I’m strongly inclined to support this, but the abstract doesn’t say what the money would be spent on, or explain how this can lead to more spending on previously neglected R&D. Care to comment before I read the entire document?
Also, the very first graph says “CO2 emissions by region in the NPS”, but what’s the NPS?
Also, what is your relationship to the stated authors Hart & Cunliff [edit: I see they are not the authors, rather they are evaluated by the document], and how does Bill Gates fit in?
Well, I’ve worked on “non-EA projects” and I’ve “accrued career capital” (in the software industry) but I don’t think I could just flip a switch and start working on EA projects with other EA people. At present it’s easier to get into the EA hotel than to get a grant from an EA org, which in turn is probably easier than getting a job at an EA org. And note that if I got a grant I would still be isolated from other EAs as I don’t live near an EA hub; EA hotel solves the “loneliness” problem.
Of note: this newer post argues persuasively for the hotel in a different way than OP or me.
Even addressed problems can be addressed inefficiently
This is a good generalization to make from the climate change post last month. I argued in a comment that while climate action is well-funded as a category, I knew of a specific intervention that seems important, easily tractable & neglected. We can probably find similar niches in other well-funded areas.
I was increasingly seeing a movement in Foundation World towards better frameworks around understanding and reporting on net impact. While EA takes this idea to an extreme I didn’t understand why this community needed to be so removed from the conversations (and access to capital) that were simultaneously happening in other parts of the social sector.
I suppose EA grew from a different group of people with a different mindset than traditional charities, so I wouldn’t expect connections to exist between EA and other nonprofits (assuming this is a synonym for “the social sector”) until people step forward to create connections. Might we need liasons focused full time on bridging this gap?
At the beginning of the curve, down and to the left, we see that there is a smaller amount of capital circulating through approaches that aren’t that effective.
On the far left, interventions can have negative value.
Thanks. Today I saw somebody point to Peter Singer and Toby Ord as the origin of EA, so I Googled around. I found that the term itself was chosen by 80000 hours and GWWC in 2012.
In turn, GWWC was founded by Toby Ord and William MacAskill (both at Oxford), and 80,000 hours was founded by William MacAskill and Benjamin Todd.
(incidentally, though, Eliezer Yudkowsky had used “effective” as an adjective on “altruist” back in 2007 and someone called Anand had made a “EffectiveAltruism” page in 2003 on the SL4 wiki; note that Yudkowsky started SL4 and LessWrong, and with Robin Hanson et al started OvercomingBias.)
I thought surely there was some further connection between EA and LessWrong/rationalism (otherwise where did my belief come from?) so I looked further. This history of LessWrong page lists EA as a “prominent idea” to have grown out of LessWrong but offers no explanation or evidence. LessWrong doesn’t seem to publish the join-date of its members but it seems to report that the earliest posts of “wdmacaskill” and “Benjamin_Todd” are “7y” ago (the “Load More” command has no effect beyond that date), while “Toby_Ord” goes back “10y” (so roughly 2009). From his messages I can see that Toby was also a member of Overcoming Bias. So Toby’s thinking would have been influenced by LessWrong/Yudkowskian rationalism, while for the others the connection isn’t clear.
that they should be a less painful way
as the least method of killing
It’s a risk, to be sure, that the aggregate suffering of insects would exceed the same weight in cattle; however it’s probably uncommon to expect that so I, like nshepperd, am curious where your expectation comes from. (which reminds me, I’m sure glad somebody has ideas about how to do consciousness research—I couldn’t possibly!)
I was reading somewhere on this forum recently a post that was about how EA is a set of beliefs and approaches, and shouldn’t aspire to be a group or movement.
I think of EA as a culture. IIUC there was a community called Overcoming Bias which became LessWrong, a community based on a roughly-agreed-upon set of axioms and approaches that led to a set of beliefs and a subculture; EA branched off from this [edit: no, not really, see replies] to form a closely related subculture, which “EA organizations” represent and foster.
It seems to be a “movement” because it is spreading messages and taking action, but I think its “movement-ness” is a natural consequence of its founding principles rather than a defining characteristic. Interestingly, I discovered EA/rationalism somewhat recently, but my beliefs fit into EA and rationalism like a hand in a glove. Personally, I am more attracted to being in an “EA culture” than an “EA movement” because I previously felt sort of like the only one of my kind—a lonely situation!
[Addendum:] I think this post is making a great point, that there is good to be done by, for example,
EAs learning practical lessons from other organizations
EAs promoting straightforward techniques for figuring out how to do good effectively
EAs making specific suggestions about ways to be more effective
But I also think that, if you want to do more than simply donate to effective charities—if you want to participate in EA culture and/or do “EA projects”—there is a lot to learn before you can do so effectively, especially if you aren’t already oriented toward a scientific way of thinking. This learning takes some time and dedication. So it seems that we should expect a cultural divide between EAs (or at least the “core” EAs who use EA approaches/beliefs on a day-to-day basis) and other people (who might still be EAs in the sense of choosing to give to effective charities, but never immerse themselves in the culture.)
[P.S.] Since you mentioned optics, I wonder if this divide might be better framed not as a “cultural” divide, but an “educational” divide. We don’t think of “people with science degrees” as being in a “different culture” than everyone else, and I’m basically saying that the difference between core EAs and altruistic non-EAs is a matter of education.
[On the other hand, in my mind, EA feels tied to rationalism because I learned both together—and rationalism is more than an ordinary education. (The rationalist in me points out that the two could be separated, though.) There are scientists who only act like scientists when they are in the lab, and follow a different culture and a different way of thinking elsewhere; more generally, people can compartmentalize their education so that it doesn’t affect them outside a workplace. Rationalism as promoted by the likes of Yudkowsky explicitly frowns on this and encourages us to follow virtues of rationality throughout our lives. In this way rationalism is a lifestyle, not just an education, and thinking of EA the same way appeals to me.]
I live in a place with no established EA community and I don’t see myself working on a project part-time with no oversight because I’ve been there, done that, and largely failed, because in the long term, isolation was hard for me. Charity Entrepreneurship? This is the first I’ve heard of it. For me, moving to a place like EA hotel would be a great way to “break into” the EA community; paying my way at an EA hotel (£10/day) is more attractive to me than attempting to get a job in an expensive EA hub like SF or NY, since I already tried to do that and failed. [That said I’m not going to this EA hotel since I’m not British.]
Remember that we’re not all Ivy league here. I graduated merely with honors from a local university.
Intuitively I’m inclined to agree that the probability of very high or low climate sensitivities is overestimated due to the existence of a few separate lines of evidence that give us similar estimates, and because some studies have used inappropriate priors.
But I’ve heard climate science experts say it’s harder to “nail down” the upper end of the ECS range, IIUC because of the multiplicative nature of positive feedbacks. A simple blackbody model of Earth with no feedbacks says that doubling CO2 would give us about 1.1°C of warming (IIRC) but there are several feedbacks in which a temperature increase causes a larger temperature increase: water vapour, ice albedo, permafrost melt (not technically included in ECS, but worth considering along with the effect of destabilizing shallow clathrates, if any), cloud feedback (thought to be small), a potential increase in drought leading to higher albedo, changes to the oceanic depth-temperature gradient / changes to ocean currents (which reminds me, global warming could ultimately cause cooling in Europe which implies that if the ECS is X, the typical warming would be above X outside Europe, and as I have noted elsewhere in this discussion, the land will warm more than the ocean surface at equilibrium).
When you stack the PDF of all the feedbacks together, the tail of the distribution gets uncomfortably long. (I didn’t read much of Annan & Hargreaves so if their analysis specifically addresses the “stacking” of feedbacks, let me know.) [Overall, there have been new papers suggesting we can constrain ECS below 4° and others saying we can’t, so I think we need to give the dust some time to settle—while still looking for tractable things we can do in this area.]
Note that the historical data on the ECS doesn’t help much to constrain the upper end of the temperature range because ECS is likely not independent from initial temperature; we’ll be reaching temperature zones Earth hasn’t had for many millions of years, and we don’t have very solid data going back beyond 800,000 years.
I’d agree that “urgency” is subsumed by “importance”, but it’s also worth pointing out explicitly, as something that might be overlooked if it is not mentioned.
I have a thought about EA hotel which this analysis likely doesn’t capture: the general intuition that EAs should be taken care of—that we should “take care of our own”.
Today I read that research by Holt-Lunstad “shows that being disconnected [lonely] poses comparable danger to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is more predictive of early death than the effects of air pollution or physical inactivity.” While I’m not exactly lonely*, I have no EA friends (my city is not an EA hub), and my productivity is extremely low as I’m (1) currently unemployed and (2) have virtually stopped working on altruistic projects due to a lack of emotional support and a loss of faith that I can succeed**. I may soon get a job and will then earn-at-least-partly-to-give (probable donations: $15,000/yr, perhaps more later), but this is not as fulfilling as a project would be, or as fulfilling as EA friendships would be. I’ve tried job hunting in the Bay Area where I might have been able to be near EAs, but was turned down by a few companies and gave up; besides, the idea of spending roughly 100% of the additional income I would earn in the Bay Area on rent… it’s repugnant.
By extension, I believe that for some EAs, EA hotels could offer improvements to mental heath and future good-doing potential that aren’t otherwise available. Intuitively, it seems like the EA community ought to be able to take care of its own adherents. One simple justification of this is simply that poorer mental health limits the amount of good done by each EA; another one is that if the EA movement can’t take care of its non-central members, it will be more difficult to grow and spread the movement; e.g. a reputation for loneliness among EAs would suggest to others that they shouldn’t become an EA, and EAs who are lonely are less likely to encourage others to become EAs.
Since creating more EAs presumably creates more good in the world—especially as we can anticipate exponential growth—the question of how to create more EAs is valuable to ponder. While EA hotels (and similar projects) are not a solution by themselves, they may be an important component of such growth. So the EA hotel is one of my favorite ideas and if I were in the UK I might be living there now.
* I live with my best friend, who doesn’t think at all like a EA/rationalist. I’m also married to a non-EA but the Canadian government keeps us separated (thanks IRCC). But this touches on a related issue—I plan to have a child, and as long as we don’t have a rationalist/EA Sunday School system to teach our values, I’m curious whether growing up inside or close to an EA hotel would work as a substitute. Seems worth a try!
** as I’m writing software, the value of the project is a highly nonlinear function of the input effort, requiring much more manpower to become valuable, i.e. a minimum viable product. Working on it has become harder in turns of willpower requirement over the years.
I don’t understand the formula that appears after “For each of our variables, we define a relative version:”, could you clarify? Then its says “Remember that rVresident...” but I can’t “remember”, since there’s no definition of it earlier (only of rV). A definition of rVresident appears later [but it incorporates new concepts R and W that aren’t defined very clearly (what’s a “resource” and what exactly does “value after controlling for resources” mean, for those of us that are not statisticians? Well, you start to elaborate on W, but … by this point I’m confused enough to find the discussion harder to follow.)]
I’m curious why psychedelics aren’t talked about more...
For me, because I didn’t know. Insofar as evidence exists, I’m interested. [Edit: to be an EA focus area, it would have to score well in the importance/tractability/neglectedness framework—might tractability be a problem here?]
I imagine drugs are a more political realm than EA usually goes for, but there are various reasons to build up expertise in political areas—communication, persuasion, lobbying—beyond this particular cause area.
This post is satire. Some of these reasons are good and some of them are bad...
Ahh, you might want to lead with that.
Since I don’t have EA friends or an EA spouse, avoiding meat can be difficult and I’ve settled for “reducetarian”.
Someone pointed me to this video by Jesse Jenkins at MIT who models the cost of electricity systems in the context of a goal to reach zero carbon emissions. The video shows how nuclear would play an important role even if a nuclear plant costs 6 times as much to build as a natural gas plant. When I saw this video I thought “wait, if new renewables eventually lose so much value that expensive nuclear plants start looking attractive, just how the heck could we convince every country in the world to replace all their fossil fuels?” Since we know how to make nuclear cheaper, the obvious answer is, let’s do that.
I think the zero-goal matters because (1) if you plan for, say, 50% reduction, or even 66%, you might end up with a very different course of action than if you plan for 100% reduction. Specifically, I’m concerned that a renewable-heavy plan may be able to reduce emissions 50% straightforwardly but that the final 25-45% will be very difficult, and that a course correction later may be harder than it is now; (2) most people and groups are focused on marginal emissions reductions rather than reaching zero, so they are planning incorrectly. I trust the EA/rationalist ethos more than any other, to help this community analyze this issue holistically, mindful of the zero-goal, and to properly consider S-risks and X-risks.
