Biden administration smooths Pacific Island Summit frictions

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Biden administration on Wednesday indicated that Solomon Islands had reversed a decision to refuse to sign on to a partnership declaration between the U.S. and Pacific Island countries, an issue that had threatened to cloud the White House’s efforts to deepen U.S. influence in the region. The Solomon Islands, which signed a controversial security pact with China this year, was refusing to sign an 11-point summit declaration “designed to provide a framework for intensified U.S. engagement in the Pacific,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported Tuesday. Also late Wednesday, the administration said that another reported sticking point ahead of the first-ever U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit in Washington, D.C., the Marshall Islands’ suspension of talks planned for last weekend on renewing its strategic partnership, or Compact of Free Association Agreement, was inaccurate. Ahead of the summit, which began Wednesday and will continue into Thursday, that reported dissension threatened to impede administration efforts to leverage the meeting as a symbol of U.S.-Pacific Island country unity. By defusing that discord the administration can claim victory in reinforcing regional support for the U.S. to counter China’s growing influence in the South Pacific. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. and Pacific Island leaders — apparently including those of Solomon Islands — had sealed "a declaration of partnership between the U.S." Blinken said the declaration demonstrated the two sides’ “shared vision of the future,” but didn’t provide details on specific signatories. But his announcement suggests the administration had wrangled last minute changes in the document’s wording that had prompted Solomon Islands’initial refusal to sign on. The declaration "was not done yesterday,” a senior administration official told POLITICO. "Not only [with] Solomon Islands but several others … negotiations had not been completed.” The official also disputed a report that the Marshall Islands hadsuspended talks with the U.S. on renewing its strategic partnership to protest the perceived U.S. failure to address the economic, environmental and health legacy of U.S. nuclear weapons testing around the atolls from 1946 to 1958. “There never was an interruption in COFA talks with Marshall Islands — we met with their delegation earlier this week and agreed on the dates for next discussions,” said the official. “So it was never the case that because of the nuclear issue, or because of whatever issue that we or they refused to meet, that was never the case.” The official declined to comment on the report asserting the talks’ suspension. POLITICO efforts to contact representatives of the Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands were unsuccessful. But reports of their initial public pushback marked a humbling kick-off for the two-day summit and underscores the challenges that the Biden administration faces in redeeming U.S. credibility in a region where China is filling the void created by decades of U.S. disengagement. But the administration is adamant that the two-day summit will deliver tangible benefits for Pacific Island countries that will underscore U.S. resolve to be their superpower partner of choice. “This summit is quite a while in the making and we believe it will be a substantial investment,” a different senior administration official said Tuesday. “We will talk specifically about programs and agencies and specific budget numbers.” Blinken rolled out the first of those numbers Wednesday by announcing $4.8 million in U.S. funding for the new Resilient Blue Economies initiative aimed to “strengthen marine livelihoods by supporting sustainable fisheries, aquaculture, tourism.” Detailed deliverables powered by generous U.S. funding is essential if the administration wants to counter China’s growing influence in the region. For many Pacific Islanders, the most visible symbols of U.S. engagement are the remains of former World War II battlefields such as Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. That influence vacuum has lubricated China’s diplomatic inroads over the past two decades in the absence of a competitive U.S. alternative. The administration is coordinating its summit outreach with its Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative with allies Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom “to add more resources, more capacity, more diplomatic engagement as a whole,” said the official. The summit will also mark the launch of the U.S. government’s first-ever Pacific Strategy, a regional-specific compliment to the administration’s China-containing Indo-Pacific Strategy launched in September 2021. “This [strategy] is specifically aimed at the concerns and the objectives in the Pacific as a whole … [and] about how to organize the disparate elements of the U.S. government toward tackling issues like climate change, training, issues associated with [over]fishing, investments in technology,” the official said Tuesday. Initiatives to address the existential threat that the climate crisis poses to Pacific Island countries will get their leaders’ attention. China has helped power its diplomatic inroads with a bespoke climate diplomacy aimed to address concerns about rising sea levels. China’s special envoy on climate change, Xie Zhenhua, earlier this month convened a “climate change dialogue and exchange meeting” in Beijing with diplomatic representatives from Vanuatu, Samoa, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Micronesia, Fiji and Tonga, the Chinese Foreign Ministry reported. The administration deployed Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry on Wednesday to tout the administration’s determination to improve Pacific Island countries’ links to the U.S. “We’ll have the following day a major event at the Chamber of Commerce when the leaders will have an opportunity to engage with a broad array of business groups ranging from tourism [and] travel to energy to technology, to essentially talk about how U.S. business groups can be more actively engaged,” the official said Tuesday. Special Presidential Envoy Ambassador Joseph Yun told POLITICO last week that the State Department was on track to renew COFAs with Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands by end-2022 after six months of intensive negotiations. Those agreements will effectively firewall those three countries from Beijing’s efforts to displace the U.S. as the region’s dominant superpower. But the initial resistance of Solomon Islands to sign on to the summit declaration will heighten administration concerns about the influence of the country’s security pact with Beijing on its relations with the U.S. Solomon Islands denied port access to a U.S. Coast Guard cutter last month due to unspecified “bureaucratic reasons” and subsequently imposed a temporary moratorium on all foreign naval ships.

Antony Blinken touts partnership agreement as a “shared vision of the future.”

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Why Americans will pay higher natural gas prices this winter

Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images More exports, and the lingering effects of extreme weather, could affect bills. American households that run on natural gas can expect high bills this winter. How high prices go depends on a lot of factors, including whether the war in Ukraine takes a new turn and if the winter is unusually mild or cold. The Energy Information Agency’s winter forecast expects bills to be higher than last year’s, though not quite as high as the summer peak. War in Ukraine and Europe’s ban on Russian gas have already reshaped global markets. Europe is feeling the crunch because of how much of its gas came piped from Russia, but the US faces a different kind of problem. Throughout most of the 2010s, the US had a supply glut that kept the wholesale price of gas low. Supply far outpaced domestic demand, and almost none of it was exported as liquified natural gas (LNG) to other countries. But since 2016, the US has built new terminals that are capable of exporting gas in its more condensed liquid form. Increased exports have raised costs for American consumers as they compete with global markets that fetch better profits for the industry. Add in the costs of inflation and extreme weather disasters like winter storm Uri, and it looks unlikely that prices will come down for quite some time. Now that the US is increasingly at the whims of the global market, the pitfalls of running an economy on gas are becoming more obvious. Gas exports are driving an increase in prices Until the last few years, the main consumers of gas were industry, the electric sector, and homes, businesses, and vehicles. As LNG exports have grown, they’ve essentially “squeezed” the rest of these US markets, particularly residences, explains Clark Williams-Derry, an energy analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). Like the gasoline you pay for at the pump, there isn’t a universal price of natural gas. The closest indicator we have for it in the US is called the Henry Hub, a wholesale price named after a busy distribution spot in Louisiana. Looking at what’s happened to the Henry Hub prices helps explain the weirdness of US gas markets right now. The Henry Hub is not what you’re paying. By the time the gas gets to the home, you’re paying for what it takes to distribute the fuel, the pipelines, and the labor involved. Regulated utilities, generally, are charging consumers for the gas they use and then a fixed cost, the cost of building pipelines to deliver the gas. These costs are rising too, thanks to inflation, so residential prices are rising even faster than what the Henry Hub would indicate. The Henry Hub price was so low for most of the last decade that producers had trouble staying in business. By 2016, the US had opened its first liquified natural gas terminal in Louisiana, which allowed it to condense the gas so it can be exported to other countries. The opening coincided with a momentous decision made in 2015 to lift a 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports. To ward off another government funding showdown with the GOP-controlled Congress, President Obama signed into law a spending bill that meant the US could start shipping oil to foreign markets for a better price than they could fetch domestically. It has taken time for the US to ramp up its export capacity, with a pandemic mixed into the equation, so the impact on markets has taken a bit of time to catch up. But economists, including those at the EIA, agree that these terminals are having an impact on domestic prices. An unexpected event this summer demonstrated just how important exports have become to determining the US price of gas. In June, there was an explosion at the second-largest natural gas export plant, Freeport LNG, a facility designed to turn gas into its liquid form so it can be shipped across the ocean. The plant, responsible for 20 percent of US LNG capacity, has been shut down ever since, reducing export capacity by a few percentage points. Henry Hub prices were skyrocketing at the time of the explosion, but even the dent of 2 percentage points in overall US gas consumption was enough to make an apparent difference. The terminal has faced a series of delays in reopening, but when it does, it will once again shift the domestic supply of gas. Two percentage points might not sound like a lot, but there’s not a lot of wiggle room since the pandemic in oil and gas supply and demand. As the explosion showed, it’s enough to change the wholesale price of gas. Indeed, the EIA expects prices to increase further “when the Freeport LNG terminal in Texas” resumes its partial operations because more gas will be exported. The squeeze will just get tighter if the US continues to build more of these terminals. As they ramp up, LNG exports are projected to double from 2020 levels in 2023. Normally, these terminals are subject to years of environmental reviews and permitting, but Republicans and some Democrats have pushed for speeding up those timelines. Some progressive Democrats have pushed for the Biden administration to pull the plug on LNG exports altogether, fearing that it is not only driving higher prices, but locking the world into decades more of fossil fuel usage that it can’t afford. “There isn’t a point in which you build enough infrastructure that somehow you isolate yourself from global markets,” said Lorne Stockman, research director for the climate advocacy group Oil Change International. “There are times when supply catches up with demand and prices come down, but inevitably demand starts catching up with supply again. It’s like a hamster wheel.” You’re being charged more because of epic extreme weather Henry Hub prices have been falling since August, but residential consumers haven’t felt much relief. Mark Dyson, managing director of the Carbon-Free Electricity Program at the energy think tank RMI, pointed to another reason why: extreme weather. In February 2021, Texas was caught off-guard by Uri, an unusually fierce winter storm. Unprepared for the frigid temperatures, the state’s independent grid saw vast blackouts as gas infrastructure froze and demand for heating spiked. The supply shortages this time resulted from weather, not international conflict, but the effect was the same as war: Prices went skyrocketing. The combination of these things could have hypothetically