There are many threats to human wellbeing: extreme poverty, climate change, nuclear disasters, and pandemics, just to name a few. If you want to alleviate the most suffering and promote the most happiness, what causes should you focus on?
Effective Altruists use a framework for ranking where an additional person will have the biggest impact. It is called the importance, tractability, and neglectedness framework (or ITN for short).
Importance (also known as scale) refers to how much good will arise from working on the problem. Investing in vaccine development will probably do more to promote general welfare than investing in curing male pattern baldness.
Tractability refers to how solvable the problem is. Inventing a perpetual motion machine would radically improve general welfare, but it’s a completely intractable problem, so it’s not worth wasting resources on.
Neglectedness refers to how many resources are already being used on the problem. Investing resources in neglected cause areas will, all else equal, usually have a bigger impact than investing in crowded cause areas.
Many of the problems that face us may seem intractable, such as global poverty, the possibility of an asteroid impact, or the plight of the billions of factory farmed animals who suffer daily; the lesson of Effective Altruism is that, in many ways, these realities can be improved. And it is up to us to improve them.