This series of articles and essays together lay out crucial considerations explaining and underpinning the reduction of wild animal suffering (RWAS) as a potential focus area for effective altruists. These modules are intended to serve multiple functions:
- Concentrate a record of scholarship and knowledge produced on reducing wild animal suffering (RWAS) in a single conversational locus publicly accessible to all effective altruists.
- Provide convenient access to references containing high-fidelity information on RWAS.
- Provide meetup/community organizers in the effective altruism (EA) and the Reducing Wild Animal Suffering movements with convenient access to online materials for community-building and resource mobilization.
RWAS and Veganism/Animal Liberation
Brian Tomasik (2015). Why Vegans Should Care About Wild Animal Suffering
It’s often assumed that animal rights and environmentalism go hand in hand. However, one major rift between the philosophies arises from the problem of animal suffering in nature. While environmentalists typically wish to leave wilderness alone, animal advocates should support research into whether there are ways to reduce the harms that wild animals endure. Given that suffering plausibly dominates happiness among the smallest and most numerous wild animals, humanity should think twice before spreading wildlife to new realms.
The animal movement is doing important work to show people the importance of reducing the suffering of dogs, chickens, and lobsters at the hands of humans. However, many animal advocates also strongly defend wildlife, in spite of the immense amounts of animal suffering it contains. Some animal supporters are environmentalists because they think ecological preservation best advances animal welfare, while others hold an additional moral view that nature is intrinsically valuable. It's troubling that spreading the animal movement risks creating more defenders of wildlife who may cause more animal suffering than they prevent. Plausibly the animal movement is still net positive, especially if future wisdom helps to correct its present oversights, but I think it's safest if we push explicitly on the cause of reducing wild-animal suffering -- both among animal activists and others who are open-minded.
Brian Tomasik. How Does Vegetarianism Impact Wild-Animal Suffering?
The sign of vegetarianism for wild-animal suffering is unclear, both in terms of short-run effects on wild animals on Earth and in terms of long-run effects on society's values. Compared with veg outreach, other approaches to reducing animal suffering on factory farms, such as humane slaughter, are more clearly positive.
The effects of farmed animal advocacy messages on attitudes relevant to WAS are potentially very important, as there are an immense number of wild animals. Thus far, however, views about what these effects could be have been guided by little experimental evidence. In this post we report the results of a randomized controlled trial we conducted that investigated the impact of different meat reduction appeals on attitudes towards policies and decisions affecting WAS. We feel that this study had some important limitations and as a consequence we place only a small amount of weight on its results. Despite these limitations we still find the results useful. Contrary to our hypotheses, respondents shown an animal cruelty message actually indicated greater support for habitat quantities likely to increase WAS than those shown the environmental message. The remainder of this post will briefly offer further summary of the study’s methodology, results, and conclusions.
Jordan Ross (2017) Do Animals Really Care Why They Aren't Being Eaten?
If we acknowledge that vegetarianism doesn't "save" animals in a concrete sense, but rather reduces future suffering then we are in a better position to acknowledge the importance of the future more generally.
Jordan Ross (2017) Should Vegans Offset The Insect Suffering They Cause?
Since it seems that we can't reasonably avoid causing insect suffering, does this mean insect suffering is not a moral concern? Clearly that's not the right conclusion as we would eliminate insect suffering if we could. It appears then that we are in a situation where we can't avoid causing harm, but we might be able to be proactive and reduce harm through other means.
Though antinatalism it is commonly used in reference to human procreation, it has direct implications for vegetarianism, veganism, and wild animal suffering.
Thomas Sittler (2016). Consistent Vegetarianism and the Suffering of Wild Animals
Ethical consequentialist vegetarians believe that farmed animals have lives that are worse than non-existence. In this paper, I sketch out an argument that wild animals have worse lives than farmed animals, and that consistent vegetarians should therefore reduce the number of wild animals as a top priority. I consider objections to the argument, and discuss which courses of action are open to those who accept the argument.
