About Effective Altruism

Learn About Effective Altruism

Effective altruism is a philosophy and growing social movement that applies evidence and analysis to determine the most effective ways to improve the world.

Many people want to make the world a better place, but not all good intentioned acts have the same impact. Some have no discernable impact, some actually make things worse, but the very best actions can make an incredibly large difference. By seeking and acting on evidence and using critical thinking we can all make a significant positive impact on the world.

Values

Open-mindedness

Consider all causes and actions, and then act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact now and in the future.

Critical thinking

Apply evidence, science and reason to determine the most effective ways to improve the world.

Global empathy

Value all sentient life, regardless of nationality, creed, ancestry, religion, or species

Cause Prioritisation

Effective altruists aim to consider all causes and actions, and then act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, through their donations, volunteer work, or their career. There are many different problems in the world we can work on, so it is important for us to prioritise in order to make the largest impact.

Generally effective altruists look at three factors to decide what to work on:

Scale

Does this problem affect a larger number of lives, and how much does it affect those lives?

Tractability

Can a dedicated effort in support of the cause create a measurable difference?

Neglectedness

How much has the cause been overlooked or undervalued? We may be able to make more progress on a cause that few others are working on.

Common cause areas effective altruists work on

Global Health and Poverty

There are nearly 1 billion people living on the equivalent of the buying power of $2.50 per day, resulting in extreme hardship and disease. About 5 million children die before they reach the age of 5, and about 80% of these deaths are preventable with basic healthcare, indicating that much of this suffering can be easily prevented. The charity evaluator GiveWell thoroughly analyses charities and recommends charities they believe to be the most cost-effective at reducing unnecessary suffering and death. These charities could be doing 100x or 1000x more good than average charities with a given donation, so they are excellent places to donate. You can donate tax-deductibly to some of GiveWell’s highest rated charities here. One example of a highly rated charity is the Against Malaria Foundation, which distributes insecticide treated bed nets for about $3 each, which is backed by a very strong evidence base. GiveWell’s research suggests this may be one of the most cost effective ways of reducing deaths. 

Animal Suffering

Around the world, tens of billions of animals are raised in inhumane conditions in factory farms every year across the world, resulting in extreme suffering on a very large scale. It might be possible to greatly reduce, or perhaps eliminate this suffering. Animal Charity Evaluators recommends several evidence-based charities focussed on reducing animal suffering, including The Humane League which campaigns for better welfare standards and the reduction of animal product consumption, and The Good Food Institute, which assists in the development and advocacy of plant based and clean meat. The research on animal charities is not as robust as the research on global poverty charities, but Animal Charity Evaluators best estimate is that every dollar donated to The Humane League can cause several animals to not be born into a life of suffering on factory farms, so this may be a very cost-effective way of reducing suffering.

Reducing catastrophic risks

Effective altruists care not only about sentient beings living now, but also those that may be born in the future. There are many natural risks to humanity, like supervolcanos, pandemics and asteroids. And recently the human race has created a raft of new risks that may cause widespread suffering, death, and potentially human extinction, such as nuclear wars, engineered pathogens, and unsafe artificial intelligence. As these catastrophic risks are large in scale, and usually very neglected, reducing these risks may be the highest impact actions we can take. Founders Pledge conducts research to find the most effective charities working in a variety of cause areas, including Climate Change Prevention and Existential Risks, and 80,000 hours specialises in advising people who wish to dedicate their career to reducing catastrophic risks. 

Introductory reading and viewing on effective altruism

Readings

Free Book: Effective Altruism New Zealand Charitable Trust is giving away copies of William MacAskill’s 2015 book about effective altruism: “Doing Good Better”.

For a concise and fascinating summary of why effective altruism is so important, check out this introductory article by the Centre for Effective Altruism (15 minute read). 

Prefer videos? Check out these excellent TED talks

TED talk: “What are the most important moral problems of our time” by William MacAskill (12 minutes)

TED talk: “The why and how of effective altruism” by Peter Singer (17 minutes)

TEDx talk: “Effective Altruism” by Beth Barnes (6 minutes)

More in-depth information

Read

The Centre for Effective Altruism has a series of articles on the whys and hows of effective altruism here, working from introductory material to advanced. They also have a downloadable EA Handbook here, which is a mix of essays and adaptations of conference talks. 

80,000 hours provides detailed overviews of many of the world’s most pressing problems here.

Watch

“Prospecting for Gold” by Owen Cotton-Barratt (53 minutes).
How can we find the most promising ways to help others with our money and time? Owen Cotton-Barratt uses the metaphor of mining for gold, and some Harry Potter references, to show some tools for answering this question. 

Numerous conference talks are available on the Centre for Effective Altruism’s YouTube channel.  

Listen

80,000 hours present this weekly podcast of in depth conversations with fascinating people who have dedicated their careers to improving the world. 

Now that you have learnt more about effective altruism, take action!