It also doesn’t make a great deal of sense to combine intermittent renewables with nuclear
Although you’re right, it appears the renewables juggernaut is unstoppable, and mass production for affordable reactors will require about 15 years to spin up, during which time renewables will be the only game in town. For that reason, MSR vendors want to use huge silos of solar salt to store energy when renewables are going strong, which they can discharge when the renewables start losing power. In this way the nuclear reactor can usually go at full power, albeit at the cost of extra turbines and solar salt (so named because it was pioneered by concentrated solar power technology).
Educating away people’s political convictions has seen very limited success when it comes to convincing them that radical action on climate is needed.
I would point out that this has been largely liberals trying to convince conservatives about climate science; cross-tribe communication is pretty difficult. Indeed, I wonder if support for nuclear among conservatives stems as much from opposing the “liberal media”’s scare mongering than anything else. There’s been some success, at least on the left, from efforts to get the word out about “the” 97% consensus among climate scientists. Educating people on the left seems like an easier problem—there are die-hard anti-nukes who can’t be convinced, but they’re a small minority.
AFAIK no one has seriously attempted the educational resource I propose, so before saying it can’t work I think it’s worth trying. We do have some stuff like Gordon McDowell’s videos that basically targets maven personalities like myself, but I found that it still doesn’t provide all the information I need to get a complete mental model for nuclear power. An educational site is not enough by itself to change public opinion, but it could at least be valuable to maven-type people who want to change minds about nuclear power but don’t have good sources of information that they can link to and learn from.
Public opinion is a very hard nut to crack, but what about the media? I would guess that influencers like Jon Oliver probably got some of their information from SkepticalScience, so I think public education may be able to percolate to the people by first percolating up to the media.
Nuclear energy is unpopular.
I am very much aware. That’s what I think we should take steps to address. Providing educational resources isn’t enough by itself, but it’s a necessary step.
I’d like to make a few points based on my knowledge as someone who studies climate science issues as a hobby. I’m a member of the volunteer team at SkepticalScience (an anti-climate-misinformation site).
[edits/additions in square brackets; original version contained mistakes]
First, humanity needs to reduce carbon emissions all the way to zero or below, because natural removal of CO2 from the climate system is extraordinarily slow. 50% is too much; 25% is too much. Zero. Popularly-considered strategies for mitigating global warming won’t achieve that. Optimistic IPCC scenarios like like RCP 2.6 assume technology will also be widely deployed to remove CO2 from the air. Things like tree planting that increase biomass can slow down the increase of CO2 but can’t stop it even briefly; other ideas for carbon sequestration are not economical [AFAIK] and it’s irresponsible to simply assume an economical technology for this will be invented. Therefore, we need to switch to 100% clean energy, and do so as soon as possible.
In my opinion the best thing the EA community can do (under the importance-tractability-neglectedness framework) is to study and support nuclear energy in some affordable way. In the past, the push for climate change mitigation has come from traditional environmentalists, who have fought against nuclear power since at least the early 1980s and mostly haven’t reconsidered. This is evident from the many campaigns for “renewable energy” rather than “clean” or even “sustainable” energy. EA can fill a gap here. My favorite thing is to ask people to support new, inexpensive Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) designs. But probably the cheapest thing we can do is a web site. I think there is a real need for a web site about nuclear facts (or clean energy facts generally), something that debunks myths like SkepticalScience does for climate science, and also provides information that isn’t adequately available on the web right now, about such topics as the risks of radiation, the types and quantities of nuclear waste, and the ways nuclear regulations have improved safety (albeit increasing costs). And, of course, it would go into some detail about MSRs and other affordable next-generation reactor designs. As EAs are not funded by the nuclear industry, they could be a credible independent voice.
Solar power makes great sense in a lot of tropical places, but in northern climates like Canada it doesn’t, as peak energy use happens in the wintertime when the sun is very weak. AFAICT this makes solar in Canada into a nuisance, a potential roadblock as we get close to 100% clean energy (why would we deploy more clean energy if existing solar power makes it redundant for half of each year?). Without nuclear power, our main source of energy [in such climates] would probably have to be wind, and I’m very concerned that the cost of relying mostly on wind power would be prohibitive, especially in a free-market system. I don’t know the exact numbers, but once we exceed something like 25%-30% average wind power, instantaneous wind power will often exceed 100% of demand, after which wind turbines are likely to become less and less economical. (Epistemic status: educated guess [but after I posted this someone pointed me to a presentation by an expert, which says solar value starts to decline well before 25-30% penetration])
[Meanwhile, right now nuclear advocates often rely on bare assertions, some of which are wrong. Without credible-but-readable sources—plain language explanations that cite textbooks, scientific literature and government reports—it’s hard to convince intellectuals and reasonable skeptics to change their mind. Anti-nukes can simply assert that claims that make nuclear power look not-scary are nuclear-industry propaganda. Note that nuclear power relies on public opinion much more than renewables currently do—company are free to design and build new wind turbines, but nuclear power is, of necessity, highly regulated and its continued existence relies on political will, which in turn flows from popular opinion. Witness the blanket shutdown of all nuclear power in Germany. Hence the motivation for an educational site.]
