In a nutshell: We suspect that different ways of tackling climate change vary significantly in their impact. This means focusing on the most effective methods is likely much higher impact — especially if you focus on the most extreme risks from climate change.
Sometimes recommended — personal fit dependent
This career will be some people's highest-impact option if their personal fit is especially good.
Based on a shallow investigation
Why might taking an effective altruist approach to mitigating climate change be high impact?
If the effectiveness of different approaches to mitigating climate change vary greatly, taking an effective altruist approach to climate change — and focusing on the most effective ways of working on the problem — could make a big difference.
We don’t have well-developed career advice in this area. But here are some rules of thumb for choosing approaches we think can help maximise your impact:
1. Focus on the most extreme risks where possible.
The worse the potential effects of climate change are, the more pressing it is to reduce their likelihood. This is especially clear from a longtermist perspective, because more extreme outcomes are disproportionately likely to contribute to existential risk.
That said, as we argue in our problem profile on extreme climate change, the direct extinction risks from climate change seem relatively small. As a result, we think that focusing on the ways in which climate change could increase other risks, like nuclear war or catastrophic pandemics would be a particularly good way of having an impact.
2. Pay attention to the best evidence on what kinds of interventions are the most cost effective in the long term.
This is not easy, as many people have strong opinions on what kinds of projects are important, and it can be difficult to sift through the variety of views. In doing so, here are some things to consider:
- The majority of future energy demand will come from non-OECD countries, so solutions that aren’t geared toward those countries are unlikely to be most effective.
- What’s most cost effective in the long term could well differ from what seems like the best deal now. For example, if some method for decarbonisation is cheap and in everyone’s interest, you might expect it to happen without your intervention, meaning it could be better to focus on something else.
Check out this talk from the 2020 EAGxVirtual conference to learn about more factors that shape what types of interventions are most cost effective.
3. Focus on more neglected strategies.
If an approach or a research area has not yet been explored — like a new zero-emission technology, for example — you could enable work that others have missed, and you’ll also gain valuable information about what works and what doesn’t, which you can share with others.
4. Look for leverage.
Causing even a relatively small improvement in others’ resources that might go toward climate change likely dwarfs anything you could do entirely on your own, because these other resources are so massive — government spending alone is in the hundreds of billions per year. This means it will probably be most effective to leverage these other resources. For example, if you help organise a grassroots movement, that means everyone who joins multiplies your effort. If your advocacy efforts are successful at influencing policy, then they can affect billion-dollar budgets — which in turn affect the behaviour of private actors. Or, if you can improve the way the entire scientific community thinks about things like feedback loops or extreme risks, others can build on your work.
Examples of potential career paths
As we said above, we’re not sure which career paths are best in this area, but here are a few ideas:
- Pursue a career in policy or policy research, and use your position to help develop low-carbon technology innovation, help institute ‘market-pull’ policies like carbon pricing or taxes, or develop frameworks for international coordination and cooperation (e.g. research agreements) — or whatever policy interventions look most cost effective in the future.
Become an advocate for ‘technology agnosticism.’ Many people focus on renewables like wind and solar — these are important but not enough on their own. Other technologies that are often more neglected can also contribute to climate change mitigation — e.g. carbon capture and storage, other methods for making carbon-neutral fuels, nuclear energy, and ‘Super Hot Rock’ geothermal energy. Each technology should be studied for its risks and benefits, but we can and should use whatever methods are best, which may mean using several methods at once instead of championing one or a few over the others.
Help build the field of research on extreme climate change risks — in particular, focusing on any ways climate change might increase existential risks from other sources (an especially understudied area). This might mean becoming a researcher yourself and working with an eye toward helping shift the scientific community’s attention toward the most important and neglected topics.
Want one-on-one advice on pursuing this path?
If you think this path might be a great option for you, but you need help deciding or thinking about what to do next, our team might be able to help.
We can help you compare options, make connections, and possibly even help you find jobs or funding opportunities.
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Want to consider more paths? See our list of the highest-impact career paths according to our research.
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