Why I’m Donating to Giving Green This Year
I am sharing a writeup on my thinking on donating to Giving Green, a new organization that aims to fight climate change with evidence (you can think of it as the new GiveWell for climate change). Comments and questions are welcome.
A few notes:
Below I am pasting the content of a Google Doc I wrote and shared elsewhere, since readers seem to prefer having the actual content in the post. Note that it was optimized for a general rather than EA audience.
I do not intend to argue that EAs should prioritize climate change more or above certain other cause areas. I think this could be a good donation opportunity even if you don’t normally prioritize climate change in your donations, because
Giving Green has the potential of moving a large amount of non-EA donations toward effective climate change mitigation interventions.
The organization has a great team, is currently small and at a critical time of growth.
In some ways they are quite similar to GiveWell (so one factor I used in my decision was the heuristic that, if I had an opportunity to support GiveWell when they started, would that have been a good bet?):
The areas they work in (climate change / global poverty) aren’t necessarily as neglected as areas like existential risk
There is a huge amount of resources going into the areas every year and much of that is spent on ineffective interventions
They introduce an evidence-based approach to improve resource allocation
I am friends and colleagues with some people on the team (and I currently work at IDinsight, which is where Giving Green is being incubated). To convince myself that I’m not just supporting my friends, I did a good amount of due diligence, which you can see in the post.
Here is the actual content:
I’ll write more about my 2020 donations later, but since I’m planning to use a significant fraction of my donations this year (50% or more) to support a new charity, Giving Green, and know a few others who are interested in doing so, I will write up my reasoning and investigations here. Feel free to share with anyone who may be interested.
Brief description of Giving Green: They provide evidence-based recommendations for people who want to donate money or volunteer to fight climate change. If you are familiar with GiveWell, the idea is pretty similar (but for different cause areas).
Why am I excited to support Giving Green
Cause area: Climate change is a really big issue that affects all of us and future generations.
Mission: Giving Green brings an evidence-based approach to fighting climate change. A lot of money goes into this space, but much is spent on things that don’t work or have no evidence behind them. (Similar situations in international development inspired the founding of GiveWell, IDinsight etc.) Giving Green hopes to redirect these resources to things that actually help.
There is a lot of money to be influenced.
Founders’ Pledge has done some great work on this, but I see the value of having an organization that’s dedicated to climate change and tries to reach a broad base of donors. Also, there is a huge donor market, as well as multiple effective organizations that can absorb a lot more funding, so it may make sense for two charity evaluators to co-exist. (More on this later.)
Team: The organization is incubated at IDinsight (an organization that brings data and evidence into international development, which is also where I currently work) and team members currently split their time between the two places. I have worked closely with some of the team (particularly Dan Stein, Chief Economist and Partner at IDisnight, and Nicholas Parker, Head of Strategic Operations at IDinsight) on projects at IDinsight, and think very, very highly of them. I am really excited this stellar group is working on climate issues and bringing their expertise conducting rigorous impact evaluations at IDinsight.
Output: To convince myself and others that I’m not just trying to support my friends, I have read a lot of their materials (close to all of their write ups on policy advocacy), and I really like it. They cite the academic literature, develop a detailed theory of change for the organizations they evaluate, assess whether different parts are likely to hold, and are pretty honest about what they do and don’t know.
Their 2020 research on policy change concluded that it would be effective to support multiple approaches—including “insider” policy advocacy and grassroot activism (represented by their recommendations, the Clean Air Task Force and Sunrise Movement, respectively) -- and hedge against uncertainty (because we don’t know enough to tell which approach is better), which I think is pretty reasonable.
Impact: It is particularly valuable to support a promising charity at its early stage when funding is critical, because without sufficient funding a small organization may not be able to continue its work. Also, Giving Green’s model means their impact can be multiplied: the more people read their research and are influenced, the more impact they will have. (Of course it’s not 100% guaranteed they will succeed, but given all of the above, I think it’s a good bet! One heuristic I used is that, if I had the opportunity to support GiveWell when they started, that would have been a very good bet, and I think Giving Green is comparable.)
Timing: The team might have an easier time getting funded by major donors later in 2021 as the pandemic subsides (the pandemic became the focus of many major donors who shifted away from areas they used to fund, including climate change). However, as of now that is not yet the case, and hence this is a particularly critical period to secure funding. (In addition, continuing their work and building a case for impact now is critical for receiving more funding in the future.)
Giving Green’s Impact So Far and Future Plans
The following is based on a conversation with Nicholas Parker from Giving Green on December 8, 2020. Nicholas Parker and Dan Stein from Giving Green reviewed a draft.
2019 and 2020 Impact
2019 Research: In December 2019, the Giving Green “beta” team published a number of reports on carbon offsets. They concluded that some interventions (including water purification) are ineffective, and recommended BURN’s fuel-efficient stoves.
2020 Research: In December 2020, they published research on policy change, which was the focus of their research during 2020 (see their approach here). Out of the different policy change interventions, they narrowed down on activism and insider policy advocacy, conducted shallow dives, and ended up recommending the Sunrise Movement Education Fund and the Clean Air Task Force for the two types of advocacy work.