Jay Shooster (2017). Legal Personhood and the Positive Rights of Wild Animals
The paper is structured as follows: first, I will review the concept of and arguments for legal personhood; second, I will briefly review the prevailing (restrictive) theory regarding the specific duties to wild animals that flow from the recognition of legal personhood; third, I will argue against the prevailing theory, in favor of expansive positive legal obligations (e.g. healthcare, food, shelter, protection etc.) for wild animals—and in doing so—I will cover issues including: resolving conflicts of rights; utilitarian arguments against intervention in the wild; and the short-term and long-term implications of accepting the “expansive” view. Finally, I will elaborate on an intermediate theory (advanced by Donaldson and Kymlicka) that allows for limited positive obligations to help wild animals, and argue why this view is inferior to the expansive approach.
David Pearce. The Abolitionist Project
This talk is about suffering and how to get rid of it. The abolitionist project outlines how biotechnology will abolish suffering throughout the living world. Our descendants will be animated by gradients of genetically preprogrammed well-being that are orders of magnitude richer than today's peak experiences. First, I'm going to outline why it's technically feasible to abolish the biological substrates of any kind of unpleasant experience - psychological pain as well as physical pain. Secondly, I'm going to argue for the overriding moral urgency of the abolitionist project, whether or not one is any kind of ethical utilitarian. Thirdly, I'm going to argue why a revolution in biotechnology means it's going to happen, albeit not nearly as fast as it should.
David Pearce. The Hedonistic Imperative.
The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how genetic engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life. The abolitionist project is hugely ambitious but technically feasible. It is also instrumentally rational and morally urgent. The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved because they served the fitness of our genes in the ancestral environment. They will be replaced by a different sort of neural architecture - a motivational system based on heritable gradients of bliss. States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health. It is predicted that the world's last unpleasant experience will be a precisely dateable event.
David Pearce. Reprogramming Predators
The idea that sentient beings shouldn't harm each other, or allow each other to come to harm, was once purely utopian. Later this century and beyond, the policy option will be technically feasible. Sociological credibility is another issue. Yet a plea of "It must be so" is no longer technically, ecologically or ethically correct. In the post-CRISPR era, whether intelligent agents decide to preserve, reform, or phase out the biology of involuntary suffering will be an ethical choice.
Brian Tomasik (2016). Ideas for Volunteering to Reduce Wild-Animal Suffering
Here are some ways to get involved with spreading concern for wild-animal suffering. If you have additional suggestions, please let me know. If you would like to help out, contact me to coordinate. Thanks!
Brian Tomasik (2017). Why I Don't Focus on the Hedonistic Imperative
This piece enumerates several reasons why I don't prioritize bio-related technologies as a strategy for reducing suffering. Biology seems likely to be replaced by machines within centuries, and even if not, influencing political/social trajectories of the future may be more important than pushing on relatively crowded technological developments that many rich people already want for selfish reasons. And unfortunately, I expect that high-tech solutions for helping wild animals are less plausible than merely reducing wild-animal populations by expanding those human activities that already have this effect. That said, promoting a general movement of suffering reducers seems quite valuable.
Brian Tomasik (2017). Will Gene Drives Reduce Wild-Animal Suffering?
David Pearce has proposed researching the potential of using gene drives to improve the wellbeing of wildlife populations in general. While it's almost certain that humans would never be willing to do this, there may be value in further research into the possibilities in this arena, in case some interventions could help lots of wild animals without facing immense opposition from the rest of society.
Michael Dickens (2016). The Myth that Reducing Wild Animal Suffering Is Intractable
Lots of people accept that wild animal suffering is a big problem, but they believe it’s completely intractable. I even see some people claim that it’s one of the biggest problems in the world, but we still shouldn’t try to do anything about it. Wild animal suffering is in fact much more tractable than most people believe.
