Our resources are limited. Efforts aimed at improving the world therefore necessitate cause selection and prioritisation: Which causes am I going to support with my resources?
Often people select their causes according to what happens to be closest to their heart or what’s immediately salient. This results in non-conventional but potentially extremely important causes often going neglected. In this post, we argue that animal charities are one such non-salient but highly effective cause.
If we want our resources to create the greatest positive impact on the world, i.e. to be maximally effective, then “what happens to be closest to our heart” is a poor guide for our decision-making. Instead, we need to ask questions such as:
1) What are the biggest global problems that we can reasonably influence?
2) Are there ways to help solve many of them simultaneously?
3) Are these problems comparatively neglected?
The importance of questions 1) and 2) is obvious. Neglectedness is important because world-improving resources tend to have diminishing marginal utility: If a lot of people actively care about a cause already, then your additional resources are less likely to make a big difference (that would otherwise not have occurred) than if a cause is neglected and you can help kick-start it.
Here’s an incomplete list of big global problems:
- climate change
- water shortage
- risk of pandemics
- animal suffering
What they have in common is the fact that factory farming – which globally produces more than 60 billion land animals a year – significantly contributes to all of these problems:
As many scientific studies show and as the UN confirms, factory farming is a major cause of human-driven climate change, which could cause global mass suffering and chaos in the worst case (and such scenarios must be taken very seriously in expected-value calculations). Research by Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) shows that the best animal charities are good candidates for being among the most effective climate charities, too. Moreover, factory farming wastes a lot of nutritional resources: The production of 1kg of meat requires up to 10kg of soy and grains that could be made available for human consumption directly. Our enormous soy and grains demand increases global food prices, which harms people in the poorest countries. Furthermore, 1kg of meat requires up to 15,000L of water (which would be sufficient for one person to shower every day for a year), while 1kg of non-meat food requires 10-100 times less water. And as incubators of viruses and bacteria, factory farms also increase the risk of global pandemics.
Last but not least, the amount of animal suffering going on in factory farms is vast. They condemn billions of sentient beings to a life of constant stress and misery. Neurobiology has confirmed that non-human animals are capable of experiencing suffering and happiness, too. Some evolutionary biologists – among them Richard Dawkins – have even suggested that animals may generally be more pain-sensitive than humans because they lack the higher intelligence that helps us avoid harmful situations.
It is sometimes claimed that animal suffering is not a problem because non-human animals are not as intelligent as human animals (yes, humans are animals too, dry-nosed primates to be precise). This objection doesn’t hold up, though: Some humans, such as infants or the severely cognitively disabled, are less intelligent than some animals. Pigs, for instance, are able to answer to their names, can learn more commands than dogs, have a basic understanding of how mirrors work and even master simple video games. Fortunately, we don’t conclude that just because some humans are less intelligent, their suffering matters less. But if we reject the notion that low intelligence reduces the right of a sentient being to be free from suffering, then there’s no justification for ignoring animal suffering. On the contrary: The fact that 60 billion land animals are suffering in factory farms each year makes the animal cause an ethical priority. Try and imagine what the life of a defenceless sentient being must be like that can’t turn around for its entire life and never sees the light of day – and now multiply this by billions of times in order to get a sense of the unfathomable scope of animal suffering.
What’s extraordinary about this cause is that it can help solve many big problems at once. It is also currently being neglected. This makes for a great opportunity to maximise the amount of suffering reduced by our donations. Animal Charity Evaluators have calculated that a single dollar donated to effective animal charities can spare up to three animals from a life full of suffering on a factory farm. The benefits on the climate, hunger/water shortage and pandemics fronts are harder to directly quantify but should be very significant, too.
The expected value of animal charities being very high, an increasing number of poker players have started to select them for donations or promotion. REG ambassador Martin Jacobson donated $125,000 to the animal cause, distributed among five highly effective charities. Dan Smith donated $25,000 to The Humane League, one of the first top-rated animal charities. And Dan Colman recently recommended everyone to check out “Earthlings”, a very graphic documentary showing the horrors that animals are being made to experience in the food, clothing and entertainment industries.
For a list of REG’s recommended animal charities, see: