Blog post

When unprecedented times meet unprecedented opportunities

3 min read
31 Dec 2020

For many, 2020 has been a challenging year.


The global disruption wrought by the pandemic has caused loneliness, estrangement, and sorrow. We have witnessed death and injustice, poverty and sickness. It is a rare person who has been untouched by tragedy. And yet, while the pandemic has brought some of the world's suffering into sharper focus, it also reminds us of the tremendous progress we have made.

We are at an unprecedented time in history: We can do something about the abundance of suffering around us.

For most of our story, our ability to eradicate poverty, cure disease, and save lives was devastatingly limited. We were hostages to our environments, our biology, and our traditions. Finally, trusting in our creativity, we began to develop powerful ideas on how to improve life.

We now know of effective methods to prevent malaria, remove parasitic worms, and treat vitamin deficiencies. We have the technology to produce plant-based meat to reduce animal suffering in factory farms. We've created democratic institutions to protect the vulnerable and reduce conflict.

Naturally, our progress has not always been smooth and has required the dedication of peoples and cultures worldwide. But our efforts are highlighted in the drastic decrease in global poverty, the breathtaking reduction in child mortality, improvements in education and women's rights, and decreasing violence --- from great power wars to homicides. These are all staggering feats of human ingenuity.

The world is getting better, and with this progress comes an incredible opportunity --- an opportunity to do an amount of good heretofore unimaginable. A life can be saved for only a few thousand dollars, and dramatically improved for just a few hundred. By donating to effective charities, we can:

  • reduce the needless suffering of animals;
  • lift someone out of poverty;
  • reduce the risk and impact of pandemics;
  • and so much more.

The collective ability to increase flourishing at such scale is new and something to cherish.

Of course, like all our knowledge, our ideas of how to best help the world are flawed. Our reasoning is prone to error, our methods prone to failure. But it is from our mistakes that we learn and improve.

By donating to effective causes, volunteering for effective charities, or dedicating your career to solving our world's problems, you can help continue the tradition of incremental improvement. You can help to grow our collective knowledge, thereby handing the next generation a slightly better world.

As we reflect on the year, let us remind ourselves of this opportunity before us. While we should not ignore ongoing suffering, nor forget the ones we've lost, we can be grateful that there are reliable ways to help and to mitigate similar tragedies in the future. So far this December, over 300 people have pledged to donate a portion of their income to effective charities. Witnessing them take this opportunity is inspiring. Let's join them and help bring about an increasingly better world.

"Finally the horizon seems clear again, even if not bright; finally our ships may set out again ... the sea, our sea, lies open again; maybe there has never been such an 'open sea'." - Nietzsche