One of the main characters of the TV series The Good Place is Chidi Anagonye, a brilliant yet perennially indecisive moral philosopher. Chidi is full of good intentions but – as the saying goes – that’s what the road to hell is paved with.
Chidi’s extensive knowledge of ethical matters forces him to overthink everything, making him incapable of making decisions. As a result, despite his constant efforts to help others, Chidi doesn’t cause them anything but suffering and pain.
But, what if we could find a way to leverage our knowledge of all the world’s problems effectively? After all, we’ve never had so much information about the challenges we’re facing and how we could solve them.
That’s what the Effective Altruism movement is all about. Starting in the late 2000s by organizations like Giving What We Can and Givewell, Effective Altruism is a philosophy and social movement using evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to do good and make the world a better place.
Think of a super-decisive Chidi that always knows what to do and you have a good example of a typical EA activist. (Aside from the fact that EA is a white-dominated movement; more on this later.)
What problems we should tackle first
One of EA’s most intriguing – and to a certain extent, most controversial – aspects is that it doesn’t just tell you what you should do if you want to solve a certain problem. It also tells you which problems you ought to solve first in order to leave this world a little bit better than you found it. For example, banning straws is not that important.
There’s a whole area of research focusing on cause prioritization and even an EA-inspired institute at the University of Oxford dedicated to it.
In a nutshell, EA suggests that good causes that should be prioritized usually have three characteristics:
Factoring in these aspects, EA activists usually come to the conclusion that the three most-pressing issues for humanity are: extreme poverty, animal suffering, and what they call “long-term future.” That’s basically the minimization of global catastrophic risks, also known as existential risks (yes, like reaching singularity).
How we can solve these problems
When it comes to helping others, the creed is usually that there’s no better way of getting involved than dedicating our own professional lives to it. After all, who’s more altruistic than a doctor that gives up a six-figure salary to run a charitable hospital in a low-income country?
However, EA refuses – or, at least, complicates – this scenario. In his book Doing Good Better (that is sort of EA’s gospel), British philosopher William MacAskill (one of the most prominent EA evangelists), claims that certain doctors (of course, it all depends on how good these hypothetical doctors are, what their specialization is, and who would fulfill their roles if they weren’t doing what they’re doing) might do a greater good if – instead of working for a charitable organization – they’d worked for a Western hospital donating 10 percent of their fat salaries to highly effective organizations.
MacAskill calls this “earning to give” and a few years ago it was one of the most prominent EA’s fads. “Earning to give” does sound like an opportunistic way of doing good and it’s not surprising that the concept has been particularly well-received by techies. After all, what’s more appealing for a startup founder than hearing that the way they can do the most good is by pursuing their own personal interests?
At the same time, there’s robust evidence that earning to give can truly be an extraordinarily effective way of doing good.
Anyway, as I said, EA complicates, rather than refuses the idea that dedicating your own career to a good cause is the best way to save the world. There are cases in which becoming a doctor in a low-income country is the most effective way of doing good.
To help grad students, starters, and all professionals in general in their career choices, there’s an EA organization called 80,000 hours whose name refers to the rough amount of hours a person spends working over a lifetime. In this age of bullshit occupations in which the expression “meaningful job” is often reduced to a LinkedIn buzzword, an organization like 80,000 hours provides much-welcomed resources to help people lead high-impact careers.
For example, scientific research is a potentially high-impact career choice. As a tissue engineer, you could grow clean meat. As a machine learning specialist you could work to minimize the chances of global catastrophic risks, and as an economist you could research how to maximize the positive impact of charitable cash transfers. And this just to mention research that would tackle the three cause areas we should prioritize according to EA.
Altruism for the Patrick Batemans of the world
In Doing Good Better, MacAskill proposes an ethical test to his readers. Imagine you’re outside a burning house and you’re told that inside one room is a child and inside another is a painting by Picasso. You can save only one of them. Which one would you choose to do the most good?
Of course, only American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman would choose to save the painting. Yet, MacAskill argues that, if you save the Picasso, you could sell it, and use the money to buy anti-malaria nets in Africa, this way saving many more lives than the one kid in the burning house.
The argument makes sense, albeit it sounds less like a serious moral proposition than as something a know-it-all could jokingly quip. And that’s probably how MacAskill intended it.
Anyway, the child-in-the-burning-house story is a good example of the most and less convincing aspects of Effective Altruism – at least as far as I’m concerned.
Among the least convincing, there’s surely this implicit tendency of being a movement that predominantly caters to white male nerds with a major in computer science. In a memorable account for Vox, journalist Dylan Matthews recounted his experience of the 2015 EA Global conference held at Google’s Quad Campus in Mountain view. Matthews – an effective altruist himself – described the movement as “at the moment, very white, very male, and dominated by tech industry workers.” Sure, many EA groups are working to make the movement less homogeneous, but it takes time.
On the other hand, the positive moral of the Picasso vs. kid story is that if we want to do good, we need to focus on the concrete, long-term outcomes of our actions and not solely on our warm, emotional intentions. Otherwise we become like Chidi, well-meaning but ineffective, paving our way to “The Bad Place,” as hell is unsurprisingly called in the series The Good Place.
This article was originally published on Forbes
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American Internet celebrity and makeup artist Jeffree Star wants to open his own vegan-friendly fast-food chain.
As reported by LiveKindly, Jeffre Star made the announcement during a live stream on his Youtube channel where he speaks to an audience of 11 million subscribers.
During the video, the makeup guru said that he is "in talks" to start the business. The concept? A vegan-friendly ('that's the real gag") restaurant, selling pink cheeseburgers and cotton candy fries.
Yes, you got that right.
As noted by LiveKindly, this is not Mr Star's first foray into the world of veganism. Over the years, his beauty brand Jeffree Star Cosmetics already launched a series of vegan products like Thirsty, a vegan eyeshadow palette, and, more recently, the four festive vegan lip scrubs.
We'll see whether these business plans will turn out to be something more substantial than a Youtube announcement.
Meanwhile, we can't help but gladly notice that plant-based burgers and veganism at large are gaining momentum across different audiences.
If we want to save our planet and ourselves from climate apocalypse, we need new policies and governmental action. We're not gonna save the Earth changing our household light bulbs.
Extinction Rebellion – a burgeoning social movement to fight climate change that is taking hold in the United Kingdom – is asking for just this: governments must tell the truth about the ecological emergency and enact legally binding measures to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025.
There are no other ways out of this mess: structural change is needed.
However, this doesn’t mean that as individual citizens we can go on a carbon spree without consequences. Or that all the ways to reduce our personal carbon footprints are equally ineffective.
Different studies highlight that there are four effective ways to cut on your individual carbon emissions. And no, changing light bulbs is not one of them.
While we should keep asking for top-down changes, it’s also good to remember that we can start making an impact on the environment right now by adapting our lifestyle.
1) Eat a plant-based diet
I enjoy the flavour of meat a lot and I’d find it difficult to go 100 percent vegetarian (let alone vegan) right now. Nevertheless, I can considerably decrease my meat consumption. This is already highly beneficial for the environment.
Moreover, I can advocate for meat alternatives like plant-based or clean meat.
2) Avoid air travel
Flights are a notorious source of gas emissions. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to avoid flying. Many jobs require travelling on a regular basis and even though in many cases a virtual meeting will do just fine, there are still some occasions in which your physical presence is needed.
How to solve this ethical dilemma? One solution might be to donate some money to carbon offsetting schemes. These projects can go a long way in fighting carbon emissions.
3) Live car-free
Research shows that living car-free saves about 2.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year (while a plant-based diet saves 0.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year).
I’m lucky enough to live in the Netherlands, a country where it's easy to move around without a car. This is possible thanks to an efficient public transportation system and the omnipresent cycle lanes.
In this case, it’s interesting to notice how my personal decision to live car-free is supported by environmentally friendly public policies.
4) Have a small family
If someone doesn’t exist, she doesn’t have a carbon footprint. This reasoning might seem at the same time cynical and stupidly obvious. But it’s also true.
According to Population Matters, having one fewer child is 25 more effective in cutting carbon emissions than living without a car.
What else could I do to reduce my carbon footprint?
Support Cool Earth, a highly effective organization that we thoroughly vetted.
Cool Earth is not only an offset scheme. It provides grant funding to rainforest communities, supporting community work in rainforest protection and ensures their voice is heard in agreements about the future of the rainforests. At the time of writing, 234,436,540 tonnes of CO2 has been stored as a result of their projects. Their Asháninka project shields millions of acres of forest from loggers, with 901,679 acres saved to date.
You too can help to save our planet. A more liveable Earth is just a click away 👇
It’s known that many celebrities support noble causes. After all, if you’re a celeb, you supposedly got the visibility and the money. So, you’re particularly well-suited to help other people.
Some VIPs go the extra mile and found their own charitable organization.
But are these celebrity-powered charities effective? Or even: are they doing any good?
To answer these questions, we picked five charities founded by celebrities and ran them through our Kinder Vetting Framework. Let’s see what came out.
Our selection of charities below isn't based on any scientific criteria. We browsed lists of celebrity founded charities and tried to pick out a balanced list
These are the charities that we picked:
The Lopez Family Foundation. Co-founded by journalist Lynda Lopez and her sister singer Jennifer Lopez, the Lopez Family Foundation “advocates and invests in policies and programs that make a positive, measurable impact on communities and makes quality healthcare and health education available for underserved mothers and their children.”
Born This Way Foundation. A charitable organization created in 2012 by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta “with the goal of creating a kinder and braver world” (we can’t help but sympathize with such aim).
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Created in 1998, the foundation was established with the mission of protecting the world’s last wild places.
The Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation was founded in 2003 by Angelina Jolie as a “conservation and community development program in the Samlout Protected Area” (Cambodia).
The Kinder Vetting Framework
At Kinder, we developed a vetting framework to assess the performance of charitable organizations. At the moment, it’s made of two steps but we’re working to add another two in the near future.
The first step is called Initial Screening. With it, we examine the transparency and accountability of charitable organizations by evaluating their official websites.
In particular, we evaluate the charities on five parameters.
This is a fairly low initial threshold. To pass the Initial Screening, you need a score of 95.
The second step is called Organizational Competence. With it, we try to determine whether a charitable organization is competent and well-suited to solve the problems it’s addressing.
If an organization fails the Initial Screening, we usually don’t vet it on its Organizational Competence. Our aim in the next months is to start reaching out to all the organizations that fail the Initial Screening, share our results with them, and ask if they’re willing to improve their score.
So, to start with, we just wanted to see whether the five celebrity-run charities passed the Initial Screening.
I asked our in-house research team to have a look. This is the screenshot that they shared with me:
Again, to pass the Initial Screening you need to score at least 95. None of them did.
Quite discouraged, I read the notes the research team attached to the screenshot.
All charities with the exception of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation lack relevant information about their strategic plans. At the same time, DiCaprio’s organization needs to improve on other parameters like publishing its financial statements.
The Born This Way Foundation’s website was deemed “quite minimalist” by the research team, lacking information about key staff members and financial statements. Similarly, the Lopez Family Foundation should expand its website to include financial statements, strategic plans, relevant information about key staff members, and contact information (they don’t even have a contact form).
Obviously, the fact these five charities don’t pass the Initial Screening doesn’t mean that they’re inherently inefficient. It just suggests that they should work more on their online transparency and accountability.
In general, Kinder is not in the business of bashing charities and we would never share an organization’s poor results without discussing them with the relevant stakeholders beforehand. In this case, we made an exception since these five charities are exceptionally well-backed.
And if you’re Lady Gaga, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey, or Angelina Jolie and want to improve the Initial Screening score of your foundation don’t hesitate to drop us a line at email@example.com
Header Image: The Wolf of Wall Street © Paramount Pictures