• Posts
  • RSS
  • ◂◂RSS
  • Contact

  • Effective Altruism and Everyday Decisions

    September 16th, 2019
    giving  [html]
    "
    • Ask for your drink without a straw.
    • Unplug your microwave when not in use.
    • Bring a water bottle to events.
    • Stop using air conditioning.
    • Choose products that minimize packaging.
    "
    I've recently heard people advocate for all of these, generally in the form of "here are small things you can be doing to help the planet." In the EA Facebook group someone asked why we haven't tried to make estimates so we can prioritize among these. Is it more important to reuse containers, or to buy locally made soap?

    I think the main reason we haven't put a lot of work into quantifying the impacts of these everyday choices is that they're minor compared to questions like "what should I work on?", "if I'm donating where should the money go?", "how can we figure out the impact of our choices at all reliably?" etc. Quantification, even at a very rough level, is really hard and so we should focus on the most important questions first.

    A second reason, however, is that these sorts of activities are often shockingly poor tradeoffs. Perhaps you give up AC to save electricity, but then you get less done during the day, sleep poorly at night, and only save $3/day in electricity and ~$0.75/day in CO2 [1] Or you buy zero-waste laundry paste which you dilute at home, putting money and effort into avoiding a very small amount of plastic packaging. Or you take cold showers and enjoy them dramatically less while slightly reducing your use of heating fuel. Advocacy often explicitly or implicitly treats actions as free, while a full evaluation needs to also consider the cost to yourself.

    I'm not saying our personal choices don't matter and that we should give up, but a small number of our choices matter far more than others, and we should put our efforts there.

    (Previously: 2015, 2013, 2012.)


    [1] This is figuring 600W average usage for a window unit, which is 14.4kWh/day. Our marginal cost for power is $0.21/kWh, on the high side nationally, so $3/day. Figuring 1T CO2 per kWh, this is ~0.007T CO2/day. Using the same 95th percentile EPA social cost estimate I used in this post, $105/T, that's $0.76/day. These are very rough numbers, but they're enough to see that the costs are low.

    Comment via: facebook, lesswrong, the EA Forum

    Recent posts on blogs I like:

    Fireside Friday, February 26, 2021

    Fireside this week, but next week we are diving into our long awaited series on pre-modern textile production, though we will be particularly focused on the most important clothing fibers in the Mediterranean world, wool and linen (rather than, say, silk …

    via A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry February 26, 2021

    Cut-and-Cover is Underrated

    Subways can be built in two ways: cut-and-cover, and bored tunnel. Cut-and-cover means opening up the street top-down, building the system, and roofing it to restore surface traffic; bored tunnel means opening up one portal and digging horizontally, with …

    via Pedestrian Observations February 26, 2021

    The Troubling Ethics of Writing (A Speech from Ancient Sumer)

    (Translated from a transcript of an ancient Sumerian speech by Uruk's most well-respected Scriptological Ethicist) Writing is a profoundly dangerous technology: Access to writing was initially, and still remains, uneven. What's worse, the rich are m…

    via BLOG - Cullen O'Keefe February 15, 2021

    more     (via openring)


  • Posts
  • RSS
  • ◂◂RSS
  • Contact