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JamesOz's Shortform 2021-04-08T16:51:03.759Z
How we averted 130,000 animal deaths (in expectation) with a volunteer campaign. 2021-04-05T07:50:01.147Z

Comments

Comment by JamesOz on 8+ productivity tools for movement building · 2021-04-13T16:24:39.404Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this up, this is extremely useful! One tip: it might be helpful if you say how each tool costed (approx.) so people have a clearer picture on costs.

Roam Research looks really great but shame there's no free version. Workflowy is a similar tool and free (to a reasonable limit then quite cheap) if people are interested. I use it for note taking and brainstorming, where I find quite useful as you can 'zoom' in and out of points quite nicely.

Also, this is maybe for bigger groups but we use Action Network as a CRM which I find to be quite powerful, albeit the UX isn't the best. It only costs us around $23 up to sending 23,000 emails which is plenty or $10 for up to 3,000. As above, definitely recommend Miro for workshops, engagement and brainstorming.

Comment by JamesOz on Research suggests BLM protests increase murder overall · 2021-04-09T22:01:03.145Z · EA · GW

It's important to highlight this point from the article:

It’s worth noting that Campbell didn’t subject the homicide findings to the same battery of statistical tests as he did the police killings since they were not the main focus of his research. (He intends to do more research on how these protests affected crime rates.)

Just a word of caution before we jump to conclusions.

 

Also, I think the main findings from the research were extremely interesting in their own right; That the BLM protests were successful in achieving some of their intended aims. The effectiveness of protests are rarely assessed quantitatively so glad to see someone doing this work. It would be interesting (and probably extremely challenging) to do a cost-effectiveness estimate for BLM, considering you have to account for the counterfactual value of 350,000 people etc.

A new study, one of the first to make a rigorous academic attempt to answer that question, found that the protests have had a notable impact on police killings. For every 4,000 people who participated in a Black Lives Matter protest between 2014 and 2019, police killed one less person.

..

From 2014 to 2019, Campbell tracked more than 1,600 BLM protests across the country, largely in bigger cities, with nearly 350,000 protesters. His main finding is a 15 to 20 percent reduction in lethal use of force by police officers — roughly 300 fewer police homicides — in census places that saw BLM protests.

Comment by JamesOz on JamesOz's Shortform · 2021-04-08T16:51:04.110Z · EA · GW

Why is there such a big disparity in focus areas between grassroots groups and NGOs/think-tanks? 

 

I’m thinking primarily in the two cause areas I’m most involved in: animal welfare and climate change. Animal Welfare NGOs focus a lot on corporate cage-free reforms (the EA ones anyway) whilst most grassroots groups are talking about ending factory farming, fur or individual vegan outreach. For climate, it’s even worse: Think-tanks recommend clean energy R&D and innovation whilst most grassroots groups often reject nuclear and other tech-focused solutions for nature-based solutions. Why are these differences so big (in these cases), how bad is it to not have a unified movement and what can be done about it?

 

Would like to write a bigger post about this at some point but initial thoughts to remedy this:

  • We incubate EA-aligned social movements/grassroots groups (currently writing a big post on this)
  • A 'middle-man' organisation to bring these different groups into the same room to try collaborate on shared campaigns? Probably very hard work.
  • Strategy workshops for grassroots groups and NGOs - more tractable and could lead to obvious shared goals. I can definitely seeing this helping grassroots groups who often don't think strategically (I feel justified in saying this after being involved for 4 years of grassroots work).
     

Disclaimer: There are some strategic grassroots groups out there and lots of variety in campaign demands across the two movements so this is definitely not representative of all groups.

Comment by JamesOz on Ramiro's Shortform · 2021-04-06T17:24:14.273Z · EA · GW

This is something interesting that I've been thinking about too, as someone who identifies as an environmentalist and who cares about animals. I would say most mainstream environmentalists promote rewilding but it's not that common with Effective Environmentalism from what I've seen so far. You might say it gets lumped in with afforestation but that isn't exactly rewilding nor that popular within EE anyway. Certainly the issue of more wild animal suffering is one I've raised when talking to less-EA aligned folks about rewilding and that's not gone down well but I haven't seen it discussed much in EE spaces.