turned a $200 bill into a $10,000 one. To ward off that catastrophe, utility regulators instead had companies space out the costs from the storm over a longer period — so consumers, not just in Texas but in Colorado and Minnesota, could be paying for the storm over the next decade. The problem is, winter storm Uri was possibly not a one-time fluke but an event that may grow more likely because of climate change. It’s harder for scientists to link a single frigid weather event to climate change; some research suggests that warming in the Arctic will increase the chances of polar air spilling south. Energy efficiency and clean power help us get off the “hamster wheel” of rising energy prices There’s a valuable lesson in the Freeport explosion from this summer. Just as a major LNG terminal coming offline can make a difference in domestic prices, so can other things. Energy execs point immediately to more production as one solution, though that creates all kinds of other problems for global warming. As a fossil fuel, the methane from natural gas heats the planet far faster than carbon dioxide. Stockman suggests it is time to get off the hamster wheel where we try to drill our way out of high energy prices. “The key thing that will make energy cheaper and more secure for Americans is to reduce and eventually end our use of these commodities,” said Stockman. This is where the policies of the Inflation Reduction Act may make some difference — not in time for this winter, but possibly as early as 2024. One is a fee on excess methane emissions that escape through the drilling and transport of natural gas that could finally incentivize producers to capture more of the lost gas that’s superheating the atmosphere. Another is the range of consumer tax breaks that incentivize energy efficiency of the home, including energy-efficient appliances like heat pumps. Finally, utilities and consumers alike face new incentives to buy renewables over gas, tipping the economics firmly in solar and wind’s favor. “We’re going to start to see the level of adoption in the next 12 to 24 months that will add up to a pretty big dent in gas demand over the medium term,” Dyson said. “Even a couple of percentage points drop in gas demand from power, buildings, and industry could actually have a pretty big effect on prices. It could actually reduce the prices we’re seeing now.”

Hochul signs partial cryptocurrency mining ban into New York law

The law would create the first-in-the-nation temporary pause on new permits for fossil fuel power plants that house proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining.

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York will instate a two-year moratorium on new fossil fuel-powered cryptocurrency mining operations as the state works to balance its economic development and climate goals. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday signed the controversial measure into law that would create the first-in-the-nation temporary pause on new permits for fossil fuel power plants that house proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining, which is a process used in the transaction of digital money. Hochul, who had punted on the issue for months after the Legislature passed the bill in June, was elected to a full term Nov. 8. Upstate New York has become attractive to companies that “mine” digital currencies, including Bitcoin, because of the availability of former power plants and manufacturing sites with unused electrical infrastructure. But Hochul said that the moratorium is an important step to avoid increased emissions from the industry restarting old power plants as she guides the state toward ambitious climate goals. “As the first governor from upstate New York in nearly a century, I recognize the importance of creating economic opportunity in communities that have been left behind,” the Democratic governor from Buffalo said in the memo accompanying her approval. “I am signing this legislation into law to build on New York’s nation-leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the most aggressive climate and clean energy law in the nation, while also continuing our steadfast efforts to support economic development and job creation in upstate New York.” The new law will also trigger a study by state Department of Environmental Conservation to study the impacts of the cryptocurrency mining industry on the environment. The measure was hotly debated in the halls of the state Capitol this year, with environmental groups pushing lawmakers and Hochul to support the bill and the industry urging Hochul to reject it. “Thank you, Governor Hochul, for stepping up to protect New Yorkers from corporate bullies who want to exploit communities like mine in the Finger Lakes,” Yvonne Taylor, vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian, an environmental group that has pushed for the closure of a local gas-powered cryptocurrency facility. “The crypto industry is going to whine that this is a blow, but it's not.” The bill is narrow in scope, despite its groundbreaking steps. The state's roughly dozen operations that draw power from the grid would not be affected, nor would individuals purchasing or mining for cryptocurrency or other blockchain activities. And the moratorium on new or renewed permits doesn’t apply if the company has already filed paperwork to operate in New York. Still, the law has raised concern in the industry that it would lead to other states to follow suit and hurt the industry, which has already faced a difficult stretch among investors. In June, the state denied a key permit for a gas powered cryptocurrency mining operation in the Finger Lakes, saying the Greenidge facility was spewing too much planet-warming pollution to be allowed under the state’s climate law. But the company is fighting the decision, and the plant continues to operate. Business groups ripped Hochul for signing the ban into law. “The Business Council does not believe the legislature should seek to categorically limit the growth and expansion of any business or sector in New York,” the group said in a statement. “We plan to further engage and help educate them regarding this industry and the benefits it provides to the local, regional and state economy.”

No, California’s young voters did not turn out more than seniors. But they did clinch elections

The narrative that young voters surpassed seniors in election turnout is simply not true. But they are influencing elections in a major way, and helping Democrats win elections across California.

