Energy for Humanity is a great underfunded pro-nuclear NGO working in the EU. Clean Air Task Force and Third Way are also great.
I also think the current emphasis on solar and wind in some places could be a barrier to sensible low carbon policies in the long-term, especially as they don’t go very well with nuclear. It also doesn’t make a great deal of sense to combine intermittent renewables with nuclear, as France bizarrely recently considered doing, since it just makes nuclear run below capacity when the sun is shining, which doesn’t make economic sense.
I’ll focus on point 2 because I think it is the most important. I don’t see the argument for it being true that for the vast majority of people, working on climate change promises more leverage on the problem of nuclear war, than does working directly on nuclear war. Nuclear war is easier to make progress on, more neglected and more important than climate change.
Yes I think you are in fact right that plausible priors do seem to exclude ECS above 5 degrees.
You pick out a major problem in drawing conclusions about ECS—the IPCC does not explain how they arrive at their pdf of ECS and the estimate seems to be produced somewhat subjectively from various current estimates from instrumental and paleoclimatic data and from their own expert judgement as to what weight to give to different studies. I think this means that they give some weight to pdfs with a very fat tail, which seems to be wrong, given their use of uniform priors. This might mean that their tail estimate is too high
I agree that the environmental movement is extremely poor at optimisation. This being said, there are a number of very large philanthropists and charities who do take a sensible approach to climate change, so I don’t think this is a case in which EAs could march in and totally change everything. Much of Climateworks’ giving takes a broadly EA approach, and they oversee the giving of numerous multi-billion dollar foundations. Gates also does some sensible work on the energy innovation side. Nevertheless, most money in the space does seem to be spent very badly, e.g. on opposing nuclear power. This consideration might even make the environmental movement net negative wrt climate, though I haven’t crunched any numbers on that.
I would also add that sensible EA answers in this space face substantial opposition from the envionmental movement. I think a rational analysis argues in favour of advocating for nuclear and carbon capture, for energy innovation in general, and for financial incentives for preventing deforestation. All of these things are opposed quite strongly by different constituencies in the environmental movement. Maybe the one thing most people can agree on is carbon pricing, but that is hard to get through for other reasons
On Bayesianism—this is an important point. The very heavy tailed estimates all use a “zero information” prior with an arbitrary cut-off at eg 10 degrees or 20 degrees. (I discuss this in my write-up). This is flawed and more plausible priors are available which thin out the tails a lot.
However, I don’t think you need this to get to there being substantial tail risk. Eyeballing the ECS estimates that use plausible priors, there’s still something like a 1-5% chance of ECS being >5 degrees, which means that from 1.5 doublings of GHG concentrations, which seems plausible, there’s a 1-5% of ~7 degrees
Thanks for this. It’s useful for the community to think about this kind of thing and this is well-argued.
1. It’s a good point that since the top AI fields seem oversubscribed, it might be worth some people moving into the next best causes. Another possibility is that they should wait until the number of organisations catches up with the number of people. It might even be that the most valuable options is having a reserve of a large number of people who could, with some probability, be a good fit for the highest-impact orgs, even though most of these people never end up working for high-impact orgs. This puts a new slant on the demandingness of EA: rather than making sacrifices by donating, EAs make sacrifices by being prepared to accept the substantial probability of themselves never having impact. This would be hard to take psychologically, but might be the right thing to do in a crowded talent space.
2. On indirect risks, another point I make in the FP report is that while climate change is an indirect stressor of other risks, this suggests to me that working on those terminal risks directly would be a better bet than working on climate change since climate change is such an indirect stressor, is very crowded and seems difficult to make progress on. What do you think of that argument?
3. I don’t think it is right that problems with high tractability should be de-prioritised. I think what you mean is that we should focus on things that shift the long-term trajectory of humanity. But these could be highly tractable. e.g. the problem of not starting nuclear war was tractable for Vasili Arkhipov, but plausibly had large long-term effects. Having looked at it in some depth, climate change does look an intractable problem overall and this is indeed a reason not to work on it.
4. Another good point on how there could be increasing returns to scale in climate change, as we could affect the huge pool of funds going to the space through engagement.
