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Re: [givewell] Re: Environmental Concerns and International aid

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  • Holden Karnofsky
    Hello all, As noted, we haven t yet done any work in this area. Here are some preliminary thoughts: 1. We do hope to research these causes. The approach
    Message 1 of 7 , Dec 10, 2009
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      Hello all,

      As noted, we haven't yet done any work in this area.  Here are some preliminary thoughts:

      1.      We do hope to research these causes.  The approach we take will have to be different in many ways from the kind of work we've done so far, but we think we can add a lot of value by (a) getting a basic picture of the range of scholarly opinion and the major points of consensus and disagreement; (b) examining charities' activities in light of this picture. 

      2.      I don't have much to say at this point about how promising environmental causes are.  My gut instinct, considering everything I've heard and seen, is that international aid is a more promising area for an individual donor (which is different from saying that it's a more important area).  But I expect to learn a lot and possibly change my mind as we look into the issues more.

      3.      I think it's important not to put too much trust in any single person's view based simply on credentials.  That includes both Mikhail Gromov and Uri, among others. 

      4.      I agree with Jonah and Phil re: what kind of resource would be helpful (a systematic summary and analysis of what is known and what the range of opinion), but I don't as of now have such a resource that I have investigated enough to really stand behind.  The resource that I most commonly see pointed to as a large-scale attempt to summarize the state of knowledge is http://www.ipcc.ch/ .

      5.      My impression (though we have yet to vet the research itself) is that there is a fairly strong consensus in the development economics community that reducing infant mortality can be expected to slow, not accelerate, population growth.  More broadly, in my limited experience with the arguments on environmental issues, I don't recall anyone bringing up the idea of deliberately keeping the developing world sick/poor as a high-priority way to avert environmental disaster.


      On Tue, Dec 8, 2009 at 2:59 PM, Phil Steinmeyer <psteinmeyer@...> wrote:
       

      Jonah, I understand and sympathize with your concern.  On complex issues (including future environmental scenarios and, I would imagine, resource-scarcity), it is difficult for an interested but not deeply involved reader to form a reliable opinion.  So much of what you read has already been filtered by the author.  i.e. An author might quote 3 experts all in agreement on an issue, but in fact, those 3 experts may be outliers and consensus expert opinion may lie in a different direction. 
       
      When a topic is politically charged, as many environmental issues are, things become trickier.
       
      The problem is, even if there is say, 1 really good and neutral website out there amidst, say, 49 other websites that are slanted or otherwise not very trustworthy, it is not necessarily easy to find that 1 website or determine that it is trustworthy.
       
      Finding a good information source amidst many noisy and low quality sources may be helpful, but it is not an easy task in and of itself.
       
      Sorry I can't be more specifically helpful.  I guess I'm just sort of warning you that your task may be more difficult than you think.


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