In summary The narrative that young voters surpassed seniors in election turnout is simply not true. But they are influencing elections in a major way, and helping Democrats win elections across California. Get California news in your inbox, for free. Guest Commentary written by Paul Mitchell Paul Mitchell is the vice president of Political Data, a voter data firm based in California, and the owner of Redistricting Partners, a firm which does municipal redistricting and consulting nationally. Every election year it seems there is a story about skyrocketing votes from young people. Every time it turns out to not be true.   Case in point: there have been reports that young people turned out in such great numbers this year that they surpassed seniors. That’s impossible. Looking just at California, among the ballots we have recorded so far, there were 3.2 million seniors who cast ballots among the 5.1 million registered, but of the 6 million voters under 35, only 1.3 million voted.  Seniors comprise 23% of voters but 36% of ballots cast; younger voters are 27% of voters and only 15% of ballots cast. This gap will narrow a bit as we get final numbers from county registrars, but the story will stay the same: young people are massively underperforming. In case you think California’s youth is especially disengaged, that’s not true. Studies show young Californians are more engaged, and our younger voters have a higher registration rate than other states. But there is another side of this coin. While youth turnout is disappointingly low, young people put their stamp on this election nonetheless – and it is because of their much more strident ideological stances. Seniors are balanced in their political leanings, with recent polling from Capitol Weekly showing that approximately 40% of voters over 35 years old identify as moderates, with equal numbers considering themselves either liberal or conservative. This in contrast to the 25% of younger voters who identify as moderates and are more liberal than conservative at a 3 to 1 ratio.  Most strikingly, upwards of 40% of these young voters consider themselves very liberal, while other age groups are in single-digits. We can see this in recent polling which shows seniors in California favor Democrats by a 50% to 36% margin, while young voters are polarized toward Democratic candidates at a 70% to 18% margin. On a generic ballot question that asked if they were likely to support a Democratic or Republican candidate, seniors supported Democrats by an 18-point advantage while younger voters supported Democrats by a whopping 56%. On progressive policies like Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call to ban sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035, seniors were evenly split, but 18-34 year-olds were much more supportive at 70%. Seniors are reliably Democratic-leaning in California but modestly so. Younger voters – even in their smaller numbers – are providing progressives with the overwhelming margins needed to win elections. One way in which we see this data come to life is the “blue shift” in the post-election counting of ballots. Analysis of the voters who are having their votes counted in the batches of late-received (but postmarked on time) includes large numbers of younger voters.   In the early waves of vote-by-mail ballots, seniors were outpacing young voters by a 5 to 1 margin. But in the late ballots, a third of ballots were from young voters and fewer than 15% from seniors. Democrats and left-leaning candidates in intra-party runoffs and municipal elections are gaining votes. In Orange County, Democratic congressional members Katie Porter and Mike Levin and Supervisor Katrina Foley all had modest margins from mail voting, which was 45% seniors, and lost votes to their Republican challengers with in-person voters where seniors outpaced young voters. But in the late-processed mail vote, each shot to significant victories with a population of voters that had 30% more voters under 35 than seniors. In the Los Angeles mayor’s race, the early vote favored Congresswoman Karen Bass but votes from Election Day gave businessman Rick Caruso a lead. Then ballots tallied after Election Day had more young voters than seniors, and they came in with a wide 60% to 40% margin for the more progressive Bass, pushing her to a 6-point victory. Splitting these concepts is important. We don’t need to continue the false narrative that young people are voting more than seniors – that’s just not true and hides the real challenge faced with this population. But we can recognize that the massive left-leaning nature of young voters is driving election outcomes. They help Democrats in California earn massive supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate, elect a Congressional delegation that is nearly 4 to 1 Democratic, and provide support for the state’s environmental, gay rights, social, housing and other progressive agendas. Young people in California and nationally are effectively helping progressives win, and they were a pivotal election constituency in 2022. One can only imagine what it would look like if they doubled their turnout and met seniors head-on in a future election.

