Interactive Graph of Climate Change Intervention Effects + Reflections

My friend Bran­don Liu in­tro­duced me to this in­ter­ac­tive calcu­la­tor, show­ing differ­ent poli­cies and their effects on global cli­mate change. Here is the FAQ for the simu­la­tor.

It’s quite in-depth and al­lows tweak­ing many differ­ent fac­tors and as­sump­tions, and it also shows many differ­ent charts. Some gen­eral take­aways from play­ing with the calcu­la­tor which were sur­pris­ing for me and might be worth dis­cussing:

1. Re­duc­ing de­foresta­tion does very lit­tle to help re­duce global tem­per­a­tures by 2100. I know that the de­fault EA po­si­tion on cli­mate change as of a few years back was “sup­port CoolEarth be­cause Do­ing Good Bet­ter said it was cost-effec­tive”, and I’m not sure how it’s changed since. But it seems worth point­ing out that the over­all benefit from re­duc­ing de­foresta­tion (and also plan­ing more trees ala af­foresta­tion) seems likely to have a very low up­per-bound on its benefit.

2. Car­bon cap­ture tech­nolo­gies, in the most op­ti­mistic case, does help, but re­duc­ing emis­sions via car­bon tax­ing/​pric­ing still plays a big­ger role. I’d pre­vi­ously pri­ori­tized such re­search be­cause it seems like one of the few ways we can go car­bon-nega­tive. How­ever, it seems like this simu­la­tion as­sumes we can’t scale up the tech fast enough to bring us back to 2010 tem­per­a­tures, even with the most op­ti­mistic set­tings the simu­la­tion al­lows.

(I note be­ing con­fused by this be­cause of pre­vi­ous con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple who have men­tioned that other types of geo­eng­ineer­ing in­ter­ven­tions like in­ject­ing sul­fate aerosols into the at­mo­sphere to help with global cool­ing could be eas­ily de­ployed, and I don’t think the model ac­counts for these sorts of strate­gies.)

3. As a re­sult of 2., it seems that poli­cies which price car­bon higher seem like one of the high­est things to pri­ori­tize, if you be­lieve their mod­els for how this changes our en­ergy con­sump­tion pro­file (e.g. shift­ing from coal to re­new­ables, etc. etc.)

4. Techno-op­ti­mism is likely overop­ti­mistic. Even in the best-best-case sce­nario, where we in­sti­tute the heav­iest car­bon pric­ing strat­egy, as­sume max­i­mum re­search into more effi­cient fuels, as­sume heavy sub­sidies and taxes for clean/​dirty en­ergy, and as­sume max­i­mum en­ergy effi­ciency and elec­trifi­ca­tion across all sec­tors, e.g. the techno-utopia sce­nario, we’re still look­ing at 2C of warm­ing by 2100.

5. De­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion growth by it­self has a very small im­pact, which ren­ders ar­gu­ments like these quite weak. (Of course, there are also other moral con­cerns re­gard­ing efforts to re­duce pop­u­la­tion growth, but I’m just point­ing out that the pro­po­nents lose, even on their own grounds.)

6. Costs for adap­ta­tion are un­ad­dressed. If we ad­mit that it looks very, very difficult to get emis­sions down to where they need to be by 2100, then if we want to main­tain the same stan­dards of liv­ing, plau­si­bly next thing to look into is ways of liv­ing which can deal with hot­ter sur­face tem­per­a­tures, e.g. liv­ing un­der­ground. I’m un­sure what the re­search for that looks like, or who’s been work­ing on this.

Over­all, I think this is a fan­tas­tic tool that em­bod­ies a lot of the EA val­ues, that’s com­ing from a non-EA source. I think other EA is­sues could benefit from a similar sort of calcu­la­tor. For other peo­ple who were con­fused about the scale of differ­ent in­ter­ven­tions, I hope this proves to be a valuable aid.