I’m super grateful for the work y’all are doing. It seems likely that a more sophisticated analysis of this topic, in conjunction with the studies that estimate the expected costs of each metric ton of CO2e, may show that a climate activism intervention is one of the most impactful sectors for our donations. This may be particularly true when considering the long-term/existential risks that the economic impact studies neglect.
If these estimates are in the right ballpark and someone creates the equivalent of a carbon offset credit certificate that the public/corporations find legitimate enough, I think this could funnel a lot of money into far more effective emission reduction schemes than traditional carbon offset programs. Plus, such an offset protocol wouldn’t suffer from many of the shortcomings of current offset credit approaches, which most left-leaning people/organizations find too apolitical, unfair, and parochial.Here are some additional reasons why these figures may be overly conservative on the full benefits of climate activism:1. Reductions in CO2e are only one direct benefit of reduced fossil fuel emissions. Another well-studied, direct, non-politicized effect of these efforts is the reduction of particulate matter, which Open Philanthropy is considering as one of its high-impact sectors because of its enormous harms on human health.
2. It seems likely that many of the lowest-hanging fruits in the climate activism fight may have already been achieved in the American context (i.e., the impact of any additional donations may be much lower than the average stated). However, because (1) a metric ton of CO2e has the same effect regardless of where it is emitted, (2) one can presume a lower cost of activism for any assumed increase in the likelihood of success for any given bill in developing nations (e.g., India), and (3) the highest-impact, lowest-hanging fruits may still be available in developing nations, we can assume that climate activism may have even lower costs in the international context. Further, international areas are even more dependant on particulate-matter-producing coal plants, making their positive impact significantly higher.
3. These estimates only consider the federal-level effects of climate activism, but the Sunrise Movement’s scattered grassroots approach undoubtedly has large effects on local and state climate policies.
Super excited for this research to get increasingly sophisticated, to expand to the international context, to include particulate matter, and to be combined with cost estimates that include both short- and long-term risks!
Hello Manny, thanks for the encouragement and good ideas! Some quick responses to your points:
Yes, reduction in particulate matter is super-important, and we haven’t incorporated this into our CEAs. Measuring the social cost (of both CO2 and particular matter) is pretty tough/controversial, but in the future we’d like to incorporate this kind of thinking into our models.
Yes, this is a good point. We’ve focused on the US because we have a comparative knowledge from our understanding of the US context, and also as a large emitter changes in US federal policy can have really big effects. But it wouldn’t surprise me if there are great opportunities in other contexts. As Giving Green grows, we hope to expand our research to more contexts.
Yes, this is certainly true, and would mean our estimates of overly conservative.
Finally, I’d say that I don’t really think that the carbon markets are a promising form of funding for activism. Corporation (who are the primary buyers of carbon credits) seek certainty of emissions reductions so that they can make their “carbon-neutral” commitments (no matter how sketchy this may be in practice.) I don’t think many corporations are going to have hunger for less certain and politically controversial activist “offsets”. I think this space will have to be funded by philanthropy.