Effective Altruism Is Bunk, Crypto Is Bad for the Planet, and Other Basic Truths of the FTX Crash

Twitter’s implosion isn’t the only astonishing story in the tech world this week. There’s also the collapse of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange led by its 30-year-old founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who is now under investigation by federal regulators for multiple wrongdoings and, by the public, for reportedly being a member of what may now be world’s most despised polycule. What’s made the FTX unraveling so shocking is that Bankman-Fried was thought to be special—the reasonable voice of a Wild West industry. He was also believed to be in possession of a moral compass. Now, as headlines about FTX proliferate, people are starting to question the philosophy of “effective altruism,” which Bankman-Fried promoted and claimed to live by. This rethinking of effective altruism may be the one bright spot in an otherwise depressing crash that may devastate many vulnerable people. Despite its good reputation in some affluent and influential quarters, the effective altruism philosophy has always contained quite a bit of dangerous nonsense.  The goal of effective altruism—a philosophy and “social movement”—is to “try to find unusually good ways of helping, such that a given amount of effort goes an unusually long way,” according to EffectiveAltruism.org. That can mean donating a kidney, spending money on pandemic preparedness, or attempting to ward off space crimes in the year 3423. The actions of effective altruism devotees are guided by a few core principles, including prioritization. “The goal is to find the best ways to help, rather than just working to make any difference at all” using “numbers,” the group’s website states. Decisions should be impartial so as to “give everyone’s interests equal weight.” Adherents are committed to open truth-seeking, finding the most rational ways to make change rather than “starting with a commitment to a certain cause, community or approach.” EA acolytes pride themselves, that is, on a cool rationality that rejects the emotional satisfaction of helping someone face to face, or having the kinds of material or emotional stakes in an issue that organizers use to enlist recruits into union drives or grassroots movements pushing systemic change. It’s that reasoning which leads the EA-career advice site 80,000 Hours—featuring a testimonial from Bankman-Fried himself—to rank climate change seventh on a list of the world’s most pressing problems. Climate change, this site claims, is dangerous mainly for its potential to exacerbate other, more grave existential threats like pandemic or nuclear war. The case for that is as follows: “If climate change poses something like a 1 in 1,000,000 risk of extinction by itself, our guess is that its contribution to other existential risks is at most a few orders of magnitude higher—so something like 1 in 10,000.” Numbers! The most pressing threat, this site claims, is superpowered artificial intelligence at some point executing a plan to kill or enslave all of humanity.The most pressing threat, this site claims, is superpowered artificial intelligence at some point executing a plan to kill or enslave all of humanity. The unlikely event of the world warming by 13 degrees would constitute “a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented scale,” per an 80,000 Hours issue brief. But even at those temperatures ”it seems very likely that we could adapt to avoid extinction (for example, by building better buildings and widespread air conditioning, as well as building more in the cooler areas of the Earth),” the guide writes. “​​We would have to live in a much smaller area, but civilisation would survive.”Effective Altruism’s intellectual grandfather is utilitarian Peter Singer. But its best hype man is Oxford philosopher William MacAskill. His particular hobby horse is something called longtermism, spelled out in his latest book What We Owe The Future. As Alexander Zaitchek summarized in his excellent review for this magazine, longtermism “posits that one’s highest ethical duty in the present is to increase the odds, however slightly, of humanity’s long-term survival and the colonization of the Virgo supercluster of galaxies by our distant descendants.” Our chief concern should be the trillions of people who’ll live on earth for hundreds of thousands, if not billions of years to come. Oddly, the rationale for climate change not being a more pressing threat to EAs is that it would take “some time (decades or maybe centuries)” for extreme levels of warming to develop via the burning every fossil fuel reserve currently in the ground. MacAskill, who seems to have personally recruited Bankman-Fried to the EA community, has now condemned Bankman-Fried on Twitter for failing at effective altruism. “I had put my trust in Sam, and if he lied and misused customer funds he betrayed me, just as he betrayed his customers, his employees, his investors, & the communities he was a part of,” MacAskill tweeted last week. To demonstrate that Bankman-Fried’s actions were inconsistent with effective altruism and therefore Bankman-Fried’s fall does not discredit effective altruism, MacAskill posted a few sections from his book that emphasize the need to live a “rounded ethical life.” The ends do not always justify the means, MacAskill argues in these segments, even if it might theoretically save billions of lives in the far-off future. And it’s “particularly important to avoid doing harm,” he writes. But like much of EA, this sidesteps some more basic ethical issues under capitalism—issues highly relevant to the FTX collapse. Quite simply: There is no ethical or non-harmful way to make a billion dollars in an economic system rife with—and arguably premised on—exploitation and passing the true costs of a product on to others. To MacAskill, creating a Ponzi scheme and gambling away customer savings is beyond the pale. The ordinary exploitation involved in the process of accumulating extraordinary wealth—low wages, poor working conditions, and union busting—is all copacetic. In the case of crypto, especially, amassing wealth has tended to come with a massive carbon footprint. Bitcoin mining using so-called proof of work operations are extraordinarily carbon intensive. Shuttered coal and gas-fired power plants in the U.S. have surged back to life to mint cryptocurrency, sparking pushback from lawmakers in New York and elsewhere. The practice uses more electricity than the country of Norway and its 5.3 million inhabitants. Attempts to switch to another, much less emissions-intensive method called proof of stake have so far been a mixed bag. While Ethereum underwent a high-profile switch, old mining devices are still being put to work. Though