Activism: Cost-Effectiveness Analysis

Overview: By applying pressure onto elected officials and shifting what policies are seen as politically possible, climate change activism can trigger a chain of events that reduces greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In our cost-effectiveness analysis model, we estimated how much it would cost (in expectation) to remove a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere by donating to climate change activism. Overall, we found that activism is cost-effective and compares favorably against top-performing insider policy advocacy groups.


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2021-11 Activism CEA
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Image Credit: Mark Dixon

Executive Summary

Climate change activism focused on US federal policy can potentially reduce levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere by impacting the likelihood of climate bills passing in the House and Senate, or by affecting executive or regulatory policy. We developed a simple cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) model that assesses activism’s contribution to GHG emissions. In this model, we focused on activism’s potential impact on two types of bills: a bipartisan bill and a progressive-influenced bill passed along party lines. After testing various scenarios in our CEA (e.g., Very Pessimistic to Optimistic), we found that donating to climate change activist groups could be highly cost-effective in reducing GHGs, which we measured in terms of CO2-equivalent (CO2e). Namely, our Realistic case estimated that activism could remove CO2e at a cost of $0.15 per metric ton. In other words, a dollar spent on activism could remove more than 6 metric tons of CO2e. In general, the cost per change in metric ton of CO2e ranged from $0.07 to remove a ton of CO2e to actually adding a ton of CO2e for every $1.04 spent on activism. We explore these pathways for negative effects in detail, and conclude that they are highly unlikely.


Our Realistic scenario’s estimate of $0.15 per metric ton of CO2e compares favorably against top-performing insider policy advocacy organizations such as Evergreen Collaborative and Carbon180, which are predicted to remove CO2 from the atmosphere at a cost of $0.54 and $0.66 per metric ton (in expectation), respectively. (Please see our deep dive reports on Evergreen Collaborative and Carbon180 for further information.) This suggests that activism could be nearly as effective as a best-in-class insider policy advocacy organization in reducing CO2e. However, donating to activism runs the very small risk of either having a negative effect or no effect at all on CO2e levels. For this risk to occur, (1) bipartisan climate bills would need to be highly impactful and (2) activism would also need to reduce the likelihood of bipartisan bills being passed. We believe that the former is somewhat unlikely and that the latter is unlikely, making the overall risk low.


We conducted our CEA by (1) estimating how much CO2e could be averted through bipartisan and progressive climate bills between 2022 and 2030, (2) assuming the change in probability of these climate bills being passed due to activism, (3) calculating an expected value for activism in terms of CO2e averted, and (4) using our estimates and assumptions to calculate cost-effectiveness. Given the large uncertainty on the different values we used in our analysis, our estimates should be viewed as rough, indicative estimates.