Comment by JamesOz on How we averted 130,000 animal deaths (in expectation) with a volunteer campaign. · 2021-04-06T16:10:11.018Z · EA · GW

Wow, 81 million meals changed is really quite something! I would love to see a more comprehensive write-up of how they achieved that.

Comment by JamesOz on How we averted 130,000 animal deaths (in expectation) with a volunteer campaign. · 2021-04-06T10:41:50.256Z · EA · GW

It's predominately based on when I think ProVeg would have had capacity to work with Hackney and get this change moving. Like I've mentioned above, they only have one person working on the School Plates campaign and things generally take on the order of 12-18 months from initial contact to implementation. Most councils (90%+) don't reply to ProVeg's outreach emails so I can't imagine Hackney being particularly different over the next 1-2 years.

The much smaller probability is that either a very proactive councillor or very proactive citizen wanted to push this through but I think it would have been unlikely. It would be unlikely for the councillor to instigate such a thing in my opinion as councillors are generally extremely busy and not willing to go out on a limb on a politically risky move (as I think this is) without some external pressure. Also that most councillors aren't that motivated by animals or climate reasons. I don't think a citizen would have instigated this change as councils are actually quite complex to get your head around and most people don't even know how to go about this. Even with providing people with lots of information, people struggle to know the best people to contact and how to pitch an idea so I'm doubtful it would have happened organically this way for the next few years at least.

 

Regarding the drop-out rate, that's a good point. Although I'm fairly confident that individual schools themselves can't drop out, as all the catering/food is provided by the council so I think it's an all or nothing situation. Obviously the nothing situation would be extremely bad but I think a whole council quitting is quite unlikely (but not impossible).

Comment by JamesOz on How we averted 130,000 animal deaths (in expectation) with a volunteer campaign. · 2021-04-06T10:31:19.458Z · EA · GW

Good question. ProVeg works with councils on refining their menu and the implementation of a new menu after a commitment. To my knowledge they don't recommend eggs as replacements for the meat meals and they focus predominately on plant-based options as replacements. The only exceptions I've seen to this is two cases of dairy cheese included in a total of 40 recommended meals. I can follow up with them about this on Thursday however as it's definitely important.

In essence, the new meals are almost always plant-based but the schools legally have to serve a portion of milk or dairy every single day which is why they're labelled vegetarian days vs plant-based days.

Comment by JamesOz on How we averted 130,000 animal deaths (in expectation) with a volunteer campaign. · 2021-04-06T10:21:07.718Z · EA · GW

Thanks for highlighting these, these are both really good points. I really appreciate the thought provoking comments and questions you've left generally so thank you!

Regarding point 2: In hindsight, it would have probably been more accurate to weight each meal but their relative 'animal-content' e.g. 0.5 for dinner, 0.35 for lunch and 0.15 for breakfast. You're right in that most people won't be eating meat for breakfast (except on weekends I imagine) so that should be weighted down. If I used the weights above, it would probably be very similar to the 0.33 I've basically assumed in my original model so you're right in that it probably wouldn't change much.

 

Regarding number 1, again it would make some to have some kind of subjective weighting system based on the size of the meals. I did add a little epistemic uncertainty factor to the top of my post of about 70-80% as like you and Ula have pointed out rightly, there's definitely more factors that I could have included in my analysis but I didn't for simplicity/time. 

Comment by JamesOz on How we averted 130,000 animal deaths (in expectation) with a volunteer campaign. · 2021-04-06T10:12:35.658Z · EA · GW

Yeah it really can be quite easy or low-effort if you seem to have a blend of the right circumstances: in-house catering, supportive councillors and luck! I fleshed out the volunteer hours put in centrally for Ula if you're curious as I didn't say how I got the 170 hour number so that might be of interest:

 

It's volunteers (like myself) organising more volunteers so I accounted for all the weekly meetings we had, workshops we delivered, resources we created, etc. To be specific, I accounted for 3 people spending a total 8-9 hours per week for 5 months, which did include all the various activities needed for the campaign. This figure is low because no one works full-time or part-time on this campaign. We only have one 1-hour weekly meeting and offer 1.5 hour workshops every other week so it really isn't very time intensive. Then I added some extra hours to for individual work to create the various documents, slideshows and other resources for the campaign.

