What is Effective Altruism?
Simply put, Effective Altruism is the idea that we have both an opportunity and an obligation to do a lot of good. It’s also the idea that we should think carefully about what we do to achieve this good, because some ways are thousands of times more effective than others, or even more. We have limited time and resources, so naturally we should think about how we can maximise the good we can do.
An example of this is the idea that one can cure a human of blindness for about $60 through a donation to a charity that works on blindness in rural areas or developed nations, like the Fred Hollows Foundation. Compare this to another choice; a typical guide dog charity. Many guide dog charities are able to train a guide dog and end user pair for around $40,000. When we compare these two choices, it seems clear that we should donate to Fred Hollows, if what we value is actually curing people of blindness.
But it gets more complicated. What if what we value is wellbeing (and a lack of suffering) more generally? If we value the lives and wellbeing of animals at least close to as much as we do for humans (which I’d argue we should), we should consider them too. Some of the best animal charities can eliminate a year of animal suffering for 60 cents by encouraging people to go vegan and reduce the number of animals brought into an existence of suffering. You can find these charities on the Animal Charity Evaluators website (or donate to ACE directly to support their research).
But it doesn’t end there. Some argue that the chances of humanity going extinct are actually much higher than we think they are (with some arguing we have a 1 in 2 chance of surviving the next 100 years). Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, nuclear weapons and biological agents have the potential to wipe out all humans, and maybe even all life. It’s not fully clear yet how we might reduce the chances of these events, or whether they really are as likely as some say, but given the extreme nature of the potential problems, we should certainly try. Organisations such as the Future of Humanity Institute are working on these problems.
So one way to do a lot of good might be, counter-intuitively, to take a high paying job and donating a large amount of your income to such charities. But that’s not the only way. You could also take up a high-impact project or research yourself, or work to grow the Effective Altruism community to make more people aware of these ideas. And here is one of the most thorough guides in existence for choosing and getting a high impact career.
If any of this sounds compelling and you want to be involved in massively increasing the amount of good you can do in your life, please do get in touch. We live in a world where pulling someone out of a burning building and saving their life or rescuing an animal means you’re a hero. Imaging saving millions. It’s in reach.
Below are some other organisations that are working on these problems, though this is a very short list (see here for more and here to join a community wide mailing list). Check out their websites for a lot of freely available research.
- Peter Singer’s TED Talk – A short introduction to the ideas I’ve discussed here
- 80,000 Hours – An organisation offering research and coaching on selecting the most high impact careers
- GiveWell – Analyses the effectiveness of poverty and global health charities to advise donors on finding the most effective
- EA Hub – A searchable database of Effective Altruism clubs, societies and meet ups to find your closest
- Giving What We Can – Facilitates clubs, donor pledges and produces high impact research
- Effective Altruism Australia – If you’re in Australia, you can support the world’s most effective poverty charities here