I love this post. It singles out a very specific problem and tackles it very thoughtfully.On website blockers: I have also quitted them regularly but since I have started using ColdTurkey I have quitted much less. I think it’s better than other blockers. For myself, family life has done the trick of making me go to bed at a reasonable hour. But as soon as my wife and kids are gone for a day or two, I (regrettably!) just stay up forever. One of the reasons why I do so (and which doesn’t come up on your list) is that my mood often happens to be very good when I stay up late and I also enter flow states more easily when working late at night.
Thanks for this!
Great!And just to add a small comment: The country of origin does not only affect transport distance but also the legal standards for animal welfare (and to a lesser extent how much GHGs are involved in production). My impression is that many people overrate this. They think “Oh yes, there is horrible animal farming elsewhere - but I only eat meat from my own country and surely everything is much better here.” It would be nice to have something to counter this objection.
This is really nicely done and it is exactly what many are looking for. Thank you so much! If it is to be shared more widely it might help to add a remark about how sensitive the results are to which country the animal products are from and whether they’re organic or not. The reason for this being that many in the public sphere (and not infrequently wrongly) assume that this makes a crucial difference.
This is tangential but I wonder whether there are side-benefits for unrelated areas if humanity collectively engages in thinking about how it would design a space governance framework. Some past thinkers used the literary device of utopias in order to think about real-world problems. In the same way, putting us in the mindset of creating rules for space governance from scratch could be a helpful exercise and helpful priming in order to solve other (short-term, earth-bound) problems.
Here’s one piece of research—it’d be wonderful if there were much more in this vein: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/mKGbeX5tQu4zshY4j/alice-redfern-moral-weights-in-the-developing-world
Nice and helpful—thanks!
I’ve always been fascinated by the biblical vision of a perfect world which features the lion and the lamb (etc) living together peacefully: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_lamb_and_lion
It might be interesting to sift through the history of humanity in order to collect further pre-1970 visions which lament WAS or which feature a utopia without WAS. I know extremely little about Buddhism, Hinduism, etc but given the links between humans and animals via rebirths: isn’t the Nirvana as a state without suffering also the ultimate vision for wild animals? Also, there is the biblical new testament reference to the *whole* creation groaning and waiting for redemption.
WHAT: A book like “Strangers Drowning”, but focused on the “E” of EA rather than the “A” of EA.
WHY: narrative can be such a tremendous force in changing people’s lives. It’s often more powerful than argument (even for brainy people).
There’s already a lot of world literature and newspaper stories on people who have been tremendously altruistic. There is much less literature about people who have been tremendously altruistic and—this is key—have been motivated by their altruism to care about effectiveness and listen to the evidence.
I’d love to have a book with biographies or stories that traces—in narrative rather than argument—people whose love for others has pushed them to care about effectiveness, care about evidence, and generally care about a results-oriented outlook that focuses on what ‘really works at the end of the day’. (Note that the book should not generally be about people who care about effectiveness and evidence—but only about people who have deliberately chosen to do so out of altruism (rather than, say, out nerdiness)).
Possible biographies could include: Florence Nightingale, Ignaz Semmelweis, Deng Xiaoping, figures from EA and utilitarianism, some theologians in the 2nd world war who pragmatically looked towards ending the killing (Bonhoeffer, Barth, etc?), etc. Not vouching for this list of examples at all—it’s more to give an idea.
By the way, creating such a book could be a project for EAs with a different skillset than the cliché EAs.
Thanks for this! Very interesting.
And really sorry for replying only now—I somehow missed this and only saw it now.
--- On population increase: yes, many Christians work towards population increase but it’s equally true that many Christians don’t. An interesting side remark is that the influential passage Genesis 1,28 on which pro-natalism is often based calls for *filling* the earth. Arguably, humanity can claim to have unlocked this achievement. We can tick it off our To-Do-List. (Also, in terms of background information, my view that determining the optimal population size might be God’s task rather than a human task started with this blogpost: https://greenfutureethics.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/god-as-a-solution-for-population-paradoxes)
--- On miracles: One thing is that I find it a bit hard to exclude miracles from classical theism. But even if we exclude them (or understand them to be compatible with natural laws) and even if we understand God to act within the causal history of the universe, one thing we surely can’t exclude in classical theism is that God acts in addition to human agency (including acts which might be surprising). To the extent that this is true, Christian concern with x-risks should continue to be somewhat mitigated relative to the atheist’s concern?
--- And thanks for the helpful observation that the blogpost unhelpfully avoids clear upshots (and thus also avoids responsibility for actions that might follow from it). The thing is: I find it genuinely extremely hard to think about the right approach to long-termism from a Christian perspective and this actually was *merely* a start. The parliamentary model etc would indeed be needed to derive actionable conclusions. (And, just to say, I do agree with many EAs that the far future should definitely receive more consideration than it typically does).
Thanks for this, Michael! I will look at it.
Great to put the climate externality of a child explicitly in relation to other positive and negative values that come with having a child. Thanks for doing this and doing it so well.
A question: where else in the population ethics debate can I find the kind of reasoning that you employ? More specifically, where else can I find (1) lists of the bazillion positive and negative externalities of an additional child and (2) some argument—however weak—that takes us beyond agnosticism on the question whether an additional child is overall a *net* positive or negative externality (and, in case it is a net negative externality, where can I find some argument—however weak—whether it is *sufficiently* net negative so as to outweigh the value that the life has to the child itself)?
