Pessimistic assessments of the future of wild animal suffering seem to involve a couple ideas: (1) humans are going to continuously rely on natural ecosystems on Earth, and (2) humans are going to terraform other planets. But both seem incorrect:

Natural ecosystems will be replaced by optimized systems, and this will impact welfare

As humanity's economy and population grow, they will replace wild habitats until they bump up against Malthusian or other limits. (Some would say this is already happening, though I doubt it.) But this isn't an 'end state'. First, we can expect a transition of natural life towards more human-supporting organisms. Removing native species, introducing invasive ones, genetically engineering them, etc. These can all be done for reasons that improve the safety and capacity of human society. There will be basic economic motives for transforming ecosystems into being more productive and efficient.

But when people take actions as long these lines, we will place ourselves in a closer relationship with nature. Since we are actually introducing and modifying organisms, we will perceive more responsibility for their quality of life. Of course it won't be adequate - look at animal farming - but there can still be more pressure to improve over the status quo of wildlife.

With further changes, ecosystems might be continuously dismantled and replaced with specialized populations of organisms which are oriented around human society. Examples could be dedicated fields of plants and algae designed to maximally filter CO2 or nitrogen, animals specifically trained to clean up garbage, fish specifically designed to bioaccumulate toxins, etc. Since they are more closely and explicitly connected to specific human needs, we're going to be in a closer relationship with them, requiring more continuous monitoring, and this will create a sense of responsibility for their quality of life.

Finally, ecosystems might be replaced entirely by farms and farm-type operations, closely and microeconomically linked with human operations in arcologies for instance. Then we can have a reasonable expectation that quality of life will be positive, as people will have plenty of contact and responsibility for other organisms.

To be clear, in the short run there could be an increase in wildlife populations as deserts and polar regions become terraformed. However, the deliberacy and anthropocentrism of these operations will make us perceive more moral responsibility for the inhabitants in the long run.

Of course there will still be natural parks, but that will be a small proportion of global habitats, and is not worth worrying much about.

Other planets probably won't be terraformed

Terraforming is a staple of space exploration dreams, but I don't know if it makes much sense. The best candidate is probably Mars, but it's not possible with current technology. Even when/if it becomes possible, it will be extraordinarily costly.

I would give a 60% chance that we will actually send spacecraft to settle a readily habitable exoplanet/exomoon before we broadly terraform a Solar System body to be human-habitable. It simply seems to have a lower required investment and a higher payoff. It's worth noting that the physics of space exploration make it perfectly reasonable to take long leaps before short ones; you don't really need to build a base on the Moon, work up to a base on Mars, etc to explore. In the extreme case, we could directly send probes through intergalactic space right to the edge of the reachable universe. (Though with manned spacecraft, star-hopping would be much preferable.)

If we reach readily habitable exoplanets, there will be a high likelihood of existing lifeforms. If we colonize and control these landscapes, we can reorder them along anthropocentric lines as discussed previously, and again will be likely to take moral responsibility for their quality of life - while probably reducing their population size with our settlements.

In the very long run, conventional terraforming can become a productive pursuit, except then it will start incurring a huge opportunity cost. To put it simply, using a a whole planet to support one thin biosphere on top is a gigantic waste of resources. 99.9% of the rock and minerals on the planet are being used for the sole purposes of generating gravity and stopping cosmic radiation, which could be far more efficiently done with a centrifuge or black hole and a few meters of shell. Planetary mass also creates heat (this is bad, makes manufacturing and computing less efficient, harder to remove waste heat) and risky geological activity. So instead of settling existing worlds, we'll be deliberately engineering new habitats. This won't be like seeding a vast frontier with new life, the new spaces will be specifically and strictly designed for efficiency, with nonhuman life made to closely support human activities. This again will place them in a close relationship where an element of moral responsibility for their well-being will be felt.

Maybe there is some window of time after terraforming is viable but before planetary engineering is viable, where we will see a spread of terraformed wild uncontrolled ecosystems with minimal human oversight. However it just seems like a small fraction of organism-time over the future of the cosmos.


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Interesting info. :)

Jacy has argued that farm-animal suffering is a closer analogy to most far-future suffering than wild-animal suffering, and I largely agree with his arguments, although he and I both believe that some concern for naturogenic suffering is an important part of a "moral-circle-expansion portfolio", especially if events within some large simulations fall mainly into the "naturogenic" moral category. There could also be explicit nature simulations run for reasons of intrinsic/aesthetic value or entertainment.

I agree that terraforming and directed panspermia, if they occur at all, will be relatively brief preludes to a much larger and longer artificial future. A main reason I mention terraforming and directed panspermia at all is because they're less speculative/weird, and there's already a fair amount of discussion about them. But as I said here: "in the long run, it seems likely that most Earth-originating agents will be artificial: robots and other artificial intelligences (AIs). [...] we should expect that digital, not biological, minds will dominate in the future, barring unforeseen technical difficulties or extreme bio-nostalgic preferences on the part of the colonizers."

Then we can have a reasonable expectation that quality of life will be positive, as people will have plenty of contact and responsibility for other organisms.

...only if (1) concern for the experienced welfare (rather than, say, autonomy) of animals increases significantly from where it is now (including for invertebrates, who hold the majority of the neurons) and (2) such concern doesn't later decrease. Both of these assumptions aren't obvious. Personally I find it probable that moral concern for the suffering of animal-like creatures, like most human values, will be a distant memory within 5000 years, for similar reasons as worship of the ancient-Egyptian deities is a distant memory today.

A major factor in my calculus is also that, given enough time, it’ll probably become much more feasible to send non-biological life without any need for terraforming to planets outside of our solar system than to send biological life, so that even in terraforming scenarios the terraforming will probably be limited to just planets within the solar system.

Is this speaking to a concern someone has that terraforming would make a bunch more animals to suffer? What motivated this piece?

Yes I've heard a number of people say it. I think it came from here: