Comment author: Halstead 12 July 2018 04:23:13PM *  3 points [-]

Thanks for these very insightful comments.

1

I dont think the considerations you mention are a good reason not to think on the margin. Concerns about your gains from preventing deforestation being reversed should be accounted for in your marginal cost-effectiveness estimate. Even if our aim is to reduce emissions by 80%, the best approach is to move down the options on our marginal abatement curve in order of cost.

I should make clear that I do not think those Cool Earth cost-effectiveness estimates are accurate for the reasons I outline in the report relating to leakage, permanence, verification etc

2

This seems to be an area with some disagreement, with studies varying between 50% to 80% renewables in certain least cost electricity systems (the latter with huge expansion of intercontinental transmission). I don't think the reference given is outdated (only two years old), and I have read other recent or soon to be published papers drawing the same conclusion, some of which are cited in the report.

The importance estimates are from AR5 IPCC report integrated assessment models, so yes 4 years old, but reputable. Another option would have been to use the latest IEA World Energy Outlook estimates, which I think would bump solar and wind up a bit, but it wouldn't make any difference to the ITN ranking. I'm not sure the extent to which these models account for transmission and actually matching demand, and it would be very hard to build a model that does this for the entire global electricity system. Accounting for these things tends to disfavour renewables. Also, this is only electricity not all energy, so other stuff like CCS and nuclear will be necessary to get us all the way to decarbonise

The main thing that justifies deprioritising solar and wind is that they are not neglected, not that they won't have a big part to play. Electrification of transport is ignored in the report but would likely fare poorly because it's already receiving lots of attention.

I'm very pro-renewables, but I did want to counteract the view, which you implicitly endorse in your comment, that the aim is to get as much renewables as possible. The aim is to decarbonise, and we should do that in the best and cheapest way possible with all technologies at our disposal.

3

I haven't looked through that paper and will try to have a look, but if it uses levelised cost for each energy source, rather than system levelised cost, then it is misleading. Technology levelised cost is not a fair way to compare intermittent and non-intermittent power sources because it doesn't account for value to the grid, which is better for non-intermittent sources. Energy markets are also not structured to reward nuclear for these services, which is why it sees its margins eaten up by the price volatility associated with renewables.

One's prior should be that the 'dominant renewables' narrative is surprising given that renewables currently provide very little global energy, whereas nuclear supplies 25% of low carbon energy, and has been doing for ages. There are concerns about nuclear cost, which I discuss in the report, but CATF has a plausible path to actually reducing these costs, which is what needs to be done, otherwise we're screwed.

The track record of heavy renewables focused countries in actually reducing emissions is not great. Germany has spent billions upon billions on renewables subsidies and yet has not actually reduced emissions per head because it is shutting down its nuclear plants. Decarbonised electricity systems exist today and can be done - they all involve massive reliance on nuclear, hydro or geothermal. Renewables will be able to supply a bigger part of the pie in the future but I feel a lot of the debate is getting ahead of itself.

4

Yes I looked at drawdown a bit, but my concern was that it's very unclear where they got their numbers from and since it was done technology by technology and not at the system level, it would get misleading answers. For electricity, getting the system right is what matters and the cost of abatement varies depending on the combination of technologies.

Drawdown doesn't consider neglectedness of any kind in prioritising interventions. It also looks at things from the point of view of society, whereas I'm looking at things from the pov of the philanthropist.

I agree that methane and SLCPs are important, and CATF does a lot of work on these. I now think their importance may be overstated at present relative to CO2. (https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/briefings/Short_Lived_Promise.pdf) Open Phil has funded some refrigerant stuff.

The stance on clean meat is discussed in the report - I agree it should be included in future if we have time to properly research it.

5

I don't agree with your view that CATF's and CfRN's best days are behind them. Only this year, CATF won a tax credit for CCS in the US (discussed in the report) which stands to have massive climate impact. it would be surprising if they went from conceiving campaigns reducing emissions by megatonnes to having no impact starting right now. It has directly and greatly influenced US government nuclear policy going forward. I disagree with your dim view of nuclear's prospects for the reason outlined above. Again, I think you are only focusing on electricity, not all energy, and renewables can't do much for most of industry and half of transport - we need CCS, nuclear and synthetic fuels there. CATF continues to produce great research on all parts of the climate puzzle (even the neglected bits) and has a pretty staggering record of getting things done.

I agree that is a concern about CfRN, but even on pessimistic scenarios of climate-induced forestry protection reversal, delaying climate damages by a number of decades would be highly valuable for adaptation and buying time to develop low carbon technologies. The tonnes of CO2 that CfRN could sequester permanently or for multiple decades if fully funded are extremely large.

Comment author: MatthewDahlhausen 14 July 2018 05:19:20AM 2 points [-]

1 "Concerns about your gains from preventing deforestation being reversed should be accounted for in your marginal cost-effectiveness estimate." Well yes, if we account for the fact that current best marginal emissions reductions at present might fail in later years into our marginal cost-effectiveness estimate then we can still use the marginal cost-effectiveness estimate. If I did that, it would show rainforest work having mediocre cost-effectiveness because emissions reductions aren't robust. So we reach different conclusions on best interventions, despite claiming to adhere to the same principle. I agree with the position "we should act on the best marginal effectiveness". It's just that rainforest work is not independent of other interventions. Its cost-effectiveness is co-dependent on the cost-effectiveness of other interventions - needing to hit sub 3C century end warming. So my cost-effectiveness estimate cares more about the 80th percentile on the cost abatement curve from future projects, while a simpler analysis may just focus on the cheapest marginal abatement cost intervention at present yearly emissions.

This is heavily related to the concept of lock-in (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0100-6). Even though some interventions may be more expensive than others, they may represent a substantial enough amount of emissions and lock-in threat that on a longer time horizon they become the best marginal cost-effective interventions at present.

Once we've accounted for lock-in, largest emissions interventions, robustness, etc., THEN we can start moving down our new inclusive-forecast-century-weighted abatement curve of best interventions. I just think this will look different from McKinsey's abatement curve and yield different interventions than the ones you've selected in the report.

2 I agree the aim is to decarbonize, not get as much renewables growth as possible. My statement wasn't cheerleading renewables, it was making the observation that in actual grid capacity purchases and planning at present - the current market - renewables are more bullish than they appear in the reports you reference. IEA World Energy Outlook has abysmal prediction accuracy on renewable install rates (https://www.vox.com/2015/10/12/9510879/iea-underestimate-renewables), and the integrated assessment models in AR5 are similarly conservative in their estimates.
This is good news given the amount of emissions that come from the power and buildings sectors.

I'm confused by your comment "Also, this is only electricity not all energy, so other stuff like CCS and nuclear will be necessary to get us all the way to decarbonise" Where does nuclear contribute besides the power sector? Your "emissions averted by different energy technologies" has nuclear's impact only from displacing coal and gas electric power.

4 Yeah, I wish Drawdown was more explicit in their calculations. I found an error in their documentation on plant diets, but couldn't track down if that was just in the documentation on the calculation too. I only reference drawdown because it gives explicit GtCO2e estimates. For instance, it's nuclear estimate is 16 GtCo2e https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/electricity-generation/nuclear, while yours is 136 GtCO2e. It's wind and solar estimate in total is 171 GtCO2e, while yours is 135 GtCO2e. Not enough to change things on a log scale. Obviously, you have to look elsewhere for philanthropic neglectedness calculations.

On points 3 & 5 - Recent bids for renewables with storage are cost competitive with gas, and cheaper than nuclear, even at the $60/MWh quoted in the report.

The intermittent and non-intermittent power source debate is about a decade old, and doesn't reflect the reality that additional intermittent contributions to the grid have made the grid more reliable, not less, at least in the United States. Energy markets are structured to provide a reliable electric grid - they price capacity and when electricity can be produced - and nuclear isn't competing in this environment. Recently in the U.S. the nuclear lobby has hitched itself to the coal lobby to argue for emergency interference in energy markets by the government to require subsidizing large plants, precisely because they could not compete in the hourly capacity market.

Your comment about Germany doesn't seem applicable; renewables reduced emissions compared to the proper counterfactual where they hadn't been installed AND the nuclear plants were taken offline.

Again, this isn't me cheerleading renewables at the expense of nuclear. It's an observation of the current energy market that no one is even thinking about starting a new nuclear plant build because of how outrageously expensive they are compared to other options. There are 2 reactors under construction in the U.S. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vogtle_Electric_Generating_Plant#Planning_phase, 2 recently abandoned https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgil_C._Summer_Nuclear_Generating_Station, with the primary contractor filing for bankruptcy last year. All vastly overbudget.

Given the state of affairs with nuclear, CATF's large share of funding towards nuclear seems like pissing money away, especially since the government already funds this heavily through the DOE for reasons other than emissions reductions and competitive energy. I think the argument for CATF has the best donation target relies on their CCS work solely.

We can have different perspectives on this, and I share a different outlook, so I propose a bet: If a nuclear plant is built in the US: 1) at least 150 MW in size, 2) in the next 10 years, 3) with construction started 2019 or later, 4) and sells its power in a competitive bid process for an electric grid, I will pay you $100. If not, you pay me $100.

Also - can you respond or publish on why you didn't include an analysis of the other charities in the report that you include but do not recommend? Why were they rejected?

Comment author: MatthewDahlhausen 12 July 2018 06:37:09AM 6 points [-]

Thank you John Halstead for putting this report together. Climate change is a significant issue in popular culture, and one of the most widely known catastrophic risks, with relatively little analysis in the EA community. So I'm glad you took it on.

Some general comments on this report:

COMMENT 1 - IMPORTANCE VS. MARGINAL TRACTABILITY REGARDING CLIMATE CHANGE Something I've been puzzling over with climate change specifically is that I think funding at the margin might miss the largest emissions reductions needed to stay under a warming target.

For example, I've contributed to Cool Earth with the goal of rainforest protection. At the margin, this is an amazing bargain for carbon storage - and can be equated to very cheap carbon emissions reductions at $1 or so per tonne CO2e. However, there is a limited supply of rainforest protection we can do, and if other areas of emissions are unaddressed, the Amazon may turn into a savanna anyways at current projections of warming, releasing all that carbon. At higher expected warming, rainforest protection becomes less useful. This was not considered in the report. Relevant recent papers on that: http://www.pnas.org/content/113/39/10759 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-15788-6

It's the sort of problem where you may get good returns at the margin for the first 10% of emissions reductions, but you need to hit 80% of the reductions or more to achieve the desired outcome. Another way to say it is that in most EA causes, marginal tractability counts more than overall importance/scale, but for climate change, these concerns are more equal.

I think an analogy to this is how energy is priced in a deregulated market - generators bid in their power at a price, the grid operator buys it, and everyone gets paid the price of the last MWh purchased, the highest price on the marginal cost curve that meets the total load.

I expect the best use of my marginal dollar for climate philanthropy will depend on the current landscape of funding and projections for how quickly we are reducing emissions. On our current track, we are set for 3-4C of warming, so I'm more inclined to put dollars towards adaptation efforts and economic development / global health for the worlds poorest to lessen the damage than I would be if we were farther along in our decarbonization efforts.

COMMENT 2 - RENEWABLE ADOPTION POTENTIAL A recent report out of the Electric Markets and Policy Group at LBNL (https://emp.lbl.gov) and related work at NREL https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/re-futures.html (disclosure: I'm an NREL employee) have found that we could probably push renewable generation up to 80% of total annual electric production without a significant cost increase. I think the 2016 reference cited in this report saying >50% would be cost prohibitive with storage is outdated. This year, renewables + storage beat out gas generation on cost in both California and Colorado markets. The last 20% of storage will be expensive, and there is ongoing work at the national labs to finds ways to reduce that cost or shift times of energy demand.

I'll need to review the sources used to do the importance calculation for renewables and EE ( https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Bvm8exmAdOUDF1wM1BM5qXBhs5jHIRF6qGGL2le17D4/edit#gid=0), but my initial read is that they are already 4-5 years out of date given recent research. (As is to be expected; academic meta-reviews lag a few years behind reviews, which lag a few years behind potential studies).

The electrification of the transportation sector is ignored in this report, but is a necessity towards greater emissions reductions goals, and will greatly increase the importance of renewables.

COMMENT 3 - MARKET ADOPTION AND COST Part of the reason why Nuclear is underfunded in the philanthropic sector is that it cannot compete on cost with renewables. /9https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/7/11/17555644/nuclear-power-energy-climate-decarbonization-renewables/0 Philanthropists have largely moved on from funding this, except for some fundamental research in reactor designs, simply because market economics means that more plants won't get built, even with a carbon price. In this case, philanthropic neglectedness is a measure of the philanthropic sector's pessimism that more $ towards advocacy would result in greater nuclear power build-out. The scoring in the report treats neglectedness as a positive for nuclear advocacy when there is a strong reason behind the neglectedness that should decrease the score.

COMMENT 4 - COMPARISON TO RELATED WORK AND OTHER INTERVENTIONS Drawdown https://www.drawdown.org/ is another recent project that does a more thorough calculation of carbon mitigation potential for the interventions considered. It reaches different estimates of mitigation potential for some interventions. (10x difference for nuclear for example) I would have liked this report to have considered other GHGs besides CO2, namely methane and refrigerants. Refrigerant emissions reductions have made major progress in recent years with the Kigali Accord (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/15/world/africa/kigali-deal-hfc-air-conditioners.html), but there is much to be done in the space of recovering and controlled destruction of existing refrigerants, refrigerant alternatives, and compressor-free cooling designs. Clean and plant-based meats to replace animal agriculture and associated methane emissions was excluded from this report for lack of time to evaluate it. It has importance comparable to or greater than many of the interventions considered and is vastly underfunded in comparison. I hope it is included in a subsequent analysis.

COMMENT 5 - SELECTIONS OF SPECIFIC CHARITIES I think both Clean Air Task Force and Coalition for Rainforest Nations were excellent choices for funding between 5-20 years ago, and this report does a great job of synthesizing their impressive accomplishments. I do not share the outlook that their future work will be as impactful. Given that nuclear (even with new designs) and fossil fuel generation are losing the market competitiveness battle to renewables, and that nuclear, CSS, and power plant regulations are the vast majority of the funding gap for CATF, I expected CATF to have very little impact per $ of additional funding in their campaigns over the next several years. This is the opposite conclusion of the report.
I'm also cautious of the potential for Coalition for Rainforest Nations funding given the projections of future warming and the impact on rainforests as carbon sources/sinks.

I don't have strong candidates for charities I'd recommend in their place, but I'd be happy to contribute to a short-list for the next round of analysis.

Comment author: Mirco_Vogelgesang 20 January 2018 03:53:54PM *  0 points [-]

Thanks for the feedback and the food for thought it gave me to you as well. On LTG: Now I´ve read the papers by Turner and the one by Smith. The thing is, while I do genuinely concur with much of the critique by Smith; disputes about data accuracy, methods of aggregate analysis and the question whether their delicate interlinkages are representative of real-world complexities is the kind of debate that is bound to diffuse every time when you do things like QCA (Qualitative Comparative Analysis), systemic design, surveys or future predictions. Future research and macro-models are oversimplifications by necessity and therefore generate controversial, messy debates by nature. In that sense, it is logical and fruitful that we are having this discussion, which leads to the healthy challenging to existing pre-conception that one always loves to assert as something splendidly hermetically sealed.

That being said, next to the anecdotal parts, the legitimate critique raised by Smil and others about the methods of the first WW3 modelling I have read so far, it indeed shakes up the statements made but provides no concise line of argumentation that would actually invalidate them in any way. The way Smil likes to conclude from the methods being imperfect (which they certainly were especially when this mode of computer-based analysis was in its infancy at the time) to any conclusions thereby being equally invalid seems to constitute a similarly flawed process of proving one's point.

With what I wrote here, then, I did not assert to have delivered irrefutable arguments, but much rather fair approximations as to what, supported by the data, could happen in the future and that even the possibility of these scenarios being feasible should lead EA to investigate them more thoroughly. So while even current models lack any kind of satisfactory representation of real world-complexities, they meanwhile give us a fair approximation for a rough but feasible future outlook. Now, I´ve also had the privilege of meeting Randers, Bardi and Maxton last year, and they by no means claim any perfection but point out that the data, by applying common sense, points in a clear direction that is consistent with their models outlook: When we have already exceeded planetary boundaries by 2.5 times (again an arbitrary aggregate thing, fair enough), human population has grown to 7.5 billion and will grow further, when energy demand due to population growth and rising living standards increases further, when we can assume with relative safety that in 20 years we can only extract half the oil relative to now and that the current pace of global energy transition would need to be multiple times faster to rectify the shortges thereby created; that we need CO2 emmissions to peak in the next two years and completely stop them by 2050 in order to have a chance meet the 2 degrees goal to prevent catastrophic chain reactions, but actually CO2 emmission are continuing to climb as no country is yet determined to fulfill its climate commiments and when the tipping points is soon to be reached that even absruptly stoppin any emmissions could stop climate change anymore - THEN we do not need highly sophisticated models to be able to conclude that these trends will create multiple sorts of catastrophies with grave humanitarian implications.

Now on Scenario 1: First of all, you pointed me to a mistake in the article: The effects of climate change could displace hundreds of millions of people rather than hundreds. It is difficult to find good data on land grabbing, try the "Land Matrix" data bank which registers the areas affected, the actors and miscellaneous data. What we know is that the development community is saying that the dimensions are growing significantly right now and that millions of people have already been displaced. There´s little research on this (https://www.brot-fuer-die-welt.de/themen/fluchtursachen/fluchtursache-landraub/), exact percentages are therefore hard to come by: In Sudan, 23% of land is in the hands of foreign investors, in Sierra Leone 40%, in Gabon 85% (UNHCR), but a region-wide assessment has not yet been conducted to my knwoledge. So for further analysis, we would need more data which is hard to come by as any deeper investigation of this phenomenon is usually prevented by the very governments that facilitate it, which makes it easier for them to justify that by land grabbing the local population benefits due to modern agricultural equipment when in fact all those fields are being used to cultivate cash crops that are being exported as evident in the import/export data. So you are entirely right that I require more data to substantiate the extent of my claim!

"You are suggesting that despite these efforts, the factors you describe will overwhelm all of the health and development work being done." -In essence, yes. Development doesn´t necessarily enhance resilience, it may also create dependencies on aid and foreign imports, the international rural development budget currently sits at a measly 15%, hence climate adaptation is vastly underfunded to this very day. Conflicts in the region continue to sweep away decades of advancements in development in some cases. For real resilience, empowerment, rural development, environmental education, partially localising supply chains as well as other measures would need to be undertaken but continue to be severely neglected, which tied into a different debate about development effectiveness.

In a World Bank report form 2013, I found this though: "In Sub-Saharan Africa, by the 2030s droughts and heat will leave 40 percent of the land now growing maize unable to support that crop, while rising temperatures could cause major loss of savanna grasslands threatening pastoral livelihoods. By the 2050s, depending on the sub-region, the proportion of the population undernourished is projected to increase by 25-90 percent compared to the present." (http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/climatechange/publication/turn-down-the-heat) And that mostly confirms that in some form or another, this Malthusian disaster ot at the very least more seroius famines are ought to happen.

In sum: Yes, the data that is currently available does not entirely verify the level of concern raised by me, but at the same time makes it very possible by what is known, and that even the rest of the data is vastly "better" than expected, we still can safely expect larger famines and hence large-scale loss of life to occur within the next decades. Hence it is not a question if larger famines are going to happen, but in what dimensions. And that very circumstance could dictate a heavy shift in priorities for Effective Altruism as a whole.

Comment author: MatthewDahlhausen 20 January 2018 09:42:06PM *  1 point [-]

The causal chain you propose is:

A) peak oil -> energy scarcity -> humanitarian crisis from ?

If not A), then:

B) emissions -> climate change -> agricultural loss -> humanitarian crisis from famine (with land grabbing exacerbating the crisis)

Let's jump to the crux of Rander's update to the LTG model, since that is the most recent work most closely attached to the concept. The fundamental collapse prediction comes from the pollution - death rate linkage that I mention in the previous comment. What basis is there to assume the overall death rate will increase? And how does the model explain the decreasing death rates in that part of the world? Is it based on a presumed energy scarcity? "when we can assume with relative safety that in 20 years we can only extract half the oil relative to now and that the current pace of global energy transition would need to be multiple times faster to rectify the shortages thereby created" Where do you derive the assumption that oil production will be cut in half in 20 years for reasons of scarcity? U.S. EIA forecasts relatively flat curves. And how do you distinguish good substitutions from shortages? Concerns about peak oil presume a fixed consumption per person, meaning no fuel substitution or demand elasticity. I think this is incorrect. Oil consumption is responsive to price, and even in the least elastic sector where it is used (transportation), there is still a tradeoff in size vs. efficiency for cars people buy. You can go on Gapminder and see how the trend in oil consumption per person can vary quite a bit over several years. Electricity consumption per person (what Turner used as his proxy for "services per person") has actually been decreasing in the U.S. because of large-scale efficiency. I expect we'll see more of that in other sectors including transportation, with lower energy use but greater energy services overall.

Given the substitution and efficiency arguments, and how none of the climate-economic models in IPCC's modeling exercises show an energy scarcity or pollution induced collapse, I don't think causal chain A you propose is a reality we can expect.

So that leaves causal chain B. The World Bank report is for a 4-degree temperature rise, and is by no means a fait accompli. I think what we do now looks a lot like what EAs are currently funding in the region - improving health and encouraging inclusive development. When people have greater incomes and are less dependent on agriculture, climate change effects are less severe. This is the assessment of a follow-up report the World Bank did to the 4-degree report which is worth reading: Shock Waves Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty.

Comment author: MatthewDahlhausen 20 January 2018 07:27:11AM 10 points [-]

There is quite a lot to respond to here. I used to be of the same mindset on limits. I followed the The Oil Drum while it was still running and attend a few limits to growth conferences (the ones where attendees called themselves "Doomers"). After engaging with that material, I don't think the projections are accurate and think the catastrophizing is unwarranted. In particular, I don't think resource limits are likely to be a significant issue to humanity in the 21st century. Peak oil concern just isn't a reality; resource economics just doesn't work like that, and demand is elastic. The Oil Drum shut down partly in recognition that Peak Oil wasn't a useful concept anymore, and academics had long since departed from it.

Some more specific points: Factor 1 - Land Grabbing Can you provide citations and sources for the % of population this is happening to?

Factor 3 - Climate "As a consequence, the Sahara will expand well over a hundred kilometres south, a process called desertification." Increasing desterification is a concern, but 100 kilometers advancement across such a large continent isn't going to make a difference. "vast parts of land will become unsuitable for agriculture and hence will force hundreds of people to leave their homes." I would not call hundreds of people a humanitarian crisis. It's not clear that the issues you cite are enough to trigger the catastrophic famine and migrations you prophesize. People respond to droughts and other agricultural challenges in different ways - switching crops, using different water sources, relying on more imports, and finding other income. EA fund a lot of efforts that help this part of the world, malaria eradication and deworming in particular, which yield significant economic gains and life improvement. Development and increasing incomes improves resiliency. You are suggesting that despite these efforts, the factors you describe will overwhelm all of the health and development work being done. You present limited information, and will need more data, models, and economic models to justify the level of concern you are raising.

On Limits To Growth (LTG). Statements along the lines of "The LTG collapse scenario has been fairly accurate to date" imply that there are real world metrics mapped to LTG variables, and that the they expect the underlying model dynamics to remain roughly accurate. I've been able to find one published piece of work where someone explicitly details the variables they use to match to LTG. That report was by Graham Turner, the author of the Guardian Piece you cite. The report is not peer-reviewed, and was published by the institute where Graham is a senior fellow. It is based on a 2008 paper that was peer-reviewed. The author picked per capita electricity consumption and literacy rates to represent global "services per capita". This is misleading. One can pick almost any available variable remotely tied to represent "services per capita" that matches the shape of the LTG model, scale it, and claim that the "LTG standard run is close to reality". There are so many spurious correlations out there. Even then, the majority of trends are 20%, 50%, 100%+ off from the "LTG standard run". The report does not include statistical fit or calibration statistics. How can one meaningful track global pollution? Or non-renewable resources remaining?
It was never the intent of the work to be a predictive forecasting tool. The variables are lumped together proxies to represent categories of real world things, and the authors were explicit when they made the report that these did not represent real world variables; they were to just trying to show the dynamics of their theoretical model. Subsequent updates to the LTG model haven't been able to resolve which collection of real world variables get weighted together to match to which LTG variables. It's easy to cherry pick data to match the trend, especially if you aren't precommitting what constitutes a fit. And even if there is a good match to trends, that doesn't mean that a specific model is the correct representation of reality; there may be many models with wildly different assumptions of the dynamics that produce the same result. Vaclav Smil's review of the LTG is a longer deconstruction of the LTG modeling exercise and worth a read.

