On token efforts

Added 2022-06-26, Modified 2022-07-04

A token effort is one that is done more for social status then practical effectiveness, this is an analysis of their advantages and disadvantages.


Suppose you care about climate change, A token effort you might take is to sign up for carbon offset credits, rather than spent money in the highest expectancy way (including ways that aren't directly altruistic) It's easy to take token efforts, in fact it is the default given how much better they make you feel compared to actual efforts.

What about ways that aren't actively altruistic? This might be controversial, but given that I want to pursue an altruistic carrier, spending money on my education in order to accelerate and amplify my later impact is probably higher leverage then donating to charities now.

Throwing out some numbers, If I make $100k/year1 in impact as an adult, accelerating reaching that point by a year has a value of $100k. If my impact compounds (from accumulation of financial capital, career capital, networking, etc.) you get even higher numbers here.

When I realized my mistake with carbon capture I cancelled my subscription and installed a mental heuristic to avoid token efforts. This heuristic made me stop being vegetarian, which is what I'm going to talk about next.

Vegetarianism seems at first brush seems like a token effort, it checks the social and visibility boxes (hence activating my heuristic) but effectiveness I did not consciously think about until recently.2

The cost to eating less meat is low relative to the effect on factory farming. However, without going into a deep analysthere is something else I failed to consider: Being vegetarian reminds you that you're the kind of person who cares about animal suffering. While hard to estimate an impact value of seeing yourself as someone who cares, I expect it to be high.


  1. I expect this number to be much higher, but I've lowered it since some people reading this don't know me

  2. This was caused by some hour-long conversations at a summer camp if you're curious