Which cause should you support?
Note: The following is extracted from parts of the main EA website.
The cause that you choose to work on is almost certainly going to be the biggest factor that determines how much good you can do.
If you choose a cause where it’s not possible to help very many people, or where there just aren’t any good ways to solve the problem, then you will significantly limit the amount of impact you can have.
On the basis of the impact, neglectedness and tractibility (INT) reasoning, there are several cause areas that have particular prominence amongst members of the effective altruism community.
These choices are not immutable. They simply represent best guesses about where we can have the most impact, given the evidence currently available. As new evidence comes to light that suggests different causes are more promising, we should consider working on those instead.
Fighting extreme poverty
About 900 million people live under the World Bank’s poverty line of USD1.90 per day. Diseases associated with extreme poverty, such as malaria and waterborne illnesses, kill millions of people every year. Poor nutrition in developing countries can lead to cognitive impairment, birth defects and growth stunting.
Much of this suffering can be easily prevented or mitigated. Antimalarial bednets cost around USD2.50 each. With technical assistance, countries can fortify staple foods like flour with essential micronutrients (like iron, iodine, and vitamins) incredibly cheaply. Treating a child that has a parasitic worm infection costs less than USD1.50.
Mass-media campaigns to drive behaviour change are a promising way of improving health and wellbeing, and may significantly improve the effectiveness of other healthcare services. And simply transferring money to people who are very poor provides direct economic empowerment, giving recipients more control over their lives.
Not only does improving health avert the direct suffering associated with sickness and death, it also allows people to participate more fully in education and work, and consequently earn more money and have more opportunities later in life.
Many people in the effective altruism community believe that we should be concerned about the welfare of nonhuman animals. In particular, the advent of industrialised agriculture means that billions of animals each year are kept in inhumane conditions on factory farms, and most have their lives ended prematurely when they are slaughtered for food. Advocates for their welfare argue that it is relatively cheap to reduce demand for factory farmed meat, or enact legislative changes that improve the welfare of farmed animals, and that the huge numbers of animals involved mean that making progress on this issue could avert a very large amount of suffering.
The future of the human race
If we believe that we should have moral concern for people who currently exist, but live in other parts of the world (that is, separated from us by space), then many people argue that we should also have moral concern for future generations of people (that is, separated from us by time).
The number of people who might exist in the future is astronomical. Because of this, ensuring that the human race continues and that the long-run future of the human race is positive seems very important.
However, there are many ways in which we might miss out on a very positive long-run future. Climate change and nuclear war are well-known threats to the long-run survival of our species. But emerging technologies, such as geoengineering and the design of novel pathogens, pose risks that are new and at least as great. And other technologies that will be developed over the coming decades, such as advanced artificial intelligence, have the potential to radically shape the course of human progress over the centuries to come. Many people in the effective altruism community therefore choose to ensure that we can harness the benefits of these new technologies while avoiding the risks.
There are many other promising causes that, while not currently the primary focuses of the effective altruism community, are plausible candidates for having a big impact. These include:
- Fundamental scientific research
- Improvements to the scientific establishment, such as greater transparency and replication of results
- Researching mental health and neurological disorders, particularly depression and anxiety, and improving access to treatment in developing countries
- Some forms of cancer research and treatment
- Climate change prevention, adaptation, and mitigation
- Tobacco control
- Prevention of road traffic injuries
- US criminal justice reform
- International migration and trade policy reform
Of course, it’s likely that we have overlooked some very important causes. So one way to have a huge impact might be to find an opportunity to do good that’s potentially high-impact, but that everyone else has missed.
The Open Philanthropy Project has done work to investigate a range of different cause-areas, in order to work out which provide the best opportunities for large grants. (Note that the top causes will vary from person to person, depending on your particular skills and circumstances ). Their current list of top causes includes global health and development, scientific research, farm animal welfare, US criminal justice reform, immigration reform, biosecurity, and artificial intelligence.
Effective Altruism Funds
The EA Funds was launched in May 2017.
EA Funds are analogous to mutual funds for giving effectively within core EA cause areas. When one donates to a fund, one specifies the cause area and pool his/her donation with many like-minded donors. Cause area experts then decide how to best allocate the pooled donations to the most promising giving opportunities they can find.
Donate more effectively through philanthropic funds managed by experts:
- Donate more effectively, by drawing on the expertise of grant managers at trusted, highly-effective organizations like the Open Philanthropy Project.
- Get economies of scale, by pooling your donations with the community, you can contribute towards opportunities that aren't open to individual donors.
- Maximize leverage — the Funds can move faster than big foundations, so can be more responsive as new funding needs emerge.