Comment by JamesOz on How we averted 130,000 animal deaths (in expectation) with a volunteer campaign. · 2021-04-06T07:46:50.715Z · EA · GW

Hi Ula,

Thanks for your comment!  You're right in that there's definitely much more complexity that I laid out in my post and model. Some things you've mentioned I've already accounted for so I'll answer those below:

 

  • What kind of meal was replaced: I definitely agree that the number animals spared depends hugely on the meal that was replaced on any given day. This is what I meant when I said in my "improvements that could be made section" with:

Better estimates for the average number of animals eaten per meal and per school meal.

Although it hindsight, it's not very clear exactly what I meant so I'll clarify that in the post a bit more. There's no obvious way for me to tell if most school serve cows, chickens or fish on any given day (as they might implement their vegetarian days on different days too) so I couldn't make a reasonable assumption that it would be any certain animal affected most. Due to that, I went with the average value of animal deaths averted using this post by ACE . Obviously fish and other marine animals make up the most of those deaths so if we found out that the fish day was the least likely to be affected, it would bring down the number of animal deaths averted. This might be something we update once it's implemented and we have a good idea of what meals were commonly swapped out.

 

  • Was the supply chain affected: This is similar to what Abraham was saying below too. To copy that reply: As we've been asking for this commitment on the basis on helping councils meet their climate targets and lower their catering costs, not actually purchasing less meat would be shooting themselves in the foot! Although I could definitely see some variation of this happening (e.g. purchasing 10% less vs 20% less). I'll mention it to ProVeg in our meeting this week and will see if they've had similar issues in the past or if they've considered this. My initial guess is that ProVeg have already considered this as they've been doing this work for two years so I hope they've gotten past this issue! Also, I do see this campaign as different to most Meatless Mondays campaigns as this is run on an environmental and cost angle where councils commit because it helps them immediately with lowering costs so they actually have a strong incentive to purchase less meat. I don't think this is the case with Meatless Mondays campaign that run on ethical stances.

 

  • Are the kids eating the plant-based meals in the long run: This is a good question. I believe ProVeg have been doing some impact assessment of their previous work to monitor the uptake of veggie and vegan meals so I'll try get ahold of that data. However, as this is rolling out primarily in maintained government schools, there is a certain percentage of children who get free-school meals due to being from low-income households. In those cases, which I believe is 30% of kids in Hackney, I strongly doubt parents would send any meat options to the school as it's unlikely they would want to turn down a free school meal. Also it seems like from MichaelStJules post below, there is some evidence that skipping meals could increase which would mean my final values are too high (for some cases). Broadly though I think we agree, if I wanted to make the model more rigorous, I would have included some variations of this point.

 

Regarding the cost calculations:

  • who is managing volunteers and how much time they put into: This was already accounted for in my model to produce the 170 hours figure for organising the campaign centrally. It's volunteers (like myself) organising more volunteers so I accounted for all the weekly meetings we had, workshops we delivered, resources we created, etc. To be specific, I accounted for 3 people spending a total 8-9 hours per week for 5 months, which did include all the various activities needed for the campaign. This figure is low because no one works full-time or part-time on this campaign. We only have one 1-hour weekly meeting and offer 1.5 hour workshops every other week so it really isn't very time intensive.
  • when you count the time of ProVeg: I think there's an important distinction to be made between ProVeg International and ProVeg UK here. ProVeg UK is a very small team of only 3 staff so most of the things you talked about I believe don't apply or are greatly simplified for such a small team. In addition, only one person works on the School Plates program full-time. You're right in that I could have included their manager's time but I think it would have been quite a bit more complex than what I wanted to do in terms of time I had for this. Instead, I over-estimated the time spent by ProVeg by about 25% to account for any other things I missed, like the items you outlined. Regarding the hourly pay - I converted a £40,000/year salary into an hourly rate using an online tool to make the calculation more convenient but it is based on someone getting an annual salary.

 

Overall, I definitely agree, there are more factors I could have included into this to make it extremely rigorous and watertight. Whilst I did account for some/most of the things you mentioned, it maybe wasn't explicit in my post so apologies for that. I think also I should have put my epistemic uncertainty as I don't think these values are 100%  accurate and I didn't do the research to justify that level of precision, but it's maybe more like 70-80%.

Comment by JamesOz on How we averted 130,000 animal deaths (in expectation) with a volunteer campaign. · 2021-04-05T18:36:56.464Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the feedback, that's much appreciated!

 

That's a great point and one that I actually hadn't thought of. As we've been asking for this commitment on the basis on helping councils meet their climate targets and lower their catering costs, not actually purchasing less meat would be shooting themselves in the foot! Although I could definitely see some variation of this happening (e.g. purchasing 10% less vs 20% less). I'll mention it to ProVeg in our meeting this week and will see if they've had similar issues in the past or if they've considered this. Thanks for flagging it!

 

Regarding your second point  - I definitely agree. I'm actually attending a workshop of teachers who want to see more plant-based meals in school this weekend so the goal is to inspire them to do something similar!  The only challenge is that it's extremely difficult to export something like this to a different country as laws and governance structures are so varied. People from Sweden and Portugal have said they're interested and want to try it but there really isn't many ways we can support them from the UK as we have no idea how those countries operate. But as your article shows, it really can be very straightforward if you happen to talk to someone who is already sympathetic. 

Comment by JamesOz on Why start a family planning charity? (Founders needed) · 2021-04-02T20:31:12.831Z · EA · GW

As life is good for most people, this is a major advantage.

Seems you're implying that life is net-good for most people globally? Do you have a source for this as I always assumed the opposite (but would love to be proven wrong)?

Comment by JamesOz on Some quick notes on "effective altruism" · 2021-03-25T11:57:21.814Z · EA · GW

I’ve been thinking about this! I  really have no sense if anyone involved in building the EA movement/EA orgs has sat down and really meticulously thought about narratives, audiences, framing and other elements of building a strong message. Does anyone know if this is being done?

 

If not, this seems like a potentially really exciting piece of work. If we just look at organisation that had a strong “meme”/message, whether it’s McDonalds or Friday’s for Future, it can really help an org reach their desired outcome. For us this might not be exponential growth in the general public (if we’re concerned about keep strong community values) but exponential growth in certain social groups e.g. donors or talented individuals in specific fields. The consensus on messaging says that emotional narratives work far better than facts and I think that could be an area where EA messaging hasn't been optimal -as my impression is that we're far more likely to speak about statistics vs emotional stories of those we're helping.

 

One piece of work could be focus groups with the various audiences, high net-worth donors as an example, to figure out what message resonates the most then we try align wider EA orgs that do fundraising around this message. Same could go for recruiting people involved in technical AI safety etc. I get the impression it could be quite high-leverage as having been involved in crowdfunding, the strength of your messaging can make a huge (10x) difference to your results. This is a field where you can be quite rigorous with building narratives based on evidence so seems like a no-brainer for EA-aligned folks.

Would love to hear if any of this work is already being done as I definitely see it as a need in the EA-meta ecosystem. I could see it fitting in with CEA potentially or like you said - external consultancy or non-profit.

Comment by JamesOz on AMA: Ian David Moss, strategy consultant to foundations and other institutions · 2021-03-03T10:00:35.570Z · EA · GW
  1. What was your journey to becoming a strategy consultant from an arts administrator?
  2.  What would you advise for someone in the early career who wants to move into improving institutional decision making and/or strategy consulting? 
Comment by JamesOz on AMA: Ian David Moss, strategy consultant to foundations and other institutions · 2021-03-03T09:52:30.313Z · EA · GW

In your opinion, how much of a factor in making good decisions is the actual process vs a healthy team culture and psychological safety amongst team members to challenge others/take risks?

Comment by JamesOz on AMA: Ian David Moss, strategy consultant to foundations and other institutions · 2021-03-03T09:50:28.491Z · EA · GW

What would be your top 3-5 tips for making good decisions in an organisation?

Comment by JamesOz on AMA: Ian David Moss, strategy consultant to foundations and other institutions · 2021-03-03T08:58:39.454Z · EA · GW
  1. What are your thoughts (or experience, if any) regarding self-managing organisational frameworks  such as  Holacracy where the structure is less hierarchical and decisions tend to be made predominately by elected individuals or teams using consent-based decision making?
  2. On the same vein as above, have you noticed a change in the quality/style of decisions from very hierarchical organisations such as a government relative to an NGO that might be slightly less so?