pollution from fossil fuels account for one in five deaths worldwide, EA enthusiasts could undoubtedly offer a lengthy explanation as to why more emissions are ultimately justified in the name of battling intergalactic genocide. Effective altruism is the gospel of wealth for guys who fashioned their personalities in high school around subjecting their criminally underpaid teachers to debates about whether God exists.Effective altruism is the gospel of wealth for guys who fashioned their personalities in high school around subjecting their criminally underpaid teachers to debates about whether God exists. The implicit reasoning behind the philosophy is that the big, powerful brains earning fortunes are also the best equipped to figure out how they will make the world a better place. Any rube can go work at a non-profit. Making a real difference might just mean getting filthy rich (“earning to give”), as MacAskill once told Bankman-Friend over lunch. “Rich makes right” is not exactly revolutionary stuff. “Doing good by doing well” has been a long-held mantra of Davos-types spewing TED talk-ish bromides about wanting to make the world a better, greener place. “The laws of accumulation will be left free; the laws of distribution free. Individualism will continue,” steel magnate Andrew Carnegie wrote of his class’s charitable giving in 1899, “but the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor; entrusted for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself.” Bizarrely, though, EA has been successfully marketed as new and innovative, mostly by dint of its proximity to tech. To be fair, EA-aligned think tanks like Open Philanthropy have sent money to plenty of worthy causes, including journalism and non-profits interested in tackling the root causes of what makes the world suck. Some EA adherents are merely self-congratulatory do-gooders. Some are people who have landed themselves in high paying jobs, yet have some vague sense that the world is bad and want to help out. Donating kidneys and mosquito netting isn’t exactly a bad thing. There may well be some way for EA to continue the good it’s doing in the world without Bankman-Friend and other wealthy backers. But on a basic material level, crypto and the institutions guiding EA remain deeply intertwined—so much so that many recipients of EA funds are now facing dire shortfalls amid the FTX implosion. Bankman-Friend more or less admitted this week that his ethical commitments were mostly a scam. When prompted by Vox’s Kelsey Piper over Twitter DMs to discuss the discrepancy between his public talk about ethics and his true perception of finance as a “game,” he responded, “ya,” and “hehe,” adding that he “had to be” good at talking about ethics since “it’s what reputations are made of.” Ethics in corporate culture, he added, is “a dumb game that we woke westerners play where we say all the right shiboleths and so everyone likes us.”As he also told Piper, “fuck regulators.” Any talk about wanting to make good regulations on crypto was “just PR,” he confirmed. To him, regulators are useless, inept drains on businesses. Regulators are obsessed with a “giant Crackdown on Big Tech,” and are “undermining US interests globally.” He called the Office of Foreign Assets Control—the enforcement arm of the U.S. Treasury, which also administers trade sanctions—“the single biggest threat to the US being a suprepower.” Echoing the Republicans who have deemed so-called environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investment decisions a special enemy in recent years, on the theory that Wall Street banks are biased against fossil fuels, Bankman-Fried complained that “ESG has been perverted beyond recognition.” Reading this rant over Twitter DMs, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the effective altruism philosophy Bankman-Fried claimed to believe in is beside the point: Bankman-Fried is a garden-variety reactionary who wants to keep the government out of his business. Debating whether or not he did all this to serve some greater good is academic, leaning toward absurd.It was already clear beore the FTX implosion was Bankman-Fried spent plenty of money not to make the world a better place, but to influence policymakers, quickly becoming one of the largest donors to Democratic candidates. He gave $5 million to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and had pledged to put $1 billion toward supporting Democrats in 2024. This probably wasn’t because he’s a progressive at heart: Reporting by The American Prospect found that two Democratic-supporting political action committees funded by Bankman-Fried, Web3 Forward and GMI PAC, backed candidates based on how friendly they would be to the crypto industry—including on its considerable greenhouse gas emissions. These PACs sent questionnaires to candidates on these issues. As David Dayen writes: A section in one questionnaire labeled “Protecting the Environment” claims that Bitcoin “proof of work” mining, which has been criticized for using extreme amounts of energy, is actually a boost to a clean-energy electric grid, while using “2.5 times less energy than the banking system per dollar of value.” The Prospect asked Web3 Forward and GMI PAC to provide sources for this, but they have not responded. As the questionnaire even concedes at one point, the arguments appear to be based on theories from proof-of-work mining participants themselves. Independent energy experts have scoffed at the claims.Questionnaires also asked candidates to pledge to support a letter to SEC Commissioner Gary Gensler urging him to back off the industry. The letter was ultimately signed by both Republicans and Democrats, including Representatives Josh Gottheimer, Jake Auchincloss, Darren Soto and Ritchie Torres.  As The Lever reported, the Bankman-Fried-backed super PAC Protect Our Future spent millions this cycle, including to elect candidates who sit on committees relevant to the crypto industry. Bankman-Fried personally co-hosted a fundraiser for Torres with Democrat-aligned pollsters David Shor and Sean McElwee. The latter was reportedly an advisor to Bankman-Fried, whose group Data for Progress received $48,000 from Protect Our Future.  This is all very ordinary behavior for a billionaire getting involved in politics. Real or fake, the sheen of effective altruism seemed to have fooled plenty of people into thinking Bankman-Fried was extraordinary. It’s good that FTX’s collapse is finally making people rethink Bankman-Fried and effective altruism. But the problem with effective altruism isn’t that it’s populated by insufferable dweebs. The problem is these dweebs’ alliance with a profoundly anti-democratic project: to let its founders continue to make as much money as possible, whatever the cost to people and the planet. 

