Halstead comments on New research on effective climate charities - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Halstead 14 July 2018 10:00:36AM *  2 points [-]
  1. I would need to look in more detail at the predictions about savannisation of the Amazon - I know Amazon dieback is extremely controversial in the literature, with some people dismissing the possibility. From memory, the last IPCC report leaned towards it not being a major risk. It's normal to arrive at different estimates of marginal cost-effectiveness if we disagree about some relevant facts. I thought initially you were chiefly questioning the principle, not the relevant facts.

  2. Nuclear can be used in the future to produce industrial heat or to produce synthetic fuels. The model I use is an admittedly crude attempt to get the right ballpark of what nuclear can do, but I believe are accurate enough, for the reasons given.

I don't agree that the intermittent/non-intermittent debate is in some way out of date. The debate I am talking about is about what a least cost fully decarbonised energy system would look like, and I am claiming it will not have >>50% renewables. Considering the recent Clack-Jacobsen farrago, this debate is definitely not out of date. As I see it, I'm defending the mainstream view, as accepted by many pro-renewables people like Clack and Sivaram.

Adding renewables on to the grid at the moment poses less of an intermittency challenges because they are not supplying (say) 30% of electricity. AFAIK, the storage capacity to get them to do this doesn't exist/would be incredibly expensive.

I explicitly frame CATF's nuclear innovation work as a 'high risk high reward' bet on them getting it to reduced cost, and I go into some depth showing why I think they probably (>50% probability) won't succeed. So, I don't think we're disagreeing. Even a relatively small chance of getting nuclear to around the current price of gas in numerous different countries would be a huge win. CATF seems uniquely well-placed to have an effect on this front.

I should note that rising costs are not a feature of all nuclear projects. China, Korea and the UEA all build cheap nuclear power plants. It's not going well at the moment in Europe and the US. Hence, why it is worth exploring ways to reduce cost.

I do like a bet, but I don't think this one would get at our disagreement, which seems to be about the role of renewables in future least cost electricity systems. CATF's nuclear innovation project, if it succeeds, will only have an effect by the mid-2020s at the earliest. I agree with you that overbudget nuclear projects are likely within the next few years. The point is that nuclear will have to have a major role in future decarbonised electricity systems.

Other charities - the reason at the time was excessive length, though as I have mentioned, in retrospect, more detail would have been better.

In brief: CfRN is better than project-based deforestation charities for the reasons outlined. It is also much better placed to have influence on REDD negotiations than other advocates like EDF because it actually has a seat at the table in UN negotiations. This is likely to be true in the future and definitely was true in the past, according to sources I have reason to believe would be neutral.

CATF has many more major policy successes than Third Way or Energy for Humanity, even though I like both orgs. CATF conceived of the only major succesful CCS advocacy project to date. Given that CCS is so high priority on the ITN analysis, this alone is almost decisive. EDF Europe does good work but a lot of their successful campaigns were conceived and led by CATF, and they are large and well funded, so CATF looks a better bet on the counterfactual impact front. They also don't do much work on the priority areas I identified. Bellona are one of the few groups advocating for CCS in Europe, but they appear to be struggling to make serious progress, unlike CATF. Sources also informed me that CATF gets more done in China than any other group. Sandbag have a good approach, but I marked out climate in Europe as lower priority, and they haven't had any major success on CCS and their track record cannot compete with CATF. I'm very sceptical of the confrontational approach taken by Shellenberger and Environmental Progress, and I'm not sure they should get as much credit as they claim for their policy successes.