2020 Money moved: Within a week after their formal launch on December 1, 2020, Clean Air Task Force received at least 45 donations as a result (lower bound because these were explicitly attributed to Giving Green). BURN also reported a significant amount of donations attributed to Giving Green. These are likely to be lower bounds; Giving Green plans to collect more data and make estimations on money moved in January 2021.
Plans for 2021
Research plan for 2021
More research on US national policy
More research on US state-level policy
Research into investments and divestments
More research on carbon offsets
Communication and outreach plan for 2021
In 2021, Giving Green hopes to direct $2 million to their recommended organizations.
They plan to achieve this through
Advising major donors (including foundations and high net worth individuals): they are already advising a few and talking to many more
Reaching out to individual donors through media coverage and targeted communications (ads, appearing on podcasts, etc.)
Advising corporations on carbon offsetting
Note: I am confident that they will make progress on outreach to foundations and major donors in 2021. According to the team, they made some good progress in early 2021 but most of it was stalled after the pandemic started. Assuming the pandemic will end sometime in 2021, donor attention will shift back to non-COVID-19 issues and there is a good chance they will gain more traction here. (The team already has strong connections with philanthropists through their work at IDinsight, and receive advice from the IDinsight team.)
Other plans for 2021
They plan to work with foundations to improve their grant giving as a consulting team.
They plan to spin out of IDinsight and become an independent organization if they could secure sufficient funding.
Budget and fundraising
They are funded through early 2021 with the funding from Charity Entrepreneurship and individual donors so far
They have a few proposals being considered by foundations but no guarantees
2021 budget: minimum: $120,000; target: $600,000
Planned team composition for 2021:
Research Manager (1-2)
Research Associates (2-3)
Marginal impact of funding: More funding will result in
More staff time, especially for senior researchers (who split their time between Giving Green and IDinsight, and hence more funding will directly enable purchasing of their time) and climate consultants
More communications and outreach work
How to donate
If you are interested in supporting Giving Green, you can donate to them here! For donations over 5,000 USD, please get in touch about sending a cheque. (Giving Green is currently an initiative of IDinsight, so donations will be processed by IDinsight and earmarked for Giving Green.)
Thanks for reading!
Appendix: Comparing Giving Green and Founders’ Pledge’s climate change work
I do not intend to do a head-to-head comparison. The point of this section is to say there are differences, but it’s really hard to tell which one is better—both organizations seem great, and it probably makes sense for them to both carry forward their work.
FP works on many cause areas but have done excellent work on climate change.
GG focuses exclusively on climate change mitigation.
FP has been around for longer (since 2015), and in terms of climate change, their first report was published in 2018. They have likely directed much more money to date.
GG published their beta reports in 2019. I am very optimistic about them given what I’ve seen so far, but given that they are so young, I will definitely follow their progress to see how things are going.
FP advises their members (founders who took the pledge) and some other major donors, but also allows anyone to participate by contributing to their climate change fund. They have also been featured in mainstream media reporting on climate change-related donations (e.g. Vox).
GG’s target audience is composed of:
Retail donors looking to direct small donations to existing non-profits
Individuals or businesses who would like to offset the carbon impact of their activities
Private Investors who want to support businesses that help fight climate change
Foundations looking to support new or ongoing initiatives to fight climate change
Global Climate Funds such as the Climate Investment Fund (CIF), and Green Climate Fund (GCF), who need to use evidence to direct their investments
Governments participating in global climate agreements (such as the Paris and Kyoto accords) who may have the option to achieve their emission reduction targets by investing in GHG-reducing projects in other countries.
It looks like both are trying to reach a broad audience, though GG seems to have a more explicit goal to do so. I also think GG’s branding and outreach strategy may be optimized for this purpose (including reaching a broad base of donors who don’t necessarily identify with Effective Altruism), but I am uncertain about it.
Approach to quantitative cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA):
FP includes quantitative CEA in their 2018 climate change report. While a CEA on a topic with as much uncertainty will inherently have heavily subjective elements, they seem to have done a good job on this.
GG focuses on establishing effectiveness and does not conduct quantitative CEA due to the large uncertainty in this area. If they decided to require a quantitative CEA, for instance, they may not have been able to recommend organizations for which a quantitative CEA would be extremely difficult, which would include many policy advocacy groups.
In my years thinking about Effective Altruism I remain pretty unsure which approach is better for analyzing questions that have very high uncertainty (unlike interventions like those of GiveWell’s top charities). I like that FP tries to put down numbers—I think it’s a really valuable exercise whenever possible—but I am also concerned that this leads them to only recommend organizations more amenable to quantitative CEAs. (It’s also unclear if they are still following this approach—there is no mention of a quantitative CEA in their more recently published executive summary on climate change, and we will wait to see more when they update their climate change report in late 2020.)
In the end, I think it’s nice to have another organization like GG who takes a different approach—one without quantitative CEA, which is pretty reasonable given the large uncertainties. This may allow them to recommend organizations that are good but have harder-to-quantify impacts, which is pretty valuable for this space.
(Note: Not every organization aligned with Effective Altruism uses quantitative CEA to make decisions. Notably the Open Philanthropy Project does not seem to use it, although they advise a few major donors rather than individual donors, and take the approach of “hits-based giving”.)