PS: I’ve laid out 9 further reasons (plus a version of the point that you make) why the initially appealing case for less children here is surprisingly unclear at closer inspection: https://twitter.com/dominicroser/status/1228295710740766721 I’ve grown convinced that the climate case for less children is much more difficult than people think and think it’s important to highlight this fact.
Thanks a lot for this pointer!
An odd observation: He cites someone who’s done such stuff before—John Nolt, a philosopher. He himself is professor of the psychology of music. I think the calculations of both of them are extremely useful (even if extremely speculative). But there’s a big question here: what prevented *scientists* from offering such numbers? Are they too afraid of publishing guesstimates? Does it not occur to them that these numbers are utterly relevant for the debate?
If the case for growth in rich and poor is very different (possibly negative in the one but not the other case), then it starts to matter a lot whether we can promote growth in poor countries without promoting growth in rich countries as a side-effect. I don’t know how the proposed interventions fare in this respect?
You asked for other examples. The following two examples are certainly not the most relevant but they are interesting:
-- Benjamin Franklin, in his will, left £1,000 pounds each to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, with the proviso that the money should be invested for 100 years, with 25 percent of the principal to be invested for a further 100 years. As a result, Boston wound up in 1990 with a fund of over $5 million, Philadelphia with $2.3 million.) [copy-pasted from a book review by Joseph Heathe in Ethics]
-- From Cliff Landesman’s 1995 2-page-paper (http://bit.ly/2QETQ9Z) ): “I and a dozen or so nickel and dime philanthropists belong to the 2492 Club. We each contributed less than $25 to open a Giftrust mutual fund account (#25000044879) with Twentieth Century Investors. With luck, a millennium after Columbus landed in America, this account will pay out its accumulated value (expected to exceed the equivalent of 26 million in 1992 dollars) to Oxfam America, an organization that fights hunger in partnership with poor people around the world. Other altruistic gamblers who wish to join the 2492 Club, hoping to influence events centuries from now, and betting that current conditions will prevail for another 500 years, should contact the author or Oxfam America.”
PS: In trying to remember where I found the quotes I came across the following two papers which pre-date the current EA discussion and I just post them here in case anyone who’s interested in this stuff hasn’t noted them: Dan Moller’s 2006 paper “Should we let people starve—for now?” (http://bit.ly/2TgJz5T) or Laura Valentini’s 2011 paper “On the duty to withhold global aid now to save more lives in the future” (http://bit.ly/37TbxIG) .
Also, some ways of mitigating climate change have (positive or negative) side benefits* for humanity’s ability to solve other upcoming challenges, such as AI safety or pandemics. And from an EA perspective, these latter challenges might possibly be higher priority than climate change. Thus, there’s a further avenue for EAs who do not care much about climate change to “harness” the current societal focus on climate change for EA-aligned goals.
*For example, I’m thinking of side benefits of strategies such as:
-- strengthening global cooperation
-- spreading a radically technology-friendly mindset among greens
-- fighting anti-science trends in society
A very general remark on this: “There are plenty of potential weaknesses to advocacy-based interventions compared to more direct interventions. One large concern we have is understanding the impact of organisations in this space.”
Federally organized constituencies (Switzerland, US, etc) are a great thing for political scientists: you can compare the effect of policies or advocacy campaigns in different sub-national jurisdictions which are very similar. (Not sure whether this is of any help in your case, though).
PS: Just to add: fantastic initiative. Curious to hear how it’s developing!
I’ve written a blogpost on whether Christians should share the emphasis that many EAs put on the long term, including extinction risks. Since this fits nicely with your aim in this blogpost—i.e. whether *many* worldviews should prioritise existential risks—I thought I’d mention it here: https://eachdiscussion.wordpress.com/2019/04/06/how-much-should-christian-eas-care-about-the-far-future-part-i/
Thanks for the *great* discussion.
One question that was raised is whether there is a trade-off between Impact Investing and donations. I am not sure whether one of the biggest reasons for the existence of such a trade-off has been mentioned so far: People who invest socially responsibly feel more comfortable about owning that money and may therefore be less prone to donations. Conversely, people who feel that they are earning their money in illegitimate ways may feel under more pressure to give it away.
I don’t have any data to support this claim. It’s merely my personal impression that *a lot* of my non-EA friends who care about poverty, animals, etc. are much drawn to the idea that what they should *really* be doing is aiming at clean hands by investing & consuming ethically. They feel that if they earned & spend their money in a clean way, any donations are then superogatory.
Because of this sense, I often strategically try to undermine people’s belief in impact investing—in order to convince them that it’s (at the very least) not a comprehensive solution and that donations are crucial as well. Neither Gabe nor Max claimed that it’s a comprehensive solution but I believe that people perceive it as such. And this perception implies that there are significant trade-off in promoting impact investments rather than donations.
P.S.: One solution to that would of course be to promote impact investing but *frame* it such that people don’t feel like they can refrain from donations simply because the money was earned in a “clean” way.
Thanks so much, Sophie, for this very rich and helpful text!
I’d be very interested to hear more about this claim: “In Judaism, “tzedaka” is the idea of donating a certain portion of one’s income to /effective/ charities on a regular basis.” Is there anyone specific I could ask or anything specific I could read on the relation of tzedaka and effectiveness?
[Two minor corrections: I think the reference to Eric Gregory’s work is missing. And, churches going back to Wesley (such as the United Methodist Church) have much more than half a million members—a pity they don’t follow Wesley’s advice....]