Sunday, 17 November 2019

What is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint?

In a 2017 paper in Environmental Research Letters, the authors compare popular advice around reducing individual contributions to climate change, with an evaluation of the impacts, measured in annual expected tonnes of greenhouse gas averted. They concluded that advice tends to focus on recycling and energy efficiency, whereas dietary change and flying less is more neglected by the public but higher impact. They conclude:

...there are opportunities to improve existing educational and communication structures to promote the most effective emission-reduction strategies and close this mitigation gap. 

A comparison of the impact of different popular choices is shown in the chart below. The bars represent the impact of the choice, measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions (CO2-equiv GHGs) averted per year. Click the image below to see it full size.

The supplementary data from the paper above is available here.

In 2018, the charity evaluator Founders Pledge reviewed potential opportunities for philanthropists to help improve progress on climate change. They concluded that:

We have two recommendations for donors interested in climate change: the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and the Clean Air Task Force. Both organisations have an exceptional track record and we are confident that their future work will have a large impact on greenhouse gas emissions.... [for these top charities] we think it is likely that a donation to them would produce benefits on the order of $1 per tonne of CO2e. Equivalently, a $100 donation would avert around 100 tonnes of CO2e.

Assuming that £1 = $1.29, this means that a regular donation of £10 per month to a high-impact charity could avert around 155 tonnes of carbon emissions. The chart below compares the actions listed above, with estimated impacts from around 0.1 to 2.5 tonnes of CO2-equiv GHGs, with the estimated impact of donations to the highest impact charities (~155 tonnes per year). Click the image below to see it full size.

More information, and links to set up recurring donations to the Coalition for Rainforest Nations or the Clean Air Task Force are here and here. This analysis does not include the knock-on social impact of choices such as a setting a norm within a group of friends of flying less, or motivating others to eat less meat. If these effects are large (and enduring) enough, they could become substantial.

Individuals interested in maximising their social impact should be highly considerate of the views and norms of others, and so might still want to endorse positive but low-impact norms in order to improve social cohesion and influence.

These values are estimates and further technical discussion is available in both the original Wynes and Nicholas 2017 paper, and the Founders Pledge article. Even if the values change by an order of magnitude (decrease by 10x), they would still outweigh the marginal effects of individual consumption choices.

Also, there may be yet higher potential opportunities for donors looking for high-impact careers in climate change, such as through clean energy innovation here, or with adaptation research organisations such as ALLFED here. High-impact careers could be found through supporting research institutions such as the Grantham Institute at Imperial College, or the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge, among others. Further careers information for individuals interested in tackling some of the world's most pressing problems is available here.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

My resignation email

Context: From 2015-2019 I worked at Ernst and Young, doing management consulting in finance performance improvement. I recently left to start a role at CEA. This was my resignation email at EY, sent to >100 colleagues, including members of the UK and US partner teams. 

Climate Stripes,  Annual global temperatures in yearly increments from 1850-2017, link

Friends and colleagues,

After four years at EY, Friday will be my last day. I want to express my deep thanks to all of you for many fantastic memories and for so being supportive to me, and I’m sure to many others too.

At EY we aren’t short of kindness as individuals. I think our culture is great. We do many interesting projects helping governments, businesses, and society tackling important problems. But I think there are some questions about our broader impact as an organisation. It’s much easier to say that you’re building a better working world than it is to actually do it. On current emissions pathways, there’s a 10% chance we end up with over six degrees of warming. Many of our clients’ activities are in tension with the firm’s values, to put it mildly. In EY’s global strategy launch last week, I don’t think I heard Carmine say the words ‘climate change’ once. Why?

I’d like to give a shout out to the Eco-Innovators team, including the heroic Allison Walker and Alicia Humphreys, and their many helpers, for trying to get people to think about these topics, who are hosting my talk on Wednesday analysing whether one person can make a difference. A particular thank you to the infinitely patient and kind Jessie Coates for her ongoing wisdom over several years. (Interesting that it’s a group of women sorting out a problem caused mostly by men?) But, taking all of our work, such as on this IPO into account, what really is the net impact of the firm?

I’m leaving and taking a pay cut to do something I believe in. My new role working for a charity in Oxford focuses on trying positively shape the future of humanity. This is in part due to 80,000 Hours, who help people use their career to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. I wouldn’t have got the role without the skills and training I learnt at EY – so a big thank you to the finance people team including Ross and Neil, and my various counsellors (Jessie, David, and Joe) and bosses over the years.  For those of you who are interested, I’ve written a bit on my blog about CSRmeditation, and a three part series on life in 2019 (books I readlife hacks that work, and where and why I donated money), with more articles coming – you can subscribe for email updates on the top right.

Humanity is very young – our species could live for many (many) thousands of years more. But whether we do, and how inclusive our institutions will be depends on our wisdom and compassion, and what we actually do rather than just what we say. We really do have this wonderful gift, and we are the richest and most powerful people on Earth - the future is in our hands. 

I’d love to stay in touch with all of you, which you can do through my blog, on FacebookLinkedIn, and in my personal email on CC. 

All the best,

What is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint?

In a 2017 paper in Environmental Research Letters , the authors compare popular advice around reducing individual contributions to climate ...