Should animal advocates donate now or later? A few considerations and a request for more.

by MichaelStJules2 min read13th Nov 20193 comments


Timing of philanthropyPatient altruismFarmed animal welfare

Which considerations are important for deciding when to donate your money, for those interested in helping animals? I wrote down a few to get started, mostly specific to animal protection, but I'm also looking for more and for feedback on the ones I've included.

In favour of giving later (after a few decades)

1. We'll have more and better research, so we can make more informed choices. There could be cost-effective interventions in various areas that we just haven't thought of yet and may not have the information available to identify as cost-effective. Some of the research that we'll find useful won't come from the EAA community itself (psychology, economics, history, animal cognition...), and so would be free to take advantage of.

2. We can invest our money and see returns, allowing us to make larger donations later. (We can also use donor-advised funds to avoid value drift.)

3. As countries develop, their farming industries may become more monopolistic, and corporate outreach could be more focused and affect more animals per campaign.

4. Over time, attitudes towards animals tend to improve with or without EA-aligned animal advocacy, and interventions tend to be more successful when attitudes are more favourable to animals, so postponing an intervention could increase its probability of success.

In favour of giving now towards interventions (focusing within the next few decades)

This also includes anything that helps animals directly or indirectly, including movement support, except if it helps them primarily through intervention research, to identify the best interventions.

1. Clean meat and plant-based substitutes are happening now. Setting aside donating to help speed this up, this could mean that animal farming (or factory farming, specifically) has a relatively fixed end date regardless of what we do, and it'll be much less cost-effective to help animals after that.

2. Meat consumption is increasing in many countries, especially developing countries. It might be more cost-effective to slow the trend now or improve conditions than to try to reverse it or improve conditions later once it tops out and the industries become more powerful.

3. Animals are likely to be the most mistreated within the next few decades rather than later, because of the progress we're making in animal welfare protections, and because animal product consumption will peak within the next few decades regardless (if the human population peaks and most people would live in developed countries).

4. Momentum can be built, and the expansion of protections (and the moral circle, to all sentient individuals, even wild animals and future individuals who aren't animals) is incremental, so, if we were to postpone exactly the same work by some number of years, we might expect the expansion of protections to be behind a few years for a very long time, and the gap could close or increase. Until the gaps closes if it ever does, we might expect animals (and other sentient beings) to continue to be worse off than otherwise. This results in additional returns on investment than just the direct impacts if we do give now. In the short term, we might build momentum. In the long term, if we think the amount of suffering or wellbeing that we can reasonably influence will tend to increase over time or at most decrease slowly, then the opportunity costs of this postponement could add up to be very significant. In the case that the maximum amount of welfare we could influence tends to increase over time, you could see the opportunity costs growing faster than linearly over time.

5. Value lock-in from AGI (artificial general intelligence) with short AI timelines or humans spreading out into space and being much more difficult to influence (the latter doesn't seem to be happening soon, and AI (safety) researchers seem to fall on both sides of the issue for AI timelines ).

6. If we're very likely to go extinct soon, then factory farming will end if/when we do anyway.

In favour of giving to research now

This also includes long-term or indirect support for research, e.g. building welfare biology as an academic field with the ultimate aim of helping wild animals.

1. Without Animal Charity Evaluators, the Open Philanthropy Project, Founders Pledge, Charity Entrepreneurship, Sentience Institute, Rethink Priorities and other EA-aligned charities doing intervention and charity research, we'd be even more uncertain about which interventions are cost-effective. If intervention research comes primarily from effective animal advocacy (I don't know that it does; there's a lot of background research that is used in the reports, not all of which comes from us), then point 1 in favour of giving later would be much weaker, and we might not be supporting the interventions we support now, which we think are much more cost-effective than their alternatives, a huge opportunity cost. Given how little research has been done, and for example, the new opportunities that Charity Entrepreneurship is finding, there might be much more cost-effective opportunities that have yet to be discovered.

Other resources


3 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:33 AM
New Comment

Thanks for compiling this!

I think that the question of when should we donate, and should it be for research or direct work is mostly non-unique to factory farming. Most of the considerations here apply generally.

One thing that you mention here as being unique to factory farming is that you expect it to decay over time (but first rise, mostly in developing nations). Depending on the time scale, that seems like a reason to prefer to act now more than for other causes, although it doesn't feel strong.

I suppose many of the reasons I outline might be special cases of more generic reasons (especially for investing or donating to research), but it is worth pointing out what they look like in animal protection since it helps us weigh them more accurately. Some generic reasons might not apply to specific causes at all, and other generic reasons might be especially true for others.

I think 1-3 and 5 under giving now towards interventions are pretty specific to animal advocacy, although 5 applies to moral advocacy generally. I guess you could say 1 and 6 are special cases of the problem being solved eventually regardless, and 4 could be a consideration whenever there are incremental improvements.

I also just added a few more reasons which are fairly specific to animal protection in favour of giving later.

Great :) I really agree about your first point. Also, it is beneficial to make a concrete realization of generic arguments in a specific case.