Twitter’s implosion isn’t the only astonishing story in the tech world this week. There’s also the collapse of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange led by its 30-year-old founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who is now under investigation by federal regulators for multiple wrongdoings and, by the public, for reportedly being a member of what may now be world’s most despised polycule. What’s made the FTX unraveling so shocking is that Bankman-Fried was thought to be special—the reasonable voice of a Wild West industry. He was also believed to be in possession of a moral compass. Now, as headlines about FTX proliferate, people are starting to question the philosophy of “effective altruism,” which Bankman-Fried promoted and claimed to live by. This rethinking of effective altruism may be the one bright spot in an otherwise depressing crash that may devastate many vulnerable people. Despite its good reputation in some affluent and influential quarters, the effective altruism philosophy has always contained quite a bit of dangerous nonsense.  The goal of effective altruism—a philosophy and “social movement”—is to “try to find unusually good ways of helping, such that a given amount of effort goes an unusually long way,” according to EffectiveAltruism.org. That can mean donating a kidney, spending money on pandemic preparedness, or attempting to ward off space crimes in the year 3423. The actions of effective altruism devotees are guided by a few core principles, including prioritization. “The goal is to find the best ways to help, rather than just working to make any difference at all” using “numbers,” the group’s website states. Decisions should be impartial so as to “give everyone’s interests equal weight.” Adherents are committed to open truth-seeking, finding the most rational ways to make change rather than “starting with a commitment to a certain cause, community or approach.” EA acolytes pride themselves, that is, on a cool rationality that rejects the emotional satisfaction of helping someone face to face, or having the kinds of material or emotional stakes in an issue that organizers use to enlist recruits into union drives or grassroots movements pushing systemic change. It’s that reasoning which leads the EA-career advice site 80,000 Hours—featuring a testimonial from Bankman-Fried himself—to rank climate change seventh on a list of the world’s most pressing problems. Climate change, this site claims, is dangerous mainly for its potential to exacerbate other, more grave existential threats like pandemic or nuclear war. The case for that is as follows: “If climate change poses something like a 1 in 1,000,000 risk of extinction by itself, our guess is that its contribution to other existential risks is at most a few orders of magnitude higher—so something like 1 in 10,000.” Numbers! The most pressing threat, this site claims, is superpowered artificial intelligence at some point executing a plan to kill or enslave all of humanity.The most pressing threat, this site claims, is superpowered artificial intelligence at some point executing a plan to kill or enslave all of humanity. The unlikely event of the world warming by 13 degrees would constitute “a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented scale,” per an 80,000 Hours issue brief. But even at those temperatures ”it seems very likely that we could adapt to avoid extinction (for example, by building better buildings and widespread air conditioning, as well as building more in the cooler areas of the Earth),” the guide writes. “​​We would have to live in a much smaller area, but civilisation would survive.”Effective Altruism’s intellectual grandfather is utilitarian Peter Singer. But its best hype man is Oxford philosopher William MacAskill. His particular hobby horse is something called longtermism, spelled out in his latest book What We Owe The Future. As Alexander Zaitchek summarized in his excellent review for this magazine, longtermism “posits that one’s highest ethical duty in the present is to increase the odds, however slightly, of humanity’s long-term survival and the colonization of the Virgo supercluster of galaxies by our distant descendants.” Our chief concern should be the trillions of people who’ll live on earth for hundreds of thousands, if not billions of years to come. Oddly, the rationale for climate change not being a more pressing threat to EAs is that it would take “some time (decades or maybe centuries)” for extreme levels of warming to develop via the burning every fossil fuel reserve currently in the ground. MacAskill, who seems to have personally recruited Bankman-Fried to the EA community, has now condemned Bankman-Fried on Twitter for failing at effective altruism. “I had put my trust in Sam, and if he lied and misused customer funds he betrayed me, just as he betrayed his customers, his employees, his investors, & the communities he was a part of,” MacAskill tweeted last week. To demonstrate that Bankman-Fried’s actions were inconsistent with effective altruism and therefore Bankman-Fried’s fall does not discredit effective altruism, MacAskill posted a few sections from his book that emphasize the need to live a “rounded ethical life.” The ends do not always justify the means, MacAskill argues in these segments, even if it might theoretically save billions of lives in the far-off future. And it’s “particularly important to avoid doing harm,” he writes. But like much of EA, this sidesteps some more basic ethical issues under capitalism—issues highly relevant to the FTX collapse. Quite simply: There is no ethical or non-harmful way to make a billion dollars in an economic system rife with—and arguably premised on—exploitation and passing the true costs of a product on to others. To MacAskill, creating a Ponzi scheme and gambling away customer savings is beyond the pale. The ordinary exploitation involved in the process of accumulating extraordinary wealth—low wages, poor working conditions, and union busting—is all copacetic. In the case of crypto, especially, amassing wealth has tended to come with a massive carbon footprint. Bitcoin mining using so-called proof of work operations are extraordinarily carbon intensive. Shuttered coal and gas-fired power plants in the U.S. have surged back to life to mint cryptocurrency, sparking pushback from lawmakers in New York and elsewhere. The practice uses more electricity than the country of Norway and its 5.3 million inhabitants. Attempts to switch to another, much less emissions-intensive method called proof of stake have so far been a mixed bag. While Ethereum underwent a high-profile switch, old mining devices are still being put to work. Though pollution from fossil fuels account for one in five deaths worldwide, EA