Kessler Syndrome in Effective Altruism

And how to be mindful with beginners

Aaron Mayer


[Originally published on the EA Forum and cross-posted on Substack]

I love Effective Altruism. ❤

That’s not an exaggeration — I truly love the community and the way I’ve grown as a result of joining the movement.

I first heard about EA back in 2013 when its messaging was pretty straightforward: use data to donate to more effective charities that will alleviate the suffering of the global poor.

Now, the scope of EA has broadened significantly, and the number of people who subscribe to the philosophy of EA has also ballooned.

For the record, I think this is fabulous and should celebrate our growth so far! We can and must continue to expand our areas of inquiry, and I’m proud of the way that EA has grown to include animal welfare, long term flourishing, and many more topics.

But this growth comes with a byproduct: much more content.

While the early content on the web about EA was focused predominantly on global health and development, the current messaging includes things like AI safety research and ancient viruses trapped in permafrost. Given the increase in our interests as a community in the last decade, it’s no wonder that the amount of content on the web about Effective Altruism has skyrocketed as well.

But just like rockets, there is sometimes a risk of too much content.

In cosmic terms, there is a phenomenon known as Kessler Syndrome, which is a hypothetical (but very plausible) scenario in which the outer atmosphere becomes so clouded with debris from defunct satellites and other space junk that it becomes impossible to safely launch more rockets into space.

If such an event were to happen, humans would effectively be locked in (barring some new technology that would clean up outer space), and things would only get worse as time went on, since the space junk could collide with other space junk, leading to more space junk.

Locked in or locked out?

I worry that something similar may be happening with content online about EA.

10 years ago, there were early forum posts, GiveWell, and a few books by Peter Singer.