The greatest good for the greatest number of people is one tenet of utilitarianism, and this way of thinking is alive and well under a new name: “effective altruism”. The term effective altruism is questionable at best; however, their message does make a lot of sense. Basically what believers of effective altruism believe in is using empirical data to decide where to donate time and money. In this month of caring about each other it is one more way to help you make decisions on where you can donate.
Let’s distinguish between whether a cause is difficult to quantify and whether it’s political. Although it’s true that many political movements and political changes have outcomes that are difficult to measure, I don’t think the two distinctions line up quite so neatly.
Many effective altruists, myself included, have over time become convinced that the vast majority of lives we can affect are in the future. If that’s right, it’s plausible that the most important moral imperative is to make sure that the very long-run future goes well. The stakes are enormous: trillions and trillions of lives over hundreds of thousands of years.
But when it comes to influencing the long-run future, we can’t run randomized control trials. In general, we can’t have the same sort of robust evidence base that we’re used to in global health interventions, for example. So it’s not the case that effective altruists focus exclusively on things that are easy to measure.
When it comes to politics, there’s no reason in principle why effective altruists shouldn’t get involved. But we’re less likely to enter longstanding political debates, such as what the tax rate should be, where a few more voices are unlikely to make much difference. Instead, we’re more likely to look for comparatively neglected policy areas — for example, what to do with new technologies such as artificial intelligence and synthetic biology.
Customers of banks are getting sick of their money being spent on destroying the world so they’re doing something about it. The Dirty Dozen banks are a group of banks that Greenpeace argues are the worst when it comes to investing. Barclays is one of those banks thanks to their investments in the shameful Canadian tar sands. Greenpeace started their awareness campaign and now people are taking the next step by losing their accounts with Barclays. It’s a great direct action to send an important message.
Of those who signed the petition, 6,000 told the environmental group that they were ready to close their accounts if Barclays did not heed their warning, while some said they had already done so.
“Moving your bank account is quite a big undertaking so we were genuinely surprised when people started doing it without us even suggesting it,” said Greenpeace oil campaigner Hannah Martin.
“This new information shows that the opposition to Barclays funding dirty tar sands projects isn’t just broad, but deep.
“People are prepared to put themselves through a bit of bureaucratic hassle to try to persuade their bank to do the right thing.”
Butterflies and bees need our help. They’re currently dying off due to changes in their environments while also being sprayed with deadly pesticides. A bunch of countries have banned the bee-killing pesticides, but that’s not helpful in the short term for beers or farmers. The progress at the policy level is needed and is slowly being rolled out around the globe.
At the individual level there is already stuff we can do to help the bees and our farming friends. All you have to do is plant some native species that your local pollinators love. Oh, and that means lots of butterflies.
The essence of the technique is to devote one in every four cultivation strips to flowering crops, such as oil seeds and spices. In addition, she provides pollinators with cheap nesting support, such as old wood and beaten soil that ground nesting bees can burrow into. Sunflowers were also planted nearby as wind shelters.
“There is a very low barrier so anyone in even the poorest country can do this. There is no equipment, no technology and only a small investment in seeds. It is very easy. You can demonstrate how to do it with pictures sent on a cellphone.”
Compared with control fields of pure monocultures, “amazing” benefits for farmers and an increase in abundance and diversity of pollinators were found. Crops were pollinated more efficiently, there were fewer pests such as aphids and greenfly, and yields increased in quantity and quality.
With so many reports coming out recently stating that the future of the planet will be decided in the next decade it can feel overwhelming to even try saving the planet. Thankfully there are things you can do right now to save the world from ecological collapse. You can be ambitious or make just tiny changes to your diet: the point is that it all helps and you can start today!
3. Other than that, what’s the best daily action I can take?
One 2017 study co-authored by Lund University’s Nicholas ranked 148 individual actions on climate change according to their impact. Going car-free was the number-one most effective action an individual could take (except not having kids – but more on that on that later). Cars are more polluting compared to other means of transportation like walking, biking or using public transport.
In industrialised countries such as European nations, getting rid of your car can reduce 2.5 tonnes of CO2 – about one-fourth of the average yearly emissions (9.2 tonnes) contributed by each person in developed countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
“We should choose more efficient vehicles and, whenever possible, switch directly to electric vehicles,” says Maria Virginia Vilarino, co-author of the mitigation chapter in the IPCC’s latest report.
With the pace of climate change continuing unabated you might feel like there is nothing you can do about it. There is actually a lot you can do to save the future from climate change induced by corporate greed. The easiest thing to do is just to stop buying things you don’t need, but there are other things you can do too. Over at Lifehacker they list many options for you to pursue to make a positive difference in the world. Remember that every time there’s an election vote for someone who also wants to stop climate change.