     
Comment by JamesOz on AMA: Lewis Bollard, Open Philanthropy · 2021-02-24T23:58:12.743Z · EA · GW
  1. What are some unusual/low probability but potentially high-impact interventions that you would like new organisations (or existing ones) to attempt?
  2. What's your thoughts on the impact of protest groups (Direct Action Everywhere, Animal Rebellion, etc.) on the farmed animal movement and any thing you would like to see them do?
  3. Do you think the farmed animal movement aligning with the environmental movement will be good for animals long-term and how much of an impact do you think this would have?
Comment by JamesOz on Animal Advocacy Careers 2021 Plans and 2020 Review · 2021-02-20T00:05:47.438Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this up, it's super interesting and helpful to see!  I've got a few questions:

  1. Besides the predictions you had for various amounts of people attending the online course, reading the skills profiles, etc., did you have any more high-level targets such as "we want to support X number of people in choosing a better career for animals"?
  2.  Looking at Appendix A, I saw you were disappointed with the amount of people who said they were likely to change their likely career trajectory, which is definitely understandable. Have you got plans to research into and/or improve this figure or do you not consider it a pressing issue at this stage?
  3.  Would you be willing to share your cost-effectiveness calculations you reference in Appendix C? I'm considering starting a start-up later this year and would love to see how other people have modelled it, especially for an intervention that is seemingly quite hard to model rigorously.
Comment by JamesOz on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-02-07T15:57:54.665Z · EA · GW

No worries about the delay, now it's my term to apologise as it's been a while on my side too! I am finding this quite fascinating and informative so I really appreciate you taking the time to write such detailed and thorough comments. I also wanted to thank you for your work at FP as everything I've read from FP regarding climate has been extremely rigorous and interesting.

1. Differences between TSM and XR: These points make sense so thank you for the explanation. It seems like the main concern you have about TSM is their partisanship and allegiance with the Democratic Party so I definitely understand how that’s both quite different to XR and also a potential problem. Interestingly enough, I previously thought that was a positive that TSM had over XR as XR being apolitical in that it doesn’t endorse specific parties or political candidates, often gets touted as an organisation that raises the alarm about the problem of the climate crisis, yet doesn’t provide tangible steps forward through policy or politics (with the exception that there was a CEE Bill introduced to UK Parliament recently  which actually does those things). I would also say it can enable greater mobilisation to a degree as people are much more used to turning out for electoral politics where local groups within XR may not have as tangible organising points locally.

 

2. We regularly fund high-risk high-reward bets with the FP Climate Fund.

That’s really interesting and I didn’t know about this. I’ve now found a page on your  website explaining the funding for TerraPraxis (I missed it initially as it was referred to as Terra Praxis and not Energy for Humanity). Interestingly enough, a friend/colleague of mine from XR is now working for them,  small world. You mentioned elsewhere that you often have 20 or so pages of research for each charity recommendation and I was wondering if these were accessible at all as I would be interested in reading more about the reasons behind funding for TerraPraxis and Carbon180 beyond the summaries on the website, specifically if  you had any quantification of EV/ the possible impact of these two groups on carbon emissions? And are there other examples of hits-based giving from previous years you can point me towards that FP Climate Fund has funded as I can seemingly only find the usual suspects of CfRN and CATF on your climate page!

 

3. Progressive movements impact

The rise of progressive climate movements recently is only one example of where I was drawing the general high expected value of social movements. The other being historical research from Harvard researcher Erica Chenoweth which found that any nonviolent social movement that garnered over 3.5% of the population in active support, never failed to achieve their aims. There were some limitations to this study in terms of audience (primarily Global South countries) however I believe it is worth noting nonetheless. Then of course there is a slight element of anecdotal evidence from history i.e. Civil Rights Movement, Indian Independence, Serbian revolution and so on.

I would agree about the unintended risks and uncertainties around movements, especially decentralised ones such as TSM and XR where it is more likely you’ll have individuals or groups that could go AWOL to put it bluntly and come out against certain important solutions i.e. CCS or nuclear like you said. To a degree I think this could be mitigated by the approach taken by the movement in terms of levels of decentralisation and central opinions on certain policies (or having none, such as XR)

 

4. Neglectedness and quantifying expected values

I definitely agree about the marginal returns to funds and it was implied but not obvious in my comment that in my opinion, XR could achieve a lot more given an increase in funds and that its main bottleneck to success currently was financial. The second point about the impact of XR on emissions is much more tricky to calculate and one I wanted to ask you about.