I sometimes see people claiming very confidently that wild-animal welfare is completely intractable and there are no cost-effective interventions we can do to improve wild animals’ welfare. (Exact implications of this claim generally depend on the speakers’ values.) This is honestly a quite extraordinarily claim.
Persis Eskander (2018). To Reduce Wild Animal Suffering We Need to Find Out if the Cause Area is Tractable
If we hope to help the approximately trillions of vertebrates and quintillions of invertebrates in the wild, we need to be prepared for a long, uphill path to success. Wild animal suffering (WAS) is not just contentious; it’s also extremely complex. This post will (1) briefly discuss the case for reducing WAS, (2) give an overview of the current discussion regarding the tractability of the cause area, and (3) explain how the Wild-Animal Suffering Research (WASR) project plans to determine the extent to which reducing WAS is tractable.
Nicolas Delon and Duncan Purves (2017). Wild animal suffering is intractable
Most people believe that suffering is intrinsically bad. In conjunction with facts about our world and plausible moral principles, this yields a pro tanto obligation to reduce suffering. This is the intuitive starting point for the moral argument in favor of interventions to prevent wild animal suffering (WAS). If we accept the moral principle that we ought, pro tanto, to reduce the suffering of all sentient creatures, and we recognize the prevalence of suffering in the wild then we seem committed to the existence of such a pro tanto obligation. Of course, competing values such as the aesthetic, scientific or moral values of species, biodiversity, naturalness or wildness, might be relevant to the all-things-considered case for or against intervention. Still, many argue that, even if we were to give some weight to such values, no plausible theory could resist the conclusion that WAS is overridingly important. This article is concerned with large-scale interventions to prevent WAS and their tractability and the deep epistemic problem they raise. We concede that suffering gives us a reason to prevent it where it occurs, but we argue that the nature of ecosystems leaves us with no reason to predict that interventions would reduce, rather than exacerbate, suffering.
Long-Term Future Considerations (terraforming, s-risk, etc.)
Brian Tomasik (2016). Will Space Colonization Multiply Wild-Animal Suffering?
Scientists and futurists often encourage humanity to spread out into the galaxy, in order to reduce risks to human survival, build new civilizations, and bring life to desolate planets. […] In these scenarios, animals are proposed to be used as a means to help humans, as a vehicle for spreading life to the stars, or as part of realistic virtual environments. What is almost always ignored is that these animals would have feelings, and many would suffer enormously as a result of being created into Darwinian ecosystems in which predation, disease, and premature death are endemic. Theologians ask why a good God would create so much cruelty in nature. Future humans should likewise ponder whether it's morally acceptable to create new ecosystems containing vast amounts of suffering, or whether they should pause and seek more compassionate alternatives if they embark upon space colonization.
Brian Tomasik (2017). Risks of Astronomical Future Suffering
It's far from clear that human values will shape an Earth-based space-colonization wave, but even if they do, it seems more likely that space colonization will increase total suffering rather than decrease it. That said, other people care a lot about humanity's survival and spread into the cosmos, so I think suffering reducers should let others pursue their spacefaring dreams in exchange for stronger safety measures against future suffering. In general, I encourage people to focus on making an intergalactic future more humane if it happens rather than making sure there will be an intergalactic future.
Michael Dello (2016). On terraforming, wild-animal suffering and the far future
In this essay, I discuss some of the technical and ethical considerations associated with terraforming and colonising the universe, and the risk of spreading wild-animal suffering (or some other bad outcome) to other planets. I also discuss the likelihood of spreading wild-animal suffering, and propose some ways that it could be made less likely or ‘less bad’ through actions today, e.g. by values spreading. I then highlight some open research questions which, based on my research, I propose are high value to work on. An examination of the various ethical codes in relation to this question is crucial, as many arrive at different (and in some cases, opposite) solutions to the problem of wild-animal suffering, or suffering in general. In particular, negative utilitarianism and classical hedonistic utilitarianism appear to have a potential conflict.