5. Really, the ITN perhaps shouldn’t be used when we have cost-effectiveness estimates. On the 80k rendering, ITN is literally a cost-effectiveness estimate. But we now have cost-effectiveness estimates of climate charities. If we can make plausible estimates of the impact of bio, AI and nuclear, then we should use those, rather than appealing to the ITN. similarly, for use of time as well as money.
5. It is premature to say that work on climate change could be tractable. I think careful analysis is needed to figure out whether the things you list are indeed a good bet compared to other things that EAs could do.
6. Climate Action Tracker suggests that on current policy, we are in for 3.1 to 3.5C, which is different to the ‘baseline’ trajectory estimate that you give. I think the current policy trajectory is most relevant for that part of your argument. (But note that this is only by 2100)
7. The impact of climate change on food production is in fact predicted to be fairly modest, as I discuss here. Yields might fall by 10-20% but this will be in the context of rising productivity and improvement in the other factors that determine the supply of food.
8. The emphasis on water shortage throughout is a bit overblown. We don’t need to ration water, we just need to price it properly (which is efficient rationing). If we did that, there would be no water problems today or in the future, anywhere (provided people had enough money).
2. I don’t think this is right, for reasons discussed in this Nature paper. Firstly, solar geoengineering could be used to slow the rate of warming even if it is deployed temporarily. You could deploy it over e.g. a fifty year period and thereby delay the point at which we reach peak warming, and then taper it out gradually. Secondly, as you say, an exception is if CO2 emissions stay above zero. Solar geoengineering could in principle buy us time to abate emissions and to take CO2 out of the atmosphere in which case it would not have to be deployed for the full lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere. In this case, solar geo would slow the rate of warming and reduce peak warming.
Thirdly, I don’t see why solar geoengineering would ever be stopped suddenly once we started. The reasons for this are discussed in the Parker and Irvine piece on solar geoengineering. All countries would have a reason to prevent it from stopping suddenly and would have the means to do so given how cheap it is. A catastrophe causing termination would have to be extraordinarily specific.
3. To clarify, is your point here that we should focus on mitigation because then we’ll be left with some spare oil come a later catastrophe?
I’m not completely sure I follow why your first paragraph is a critique. I don’t expect governance to improve on its own. My claim is that we do not need 50 years of governance research to get governance to a sufficiently good level should we need to deploy solar geoengineering in the future. The hope is that we will be wise enough not to have to use it because we will start serious mitigation, and I’m worried that geoengineering research could be one of many factors that could derail those efforts.
It is true that developing geoengineering technology would create incentives to improve governance mechanisms for geoengineering. I’m not sure why that is a critique of my argument.
I agree that war is unlikely for the reasons you outline.
Was deleted for tone, no interesting content
ok thanks, understood. i hope it wasn’t grasping at straws, but maybe this debate has got too sidetracked and should draw to a close.
We were debating the claim “Hmm, it is not at all clear to me that the accusations that are being discussed here [the Brown accusations] are separate from the accusations that appear to have caused his apology.” Julia Wise’s comments has confirmed that the claims were separate. The term ‘separate’ here means ‘different instance of sexual harassment’.
The question is about probabilities of guilt/innocence. If you have multiple people accuse you of sexual or non-sexual harassment over the course of at least 7 years in different communities, then you are either extremely unlucky or you have actually harassed people. He also admits guilt
I know the two are not the same—this argument was about your claim: “Hmm, it is not at all clear to me that the accusations that are being discussed here [the Brown accusations] are separate from the accusations that appear to have caused his apology.”
I am not disputing the claim that numerous complaints over the course of my life about my behaviour would be strong evidence that I have behaved badly. I have been defending this throughout this whole thread. The outside view is strong evidence, of course. The question is whether I would know the details of these complaints if I were told of this outside view evidence. The answer for the vast majority of neurotypical people is ‘yes’. I would be able to recall specific cases in which I stepped over the line and I would know how I erred.
I agree that the could be the case once in a person’s life for a single mild misdemeanour. But the reference class here is actions sufficient to make numerous individuals complain to the overall organisation leading a movement you are a part of, as well as additional evidence of people complaining to your university about you earlier in your life. I don’t think the vast majority of people would fail to know what they had done wrong in these cases.