How would you even go about doing an EV calculation for a group such as TSM or XR where the causal link from the work they do to change in emissions seems so distant and vague? For example, if I had to try break down very crudely, it would be something like: 

Direct action -> Media coverage -> change in attitude of public/policy maker -> growing public support for climate -> pressure on policymakers for more green legislation -> green legislation passes -> climate emissions affected. 

Obviously this is very basic but not only are the uncertainties for the second and third links (most of them actually)  quite large in my opinion, this whole chain could have a time lag of 5-10 years with subconscious effects on people so how can we quantify things like that in our EVs appropriately? Not to mention that there would be 100s of other factors that can lead to a change in attitudes of the public or policy makers so how do we determine how much of that was a movement vs other factors?

5.  Incremental vs. transformational. 

Apologies for the bad example of the Paris Agreement, yes it’s not legislation but hopefully it made the point well enough. I can see presidents wouldn’t scrap certain policies that are favourable to both parties (such as innovation budgets or tax credits for businesses that Republicans are likely to support) however surely this would break down for some climate legislation. Another example I’m plucking out of thin air would be a policy to divert subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable sources. I’m fairly certain that there is a swath of examples that would fit the bill in terms that most Republicans would oppose but Democrats would support and are good for the environment, such as the above one. Surely then all of these policies would be up for reversal if leadership of a country changed, whereas if 70-80% of the population, including Republicans, supported climate change legislation sufficiently (via a successful social movement) then even Republican representatives would not want to endorse reversals.

It seems like we’re slightly talking about different things though as what you say is true for groups such as CATF who (probably) only support robust policies that are favourable by both sides. However where I think the difference would like is other green policies as the one I mentioned above that could be essential in reducing emissions but are more divisive politically currently, where a social movement could (but could also not) work to increase general public support for climate legislation.

Comment by JamesOz on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-31T20:59:49.085Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your reply - I don't think you're missing something, it seems like I was guilty of  misinterpreting that data (I assumed the analysis and mapping wasn't just limited to Twitter but wider media) and subsequent poor word choice! 

So yes, I should have said something more like: XR was the largest influencer on public awareness  around climate change at COP25, according to Twitter analysis. The "on public awareness" is a key bit I missed out so my bad there.  Also, I guess I extrapolated slightly as one would assume that if you're the largest influencer around public awareness of climate change at one major climate conference, you would probably be quite prominent in that area for some time afterwards too (and it's only been just over a year since COP25 so I was implying XR has been one of the largest influencers on public awareness of climate change for the past 18 or so months). 

Apologies for the confusion and thanks for pointing it out nicely. I'll edit my original post for clarity.

Comment by JamesOz on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-29T13:01:30.017Z · EA · GW

I made a comment replying to this post generally but there were some specific issues I had with this comment I also wanted to flag. I will copy some across as they're relevant but also add some more thoughts. For context, I've been working with Extinction Rebellion UK (XR UK) full-time for almost two years, since just after they launched, as well as with the slightly newer Animal Rebellion

To start with, I'll reply to some specific comments:

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

and

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).

Different types of activism: Speaking from my experience at XR, I definitely do think that certain kinds of impactful climate activism are neglected. To give some anecdotal evidence to start, let's talk about XR.  XR was found to be the largest influencer on public awareness around climate change according to Twitter research conducted at COP25 (this sentence  was edited due to an incorrect statement). Yet, I would say XR is extremely funding constrained currently, having just an income of £46,000 in December 2020, whilst still having thousands of volunteers across the UK. If XR UK, at their level of popularity and significance are under-funded,  I would make an assumption that it is the same for other climate movements.  Two key points I would like to make here are:
 

1. That not all progressive activism is equal. Something I believe that both you and Alex allude to (or directly say)  is that we can lump together a groups such as Friends of the Earth and WWF with TSM and Extinction Rebellion under umbrellas like public engagement. I think there is a huge distinction between your traditional NGO (FoE and WWF) versus a movement whose priority is shifting public support, mobilising volunteers and using civil disobedience as a theory of change. 

 

On this point, I think there is an abundance of traditional NGO climate campaigning - WWF, Greenpeace, FoE and so on. I would say the main theory of change they apply is advising policy and public education.  Whereas if you look at the number of groups who are trying to mobilise a large base of people to engage in non-violent direct action for the climate, I would say there is only two meaningful groups left in this regard: TSM and XR. This is a huge topic that I might make another post generally on the EA Forum about but for the time-being, I'm going to link to an article by someone from Open Phil discussing the necessity for an ecology of change that includes mass protest and civil disobedience as a key and neglected piece in recent times. In addition, here is a full report funded by Open Phil on the topic of funding social movement doing civil disobedience. In short, I think that it's not possible to equate the money given to other progressive "activist" groups and money given to TSM as being given for the same theory of change, as they are fundamentally different. So whilst climate NGOs are not neglected, social movements for the climate are.

 

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.

CATF vs TSM - Transformative vs Incremental:  Some comments I have on this is that there are way that TSM are societally transformative in ways that CATF legislation is not. Fundamentally, groups like TSM and XR work to shape public opinion around an issue and build public support for a general cause. This then creates the public weather for groups such as CATF to incrementally change legislation. However, I think where incremental policy fails is when it is premature relative to the public sentiment of the country/world, and open to reversal by future politicians or leaders. A perfect example is the Paris Agreement; a great piece of legislation for the climate - what could go wrong? However when leaders such as Donald Trump choose to leave behind such policies, they are effectively nullified. If the climate was such a central issue to the majority of the American public, such as freedom to marry, then Trump couldn't have withdrawn from similar legislation due to risk of committing political suicide. In this way, I believe TSM do have more transformative and long-lasting effects on the climate as they generate broad-based public support for climate which is generally permanent and continuous, whereas specific policies are open to change every 4 years with each set of new politicians.

 

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.

 

Funding constraints: here seems to be an assumption that because that because the funding has grown by X amount, that Sunrise is no longer funding constrained. The argument I would make the change the prior is that Sunrise has built capacity, through networks of thousands of volunteers, 400 local hubs and so on that have been mentioned, to demand larger policy change from the Biden administration  compared to what was previously possible. Regarding funding constraints, I would actually argue the opposite; As TSM has thousands of engaged volunteers, if it had greater funding capacity, it could look to take on some volunteers into full-time staff positions and greatly increase the capacity and impact of TSM. This alludes to a point I'll make later on and a general theme I see is that yes, this is not as easily quantifiable as the achievements by CATF, yet they are a high-risk and potentially very high-impact investment if it pays off.

 

Risk aversion to social movements: I couldn't find the exact quote from yourself however I get the general gist from your post and comments that funding groups like TSM is sub-optimal relative to CATF due to the difficulty in qualitatively measuring the outcome of such a complex system. I worry this risk-aversion in our funding will constrain us to options that are limited to technological innovation and very discrete policy change (CATF basically) whilst excluding the more opaque, yet still valuable, systems of social movements and people-powered campaigns. 

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.

Whilst slightly off-topic from the current TSM conversation, I believe this has been a large problem throughout EA for years and I can't recall any EA groups giving money to social movements in the past 4-5 years (besides Open Phil giving to Ayni Institute in 2016) which seems ridiculous, given that we've just been talking about the huge impact that groups like TSM, XR, Fridays for Future or people like Greta have had on the climate movement. Generally it seems EA funders are too risk averse (or maybe averse to hits-based giving is more accurate) to fund social movements early on  for potentially a few reasons: 

1) because they don't have enough quantifiable metrics to prove impact or people just don't understand certain practices  (the latter was said to me in a grant application to ACE). Then 3-5 years down the line, we see comments, saying that groups like TSM would have been a great bet 4 years ago. Whilst this is a more general point and off the topic of TSM specifically, it seems like we should reconcile this and start funding social movements earlier.

2) EAs think that social movements aren't effective and therefore assign them a low expected value due to both low probabilities of success and low impact if successful. It seems this we should change our minds on the scale of impact as historically, it's been quite significant. I read higher up about your background in Friends of the Earth so it would be interesting to hear your take on this!

Comment by JamesOz on Why I'm concerned about Giving Green · 2021-01-29T12:26:28.261Z · EA · GW

Whilst I do agree with a good amounts of the point in this critique, such as the need for cost effectiveness, I also have some strong concerns about a few things said in both the general post, as well as some comments.

For context, I've been working with Extinction Rebellion UK (XR UK) full-time for almost two years, since just after they launched, as well as with the slightly newer Animal Rebellion.

To start with, some concerns from the original post:

Similarly, within the field of climate change, progressive climate activism hardly seems neglected.  

and

The case for donations to TSM being impactful on the margin feels thin; The Sunrise Movement has thousands of volunteers and is not obviously funding constrained.

Speaking from my experience at XR, I definitely do think that certain kinds of impactful climate activism are neglected. To give some anecdotal evidence to start, let's talk about XR.  XR was found to be the largest influencer on climate change according to research presented at COP25. Yet, I would say XR is extremely funding constrained currently, having just an income of £46,000 in December 2020, whilst still having thousands of volunteers across the UK.  Two key points I would like to make here are:
 

1. Just because a movement has thousands of volunteers, it does not mean it has a large and steady income stream. You seem to assume this about TSM however logically I don't think it carries any weight. I know for XR and I would wager for TSM too that 50%+ of all donations come not from individuals, but from grant-making bodies or individual philanthropists. My point here is that once this assumption falls, there is no justification for saying TSM is not impactful on the margins, or that TSM isn't funding constrained. I would actually argue the opposite; As TSM has thousands of engaged volunteers, if it had greater funding capacity, it could look to take on some volunteers into full-time staff positions and greatly increase the capacity and impact of TSM.

2. That not all progressive activism is equal. Something I believe that both you and jackva allude to (or directly say)  is that we can lump together a groups such as Friends of the Earth and WWF with TSM and Extinction Rebellion. I think there is a huge distinction between your traditional NGO (FoE and WWF) versus a movement whose priority is shifting public support, mobilising volunteers and using civil disobedience as a theory of change. 

On the second point, I think there is an abundance of traditional NGO climate campaigning - WWF, Greenpeace, FoE and so on. I would say the main theory of change they apply is advising policy and public education.  Whereas if you look at the number of groups who are trying to mobilise a large base of people to engage in non-violent direct action for the climate, I would say there is only two meaningful groups left in this regard: TSM and XR. This is a huge topic that I might make another post generally on the EA Forum about but for the time-being, I'm going to link to an article by someone from Open Phil discussing the necessity for an ecology of change that includes mass protest and civil disobedience as a key and neglected piece in recent times. In addition, here is a full report funded by Open Phil on the topic of funding social movement doing civil disobedience. In short, I think that it's not possible to equate the money given to other progressive "activist" groups and money given to TSM as being given for the same theory of change, as they are fundamentally different. So whilst climate NGOs are not neglected, social movements for the climate are. 

More worrying, TSM’s explicit strategy of attempting to polarise the debate rather than looking for consensus, seems like it could backfire extremely easily.

I think there is a misunderstanding here in what TSM's strategy around polarisation is. From my understanding of Momentum-Driven Organising, the methodology applied by TSM and XR,  that the explicit goal isn't to literally polarise the debate so it becomes more partisan. Rather, the goal is the move people on the spectrum of support from neutral or passive, to active supporters. This might be through taking actions that by consequence polarise the debate, but the explicit goal is never to actually push people further away and I think it's disingenuous to suggest that it is. As we've spoken about at XR, a good action is one that bring more people over to our active supporters side than we might push away, as the aim in our movement is always building people power and public support. While this may feel like a pedantic point to make, I think it's an important distinction.

 

Also I couldn't find the exact quote from yourself however I get the general gist from your post and comments that funding groups like TSM is sub-optimal relative to CATF due to the difficulty in qualitatively measuring the outcome of such a complex system. I worry this risk-aversion in our funding will constrain us to options that are limited to technological innovation and very discrete policy change (CATF basically) whilst excluding the more opaque, yet still valuable, systems of social movements and people-powered campaigns. 

I believe this has been a large problem throughout EA for years and I can't recall any EA groups giving money to social movements in the past 4-5 years (besides Open Phil giving to Ayni Institue in 2016) which seems ridiculous, given that we've just been talking about the huge impact that groups like TSM, XR, Fridays for Future or people like Greta have had on the climate movement. Generally it seems EA funders are too risk averse to fund social movements early on because they don't have enough quantifiable metrics to prove our impact or people just don't certain practices  (the latter was said to me in a grant application to ACE). Then 3-5 years down the line, we see comments like those by jackva above, saying that groups like TSM would have been a great bet 4 years ago. Whilst this is a more general point and off the topic of TSM specifically, it seems like we should reconcile this and start funding social movements earlier.
To close, the comment by jackva:

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.