enthusiasts could undoubtedly offer a lengthy explanation as to why more emissions are ultimately justified in the name of battling intergalactic genocide. Effective altruism is the gospel of wealth for guys who fashioned their personalities in high school around subjecting their criminally underpaid teachers to debates about whether God exists.Effective altruism is the gospel of wealth for guys who fashioned their personalities in high school around subjecting their criminally underpaid teachers to debates about whether God exists. The implicit reasoning behind the philosophy is that the big, powerful brains earning fortunes are also the best equipped to figure out how they will make the world a better place. Any rube can go work at a non-profit. Making a real difference might just mean getting filthy rich (“earning to give”), as MacAskill once told Bankman-Friend over lunch. “Rich makes right” is not exactly revolutionary stuff. “Doing good by doing well” has been a long-held mantra of Davos-types spewing TED talk-ish bromides about wanting to make the world a better, greener place. “The laws of accumulation will be left free; the laws of distribution free. Individualism will continue,” steel magnate Andrew Carnegie wrote of his class’s charitable giving in 1899, “but the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor; entrusted for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself.” Bizarrely, though, EA has been successfully marketed as new and innovative, mostly by dint of its proximity to tech. To be fair, EA-aligned think tanks like Open Philanthropy have sent money to plenty of worthy causes, including journalism and non-profits interested in tackling the root causes of what makes the world suck. Some EA adherents are merely self-congratulatory do-gooders. Some are people who have landed themselves in high paying jobs, yet have some vague sense that the world is bad and want to help out. Donating kidneys and mosquito netting isn’t exactly a bad thing. There may well be some way for EA to continue the good it’s doing in the world without Bankman-Friend and other wealthy backers. But on a basic material level, crypto and the institutions guiding EA remain deeply intertwined—so much so that many recipients of EA funds are now facing dire shortfalls amid the FTX implosion. Bankman-Friend more or less admitted this week that his ethical commitments were mostly a scam. When prompted by Vox’s Kelsey Piper over Twitter DMs to discuss the discrepancy between his public talk about ethics and his true perception of finance as a “game,” he responded, “ya,” and “hehe,” adding that he “had to be” good at talking about ethics since “it’s what reputations are made of.” Ethics in corporate culture, he added, is “a dumb game that we woke westerners play where we say all the right shiboleths and so everyone likes us.”As he also told Piper, “fuck regulators.” Any talk about wanting to make good regulations on crypto was “just PR,” he confirmed. To him, regulators are useless, inept drains on businesses. Regulators are obsessed with a “giant Crackdown on Big Tech,” and are “undermining US interests globally.” He called the Office of Foreign Assets Control—the enforcement arm of the U.S. Treasury, which also administers trade sanctions—“the single biggest threat to the US being a suprepower.” Echoing the Republicans who have deemed so-called environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investment decisions a special enemy in recent years, on the theory that Wall Street banks are biased against fossil fuels, Bankman-Fried complained that “ESG has been perverted beyond recognition.” Reading this rant over Twitter DMs, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the effective altruism philosophy Bankman-Fried claimed to believe in is beside the point: Bankman-Fried is a garden-variety reactionary who wants to keep the government out of his business. Debating whether or not he did all this to serve some greater good is academic, leaning toward absurd.It was already clear beore the FTX implosion was Bankman-Fried spent plenty of money not to make the world a better place, but to influence policymakers, quickly becoming one of the largest donors to Democratic candidates. He gave $5 million to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and had pledged to put $1 billion toward supporting Democrats in 2024. This probably wasn’t because he’s a progressive at heart: Reporting by The American Prospect found that two Democratic-supporting political action committees funded by Bankman-Fried, Web3 Forward and GMI PAC, backed candidates based on how friendly they would be to the crypto industry—including on its considerable greenhouse gas emissions. These PACs sent questionnaires to candidates on these issues. As David Dayen writes: A section in one questionnaire labeled “Protecting the Environment” claims that Bitcoin “proof of work” mining, which has been criticized for using extreme amounts of energy, is actually a boost to a clean-energy electric grid, while using “2.5 times less energy than the banking system per dollar of value.” The Prospect asked Web3 Forward and GMI PAC to provide sources for this, but they have not responded. As the questionnaire even concedes at one point, the arguments appear to be based on theories from proof-of-work mining participants themselves. Independent energy experts have scoffed at the claims.Questionnaires also asked candidates to pledge to support a letter to SEC Commissioner Gary Gensler urging him to back off the industry. The letter was ultimately signed by both Republicans and Democrats, including Representatives Josh Gottheimer, Jake Auchincloss, Darren Soto and Ritchie Torres.  As The Lever reported, the Bankman-Fried-backed super PAC Protect Our Future spent millions this cycle, including to elect candidates who sit on committees relevant to the crypto industry. Bankman-Fried personally co-hosted a fundraiser for Torres with Democrat-aligned pollsters David Shor and Sean McElwee. The latter was reportedly an advisor to Bankman-Fried, whose group Data for Progress received $48,000 from Protect Our Future.  This is all very ordinary behavior for a billionaire getting involved in politics. Real or fake, the sheen of effective altruism seemed to have fooled plenty of people into thinking Bankman-Fried was extraordinary. It’s good that FTX’s collapse is finally making people rethink Bankman-Fried and effective altruism. But the problem with effective altruism isn’t that it’s populated by insufferable dweebs. The problem is these dweebs’ alliance with a profoundly anti-democratic project: to let its founders continue to make as much money as possible, whatever the cost to people and the planet. 

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