More importantly, Dennis and Jorgen (living original authors who I've met) repeatedly say these forecasts are not to be taken literally. Jorgen Randers has a new (2014) forecast which looks very different from the "resource crisis" scenario in the 1972 LTG model. Jorgen now claims the climate crisis is the key concern and the driving force in the model. Even then, he still assumes the same overall model dynamics, but doesn't detail the mechanisms for how the variables will actually influence each-other. For example, in using carbon emissions as his pollution variable, he assumes climate change will greatly increase overall death rates, overwhelming all factors that reduce death rates. There are many models out there (30+) that make assumptions on how climate change impacts human society in the future of which Jorgen's new work is just one. None assume overall death rate increases as Jorgen does, especially in the near term. Be wary of projections from a single model/source. The point is, it is misguided to get doomy about older model forecasts from one model that the authors say are no longer reflective of reality, especially when there is a much wider variety of more complex, robust forecasting models in existence today that have different scenarios.

Comment author: MatthewDahlhausen 17 February 2017 04:59:33AM 7 points [-]

Key article from this forum: http://effective-altruism.com/ea/is/how_valuable_is_movement_growth/ Developing positive impressions of EA is much more important than near-term growth. If we align with partisan political causes, we risk greatly limiting the eventual scope and impact of EA. Because our movement goal is inherently very different (long term size and positive impression, vs. immediate policy changes), I don't think the organizing knowledge is transferable/useful. Also, much of organizing around left the left is founded in a justice as the core value framework, rather than an impact as the core value framework. There are many posts/arguments in the social justice community explicitly arguing against impact (e.g. arguing against metrics for charity) because these can undermine more speculative causes and deprioritize grassroots/marginalized activists. If we align EA with these movements, we risk undermining the core quantitive and utilitarian values in EA. Because of these risks to EA, I'm partial a firewall between EA and social justice themed organizing, meaning EA orgs do not endorse partisan political causes. This isn't to say EAs should never participate in politics. As you pointed out, there is a lot in international aid that is nonpartisan or very weakly partisan, and the good from doing so is likely to overcoming the risks above.
If we engage in more controversial leftists political causes, EA work would be better spent in cause research, rather than direct political activism. Also, we can prioritize implementing laws that are already passed more effectively, rather than proposing new partisan legislation. This was the aim of the EA policy analytics project. I echo the above comments that elevating organizing to an "obligation" is inappropriate given the speculative nature of impact and possible externalities.

Comment author: MatthewDahlhausen 09 August 2016 03:26:10PM *  2 points [-]

re-posting my comments here from the FB group a while back: https://wattsandwagers.wordpress.com/2016/01/10/searching-for-effective-environmentalism-candidates/ Some thoughts: 1) There is sufficient overlap with end factory-farming / meat production, and my initial estimate of calculating savings from vegan advocacy was that it as about ~1/3 as effective as Cool Earth. 2) "Environmentalism for the people" concerns. Much of environmentalism used to be about local air and water quality, whereas now it has shifted to global concerns about more subjective topics like the biodiversity value of a certain species. There is still a LOT of support and human health impacts from air and water quality, as the are among the most significant risk factors for DALYs https://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-compare/. 3) Some concepts like carrying capacity, finite elemental resources, and guaranteeing an energy supply are largely ignored by the EA community, which assumes more is better (signing up for cryonics, etc.). It is possible there could be an energy/resource pinch, and this could be a major existential risk. 4) Energy and food waste represent an enormous drain on economies. It is relatively easy to make great improvements in this area. For example, California is making it building code that new residential buildings be net-zero energy by 2019, and new commercial buildings by 2030.

Edit: copying some other good resources here too: http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/ http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/post-index/

Comment author: MatthewDahlhausen 10 June 2016 07:40:20PM 0 points [-]

Another recent study that shows just controlling CO2 doesn't yield the same performance losses. Maybe it is something else in the air? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26825447

Comment author: MatthewDahlhausen 07 April 2016 06:53:58AM 4 points [-]

CO2 has been used a marker for acceptable ventilation since the 1920s. Commercial building ventilation systems are often linked to CO2 sensors in the return air, and increase or decrease outdoor ventilation air to meet a set target. Typically 800-1000ppm. This is known as "demand control ventilation", and is pretty common, especially in newer buildings. A tricky thing with this is that the sensors are notorious for drifting out of calibration over time, so many system have minimum damper positions built in to make sure enough fresh air is getting to the space.

