Assessing climate change as an existential risk

This topic is provided by Under negotiation

"Many people in the effective altruism community believe that climate change poses a very low probability of existential risk [and therefore, prioritising it lower than other problems - Effective Thesis]. This project proposal is to assess whether such a view is justified."

The Global Priorities Institute's research agenda, https://globalprioritiesinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/gpi-research-agenda.pdf

Why do we think this is important?

"There are many problems in the world. Because resources are scarce, we cannot solve them all. We, therefore, need to prioritise among those problems if we are to have the largest possible impact. When considering existential risks, the effective altruism community currently has a particular focus on artificial intelligence and to lesser extent pandemics. Is this focus justified, or could it be that e.g. the climate issue is missed?" (1)

"According to current estimates, unmitigated greenhouse emissions are likely to lead to global temperature increases of 2.6ºC to 4.8ºC by 2100. If this happened, there’d likely be significant humanitarian harms, including more severe weather, food crises, and the spread of infectious diseases which would disproportionately affect the world’s worst off.

But there is a non-negligible chance that unmitigated emissions will lead to even larger increases in global temperatures, the results of which could be catastrophic for life on Earth. Though the chance of such large increases is relatively low, the degree of harm that would result is very high, meaning that the expected value of working to reduce these extreme risks may also be very high. " (2)

Is the existential threat from climate change properly acknowledged by the EA community, or should it's importance be reevaluated? 


(1) The Global Priorities Institute's research agenda, https://globalprioritiesinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/gpi-research-agenda.pdf

(2) The 80,000 Hours webpage: https://80000hours.org/problem-profiles/climate-change/

Where to look next

Bostrom, N., (2011), Global catastrophic risks, Oxford: Oxford university press

Ng, Y.-K. (2016), The Importance of Global Extinction in Climate Change Policy. Glob Policy, 7: 315–322. doi:10.1111/1758-5899.12318

Broome, J. (2010)  The most important thing about climate change, in Jonathan Boston, Andrew Bradstock and David Eng (eds.), Public policy: why ethics matters (Canberra, A.C.T.: ANU E Press, 2010), pp. 101-116.

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