By contrast, it seems clear to me that mass-produced MSRs can [theoretically] be cheaper than today’s CCGTs (natural gas plants). I’ve been following MSRs with great interest and I’ve published an article about it on medium, although it remains unlisted because I’m still uncertain about a couple of points in the article and I’d love to get a nuclear expert to review it.Second, it is a common misconception that we could have 4°C of global warming by 2100; climate scientists generally don’t think so [except in the RCP 8.5 (business as usual) scenario which by now is more of a “look at the train wreck we’re avoiding!” than a plausible outcome]. Often this misconception arises because there are two measurements of the warming effect of CO2, and the most commonly reported measure is ECS (equilibrium climate sensitivity) which predicts the amount of warming caused by doubling CO2 levels and then waiting for the climate system to adjust. The best estimate of ECS is 3°C (2.0-4.5°C, 90% confidence interval according to the IPCC) and it will take at least 200 years after CO2 doubles to even approach that amount of warming. If the ECS is higher than 3°C I would expect it to take even longer to approach equilibrium, but I’m rather uncertain about that.
To estimate the warming we expect by 2100, look at the TCR (Transient Climate Response) instead. The TCR is highly likely to be in the range 1.0-2.5°C. Keep in mind, however, that only 2⁄3 of greenhouse warming comes from CO2 according to the AGGI; 1⁄6 comes from methane and the final 1⁄6 from all other human-added greenhouse gases combined. The most common estimate of TCR is 1.7°C or 1.8°C and a first-order estimate based on observed warming so far is about 1.5°C. So if CO2 doubles (to 560 ppm), I’d expect about 2.5[±1.1]°C of global warming based on a TCR of 1.75, assuming CO2′s fraction of all GHGs increases slightly by then. [side note: I would be surprised if CO2 more than doubles—I think we’ll get almost 100% clean energy by 2100; OTOH predicting the future isn’t really my forte.]
Third, Having said that, the land will warm a lot faster than the oceans. Climate models on average predict 55% more warming on land than sea [related paper]. [Observations so far suggest that the transient difference could be] greater. Therefore, although 4°C of “global” warming by 2100 is highly unlikely, 4°C of land warming by 2100 is a distinct possibility (though I estimate a probability below 50%.)
I guessed on Metaculus that global warming by 2100 would be [1.7 to 2.6°C] (despite the Paris agreement), but on land [it’s likely to reach 3°C (and as climate change is non-uniform, some populated locations could exceed 3°C even if the land average is less than 3. I should add that the land-sea ratio is thought to be lower in the tropics, albeit higher in the subtropics. And my prediction was somewhat optimistic—I assumed that eventually society would build nuclear plants at scale; or that at least some cheap CCS tech would be discovered.)]
Fourth, having lived in the northern Philippines, I think the impact of the warming itself is underappreciated. I lived in a very humid town (more humid and hotter than Hawaii) where the temperature exceeded 30°C in the shade most days. The hottest day of the year was about 37°C in the shade at noon, coldest would have been around 18°C at 6AM.
Maybe it’s just that I lived in Canada too long, but humans are humans—we are naturally uncomfortable if our core temperature exceeds 37°C and I became uncomfortable whenever I went outside or left the sanctuary of the Air Conditioner. So for the sake of Filipinos and the other 3+ billion people living in tropical latitudes, I think we should be very concerned about the effect of just the warming itself on humanity’s quality of life.
If we get 4°C of [land] warming vs preindustrial, that implies average daily highs of about 33-34°C in my town, which I would describe as virtually unbearable at 75% humidity. Consider also that if the Philippines becomes more prosperous, they will respond to the high temperatures by extensive use of air conditioning, which is energy intensive. If we don’t stop using fossil fuels soon, air conditioning itself can become a significant contributor to further global warming.