Residential and commercial ventilation is regulated under ASHRAE standard 62.1 and 62.2 https://www.ashrae.org/resources--publications/bookstore/standards-62-1--62-2 The standards are set by committee, and are a big battle/tradeoff between (1) energy cost from heating, cooling, and moving all that ventilation air (2) odor, (3) air quality risks (like NOx, particulates, VOCs), and (4) impairment from CO2.

In the most recent update, ASHRAE finally removed the infiltration allowance for residential buildings. Before, residential buildings could be built with just exhaust fans, with the fresh air being made up through infiltration, meaning air coming through cracks around walls, windows, doors, etc. But there was disagreement as to whether this air is really fresh. Insulation tends to "filter" the air and remove particulates, but it can also pick up bad stuff like mold spores, VOCs, etc. The decision was to no longer count infiltration, largely because buildings are getting tighter and shouldn't be leaking that much. Plus infiltration can pull in warm, moist air which can condense in walls if the building is air conditioned, causing mold and water damage. Now, residential must match commercial buildings in supplying fresh, filtered dedicated supply air. That will be BIG change in residential construction practice if/when states adopt it. (1/3 of states don't follow it, 1/3 are keyed to old 2004,2007,2010 standards, 1/3 are recent). For now I recommend cracking open windows, running bath fans occasionally, and ESPECIALLY installing and using a cooking range hood exhaust fan while cooking. Can't emphasize the kitchen range hood enough - thats probably #1 most important thing to do to improve air quality. Well, I'm assuming you're not smoking indoors and not having campfires in your backyard. Those are worse.

There is some question as to whether the ventilation recommendations should be stricter. CO2 is a good proxy for a lot of other air pollutants that are harder to measure. So performance or other benefits from reducing CO2 levels may be coming from getting rid of other air pollutants in the space (VOCs, NOx in particular). However, some recent work out of LBNL has found some slight differences in performance between 600 and 1000ppm.
http://newscenter.lbl.gov/2012/10/17/elevated-indoor-carbon-dioxide-impairs-decision-making-performance/ http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1104789/ (study) It would be very tough to stay at 600ppm for most buildings, because that would require a LOT of ventilation air. Doable with natural ventilation, but in places with cold winters? That gets really expensive.

For CO2, OSHA permissible exposure limit for workers is 5000ppm. And NIOSH's short term exposure limit is 30,000ppm, though that would be really bad to be in. There will certainly be cognitive impairment at these levels, but it probably won't cause damage.

If your concern is productivity, work in a ventilated space. Or just open windows / turn on the bath fan / range hood just before you start until after you finish working at home.

If you really want to see some elevated CO2 levels, get in a car with a few other people and go on a road trip without rolling down the windows. And then understand why everyone gets groggy and tired.
ASHRAE also sets ventilation standards for moving transport (airlines, trains, buses), but people are in charge of ventilation in their personal cars or trucks and don't ventilate as much. Or big trucks like semis, where the drivers are already impaired from driving long hours. eek.

If you want more information on air quality and ventilation, check out LBNL's indoor air group: http://indoorair.lbl.gov/ Or NIST's group: http://www.nist.gov/el/building_environment/airquality/

Happy to answer more questions about ventilation / air quality. Interesting field. the elevator "why this is important" (1)http://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-compare/ air pollution is a big risk factor a lot of health problems (2)humans spend most of their time indoors (90% + in developed world) (3)a lot of that time is spent sleeping. (4)lots of the world still cooks in their homes with biomass, unventilated. And this pollutes the air in the whole neighborhood. Big problem. Make sure your kitchen, bedroom, and workplace are well ventilated.

Comment author: MatthewDahlhausen 12 March 2016 04:28:02PM 1 point [-]

Echoing the Cotton-Barratt & Todd 2015 link too. If you give to the worlds poorest, their available personal investment options are much better than the stock market both in financial returns and wellbeing returns.

Comment author: MatthewDahlhausen 17 February 2016 04:10:55AM 0 points [-]

Of the issues you mentioned, rich people in developing countries moving their money out of the country legally or illegally is particularly damaging. Here is a good resource for that: http://www.taxjustice.net/2014/01/17/price-offshore-revisited/

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