peer-reviewed (though the website frames it as if it was a finished study).

2) Some of the central assumptions seem quite selected for finding maximum impact, e.g. the 73 death per 100,000 people comes from a model run with RCP 8.5 which is currently seen as an extreme case, not business as usual but considerably worse, https://thebreakthrough.org/issues/energy/3c-world). The combination with SSP3 as the socio-economic scenario also seems to point in the direction of worst case assumption as this is a scenario of low/difficult adaptation, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378016300838 ). So, yes, 73 deaths per 100,000 from heat is possible but it is probably in the top 5% of the distribution of worst outcomes based on what we now think is realistic.

3) Something else that made me a bit worried about the bias in the direction of finding high impact was this statement "This projection accounts for adaptations to climate that populations are likely to make, given historical patterns of adaptation." One of the key features of expectable changes in the world to 2100, especially in high emissions scenarios, is that currently poor countries get a fair deal richer and use a lot more energy (in RCP 8.5 we could all burn lots of coal). So, it seems that the accounting for adaptation seems minimal compared to what one might expect, more adaptation beyond historical patterns as those countries get richer and have more resources available.

4) I am not saying it is a bad study and I am not really qualified to assess that on the deeper details, but I often find a lot of the climate-impact related literature to work with assumptions that seem very focused on finding maximal impacts (or with article titles exaggerating what the paper actually says, even in journals like Nature/Science etc.), a kind of publication bias that has made me quite skeptical of any single study.

Comment by jackva on Informational Lobbying: Theory and Effectiveness · 2020-08-14T10:30:32.620Z · EA · GW

Hi Matt,

1) I don't see incompleteness as an issue -- what is good for Journal Club is bringing in lots of interesting ideas which your post certainly does, updates you made and are working on are fine. So if that would work for you, I would suggest you as a speaker for Journal Club and we could see when it would fit over the next month or so?

2) My reading of your model -- which might be wrong -- was that you assumed independence between variables related to cost/effort and variables of success probability. It seems to me that when they are positively correlated rather than independent, cost efficiency would increase and become more narrow, because what this says is that worlds of high spending and success will be more likely to co-occur and worlds of high spending and no success less likely to occur than under independence. Does this make sense?

3) I think on money in politics my understanding is that a couple of intensely motivated politicians -- e.g. the representatives where headquarters of companies are -- can be quite sufficient for pork barrel style politics because they tend to fill committee positions important for their respective economic interests and they can easily bargain with other legislators.

Comment by jackva on Informational Lobbying: Theory and Effectiveness · 2020-08-11T10:57:13.435Z · EA · GW

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your reply and sorry for the slight delay!
Would you like to present your work in a session at Founders Pledge (we have a Journal Club where we discuss relevant research and having you as a guest speaker there sounds like a good idea)?

On the cost effectiveness model
On the model generality, I think my view is that even a general and simple model should not be unrealistic / systematically biased; because we trust the models more than our intuitions and generally fail -- I think -- to do intuitive adjustments on the model (e.g. we probably underestimate intuitively how much independence/dependence assumptions matter).

On the substance of that question, I am not sure I understand your reasoning (but see point above :)). To me it seems that when expenditure is positively correlated with success probability -- what seems to be implied by a view where actors are strategic and at least mildly successful at being so -- would that not (a) increase the cost effectiveness and (b) reduce the overall uncertainty?

Because we often trust models more than we should, I weakly lean towards having less models -- personally, for me the conclusion “this is a really fascinating piece and now we need to think about building models for these different situations and considerations” would be fine whereas with the very rough model I see the risk of incorrect updates, e.g. people not looking into it more because they think that the model fairly represents the uncertainty and under the given range it does not look attractive for some interventions (where the benefit is less large).

But these are just personal philosophical views on modeling, weakly held.


On Baumgartner

Thanks for this, this is really clarifying.

The rephrasing makes this a lot clearer, I had originally read this as “giving more money might be useless” which would undermine the whole case for investigating advocacy charities from an EA perspective, so I am glad I misunderstood that and that this is now clearer.

I would agree that one should not update too much from this correlational evidence. Mostly, because what seems to be the dependent variable here -- success probability -- is itself confounded by a strategic choice to engage with issues so it is not clear that the same success probability across different levels of resources expresses no difference in strength, rather than being confounded by smaller groups not trying harder things.

On money in politics

(1) On employees as explanation of influence, I do think this is a pretty strong explanation for a couple of reasons.

(i) While employees and employers might not see eye to eye with regards to such as issues as labor policy, they have essentially the same interests with regards to the companies they own/work for -- and this is where the lack of money paradox is focused, the lack of money in pork barrel political settings.

(ii) The argument does not rest on explicit voting intentions of employees, but can simply work with references to employment levels in districts, etc., it hands a very powerful argument to local business leaders vis-a-vis their political representatives.

(iii) Campaign finance as well as general influence of business leaders can lead to a situation where the political representatives are already “captured”, where there is no need for additional spending.

(iii) Empirically, it seems well-supported (or so I remember from my political science days, but I cannot find the paper so I might recall that wrongly).

(2) On lobbying equilibria, I am unsure who the relevant experts would be -- but I would trust the political science / political economy literature there more than people with very local “inside view” expertise (as it is a dynamic system-level feature, something that seems more accurately to observe with data than based on individual experience).

And just to conclude on this, I think there are many cases where lobbying is probably very good, I just think that the introduction overstates this in not fully considering explanations that make this less surprising and give reasons to think that there can also be many situations where additional money will not lead to additional influence, just higher spending.

Comment by jackva on Informational Lobbying: Theory and Effectiveness · 2020-08-04T21:18:36.246Z · EA · GW

Very impressive and interesting piece, thanks for this! I am a colleague of smclare at Founders Pledge and work a lot on modeling policy advocacy across charities. Would be great to have a chat.

It's a great and very useful summary of the literature, hugely valuable.

That being said, I am less convinced by the approach taken in the cost-effectiveness model which seems to somewhat contradict the prior analysis which stresses (a) contextuality and (b) strategic choice. As far as I can tell, the modeling tries to be entirely general (contradicting a)) and assumes (b) independence between variables that are very likely related (such as spending and success probability). Please let me know if I completely misunderstand what you are doing!

My sense from doing this kind of work in charity evaluation is that we would want to move towards a "suite" of models for different situations -- e.g. (i) pushing genuinely new ideas, (ii) opportunistically exploiting policy windows (such as stimulus season), (iii) pushing high-impact low probability policies, (iv) averting policy rollbacks etc. and that the cost effectiveness for these kinds of things will be very different and essentially unrelated to a generic estimate such as the one featured at the end of your piece.

To me it seems that this kind of classifying into the sub-models will be the only way to realistically bound parameters of interest and also that the dynamics underlying are sufficiently different that they should probably have their own models.

Some minor points/comments: Something I found missing is a bit are standard explanations for why there is so little money in politics, namely (1)because dominant firms in districts have lots of indirect power via employees voting so that they do not need to spend money. (2) It also seems that the report somewhat under-emphasizes the idea of lobbying equilibria where marginal increases by one side would be quickly countered, which would make it look like additional money could be effective when in effect it is not.

I also think that the conclusion which, I believe, mostly draws from Baumgaertner " (80%) Well-resourced interest groups are no more or less likely to achieve policy success, in general, than their less well-resourced opponents." is quite surprising and I would be curious to find out why you think that / in how far you trust that conclusion.

Comment by jackva on A portfolio approach towards effective environmentalism? · 2020-07-27T20:30:14.148Z · EA · GW

Yes we are, though not necessarily with a portfolio approach in the sense described above.

I think it is worth asking whether the EA community should pursue a portfolio approach to climate. Overall, EA funding levels of climate orgs are still quite low and one could make the argument that we should focus on funding the most effective organizations first before designing a broad portfolio, the latter seems more a task for a potential future where EA aligned donors are influencing a larger amount of climate funding.

That being said, we are looking at a broader portfolio of options and will certainly feature some diversity in the Climate Fund. But it will unlikely be distributed across all intervention areas since some seem much more effective than others.

Comment by jackva on The case for investing to give later · 2020-07-06T08:36:09.721Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this, this is fascinating!

To me, the assumptions around the issue of risk of loss seem quite optimistic for a couple of reasons:

  • From accounting for the fact that not only existential catastrophes but also catastrophic risk could cause expropriation you double the rate from 0.1% to 0.2%. But the universe of scenarios where existential catastrophe is avoided but there is enough destabilization vis-a-vis status quo to drive expropriation (or other ways in which the investment becomes unusuable) seems much larger than on the same order as existential catastrophes (which the mere doubling implies).
  • It is unclear to me how the exit-rate of non-profits is a relevant reference class here given a lot of the risk is not on the unit-level but on the systemic level, so things like economic upheavals / hyperinflation etc. seem a relevant consideration (e.g. "how many non-profit investors survived the Great Depression with their assets intact?")
  • As you write, property rights seem stable now, but that -- in its current level of stability more or less globally -- is a relatively new development and not necessarily a given.

From these considerations, 1% seems like a realistic guess, but it seems -- at least to me -- unlikely to be conservative in the sense of "with high likelihood being pessimistically biased against the argument".

A related "windows of wisdom" argument would be that ability to act in the future might be especially valuable in times where expropriation takes place / there is a certain turmoil, so investing in non-financial assets that do not require the current market order to persist could be relatively more valuable from that angle.

Comment by jackva on How hot will it get? · 2020-04-26T19:18:05.351Z · EA · GW

Re 2a, China, what matters is the degree to which it has influenced global average carbon intensity. It is difficult to think of an event as impactful on global average carbon intensity than the boom of the second largest country population wise fueled by coal, at least as long as the estimate of carbon intensity is global (population and gdp/capita matter here as time increasing weights for carbon intensity).

Re 2b, the state of strong local climate policy matters insofar as it gives reason for global carbon intensity decline going forward and the initiatives of California and EU countries on electric mobility and renewables have been very decisive changes begun the past 20 years but with most of their impact in the future.

Re 4, it seems pretty likely to me that we will figure out some negative emissions options that are cheap, there will be strong reasons to try, there are many natural and technological approaches and there is still time for progress on that. But can't offer you more than that as justification, I guess I just have a different prior for that.

Re 5, this might be more about semantics then. I agree it would not be natural to build this into the model (though the way you suggest would work) but I also think that for scenarios with more than 2 or 3 degrees of warming expectations about geoengineering will drive a significant part of the answer to your question of how hot it will get.

Comment by jackva on How hot will it get? · 2020-04-26T16:20:14.892Z · EA · GW

Hi John,

Thanks for the clarifications and responses!

Regarding your points:

1. Thanks for clarifying the meaning -- so it is not a worst case, but more a baseline where extra effort would be going beyond what we currently see.

It still seems to me what you model is significantly more pessimistic than that.

I think average marginal carbon prices are not a good proxy of overall climate policy effort, because carbon prices are usually not the (i) only climate policy, (ii) mostly not the dominant climate policy (possible exceptions of Sweden and British Columbia, but those are both negligible jurisdictions in terms of emissions) and (iii) other much stronger policies exist and drive carbon intensity reductions.

E.g. we both mention renewables, electric mobility and advanced nuclear as (potentially) important influences on carbon intensity trends, yet none of those has been brought about by carbon pricing policies, but by innovation and deployment policy. Across Europe, progressive states in the US, and China, we have fairly aggressive policies to stimulate low-carbon tech, often with implied carbon prices (technology specific and realized via subsidies) in the 100s USD/tCO2 range.

So, I think even without extra effort, there are significant efforts underway to drive cost differentials down, at least for electric power and light-duty transport, and that is very clearly the result of climate policy (plus air pollution policy).

This is far from enough, but I don’t think it is well-proxied by the state of average carbon pricing policy.

2.

a. On China: Yes, the growth factor is in the growth parameter, but it is *also* in the intensity parameter as a weight, in the same period in which China rises quickly by burning lots of coal its economic importance also increases strongly (i.e. its weight in defining the trend).

I would agree that we should expect developing countries to escape poverty as cheaply as possible, though the other aspect there is that the sheer centralized action capacity and population size are anomalous for the Chinese case. Plus, availability and price of natural gas and renewables have somewhat changed since China’s decision to go all the way with coal.

b. Climate policy kicking off: I think we are talking about different things here. Yes, global climate policy is very weak and I would agree with you that we should, for example, not necessarily expect a change in trajectory from the Paris Agreement.

But despite that, strong climate policy exists in some places and will affect carbon intensity once championed technologies do scale. And this is new and this has not been reflected in carbon intensity yet but likely will.

c. Technologies in store: (I actually think the most significant technology for this to date will be electric mobility.) But even if it is solar and wind, I don’t think that “what solar and wind have done in Germany so far” is a good proxy for “what the technologies accelerated by some governments will do worldwide”, because (i) Germany isn’t very sunny, (ii) we phased out nuclear at the same time (genius, I know!), and (iii) we are already experiencing value deflation which most parts of the world will reach significantly later. (iv) Plus, the share of electrification and thereby the impact of low-carbon electric sources will already increase in a “no extra effort” case (v) And we are still in the beginning of seeing the impact of those technologies globally (the data from which you extrapolate the intensity ends in 2014).

d. New technologies in store: CCS and advanced nuclear both might or might not happen and I hope we can make them more likely to happen and happen faster, but at least for Europe and progressive parts of the US carbon prices in the range of USD 50 by 2030 (or comparable non-price policies) are part of my prediction of “no extra effort”. I agree with the relative evaluation of CCS and advanced nuclear.

e. Political coordination: I think both your and my “no extra effort” case assume essentially zero political coordination. When you assume carbon intensity trends going forward based on the last 30 years (and those end in 2014, i.e. pre-Paris), where there was very little coordination on emissions (in the grand scheme of things, Kyoto doesn’t really matter), there being even less coordination might be a plausible worst case, but just assuming continued no coordination should not change the estimate much. Likewise, I think your estimate is pessimistic not because I am more optimistic about global coordination, but because I think you underplay the non-coordinated-but-present efforts by some governments to change relative cost. If they have some effect, then carbon intensity declines in the future should be higher than in the last 30 years as a matter of default no-extra-effort-prediction.

g. Breakdown of cooperation / arms race: I agree with that. That should widen our range of estimates, not sure it should shift the median much (but the mean).

4. Negative emissions: As discussed above, I think also in the no-extra-effort scenario there is significant effort do enable low-carbon tech, and it seems a fairly pessimistic assumption that by the end of the century we will not have at least some cheap negative emissions tech (not necessarily enough to offset all emissions, but significantly more than having no effect in expectation). This is not the world I am seeing when I see what UK, EU, progressive governments in US are doing to further technological development. We are not in a world where no one is trying to make low-carbon solutions succeed and get cheaper.
And in particular, it seems hard to imagine a world with high climate sensitivity, high growth and no one attempting to bring down the cost of negative emissions approaches.

This seems quite at odds with typical dynamics of higher problem severity and higher capability driving a more active search for solutions, of which negative emissions are attractive because they can still work after we failed on having foresight early on and avoid some of the more unpredictable risks of geo-engineering.

On geo-engineering: You seem to answer a different question here, the value of geo-engineering. But if the question of the model is, “how hot will it get?”, then I think it makes sense to make an explicit assumption about when you would expect it being used based on empirical expectation.

In terms of conclusion

You write:

“All of this suggests that the estimates of carbon intensity decline might be biased a bit upwards. The most important factors seem to be decline in costs of renewables, electric cars and potentially advanced nuclear, as well as factors e and f.”

I think that downplays the issue and it conflates two distinct effects as if they affected the same variable (carbon intensity), which they do not.

From your list a-d (and g?) are responses to effects on carbon intensity (in my list the points under II).

From your list e-f and the issues under III in my list affect the probability that all four variables driving warming (population, GDP per capita, carbon intensity, climate sensitivity) vary in the same direction with regards to their effect on overall warming probabilities, which is probably less likely (we agree on that) and thereby will have an effect on expected warming quite different from the potential upward bias in carbon intensity.

This latter point is very different from arguing for a mean/median change in carbon intensity decline rate.

As you suggest, I will try to play around with the model a bit and see what the effects of these different assumptions are. Thanks for the good discussion!