In this article I argue that moral offsetting is not inherently immoral and that, as long as it's implemented well, it can have a positive impact. I also explain that certain kinds of offsets wouldn't work but that others might, and I speculate that offsetting meat consumption would probably be feasible and have a positive impact. What do you think?

PS: If you hit a paywall, you can read the article for free here, but if you like it please consider tipping me.




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Interesting article - thanks for sharing. My main problem with it has to do with the moral psychology piece. You write that: 

It's "disgusting and counterintuitive" for most people to imagine offsetting murder.


"Most of us still live in extremely carnist cultures and are bombarded with burger ads and sights of people enjoying meat next to us all the time like it is perfectly harmless."

In my opinion, these two arguments together make meat offsets a bad idea. People are opposed to murder offsets (no matter how theoretically effectively they may be) because murder feels like a deeply immoral thing to do. However, most people feel that eating meat is not deeply immoral - most people do it every day. I'd imagine folks react the same way to meat offsets as they do to carbon offsets. They think, "well I know I probably shouldn't eat so much meat / consume so much carbon, but I'm not gonna stop, so this offset makes some sense". But this is the wrong way to think about eating meat (and perhaps consuming carbon, too, but that's beside the point). We want people to feel that eating meat is immoral; we want them to feel that it's a form of killing a sentient being. And the availability of an offset trivializes the consumption.

I'm on board with your consequentialist reasoning here, but I'm worried the availability meat offsets may cause people's moral opinion on animal ethics to regress.

Forewarning: I have not read your post (yet).

I argue that moral offsetting is not inherently immoral

(I'm probably just responding to a literal interpretation of what you wrote rather than the intended meaning, but just in case and to provide clarity:) I'm not aware of anyone who argues that offsetting itself is immoral (though EAs have pointed out Ethical offsetting is antithetical to EA).

Rather, the claim that I've seen some people make is that (some subset of) the  actions that would normally be impermissible (like buying factory farmed animal products or hiring an assassin) can be permissible if the person doing the action engages in the right kind of offsetting behavior, such as donating money to prevent factory farmed animal suffering or preventing an assassination.

I bring up the assassination example because we'd pretty much all agree that that hiring an assassin is impermissible regardless of what offsetting behavior one does to try to right this wrong. For people who agree that hiring an assassin is wrong regardless of any offsetting behavior, but think there are some other kinds of generally impermissible actions (e.g. buying animal products) that become permissible when one engages in a certain offsetting behavior, I'd be interested in hearing what you think the difference is that makes it apply to the one behavior but not to the hiring of the assassin. (If this is what the OP blog post does, let me know and I'll give it a read.)

I'm also curious if there are less controversial examples than buying animal products where most people agree that offsetting behavior is sufficient to make a generally impermissible action permissible.

As you imagined, the blog post does respond to your argument. If you don't think the response is satisfactory, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts :)

ACE has 4 top charities

Wild Animal Initiative -> not involved with livestock , irrelevant to discussion

Faunalytics -> involved in research and making research more accesible, impact valuable but very hard to measure in the way that makes “ offsetting” work as a concept .

Good Food Institute -> plant-based-alternative industry lobbying group, probably useless, considering There is no association between rising plant-based-meat sales and lowered meat sales.

The Humane League->mainly focused on “ improving” livestock welfare ( not decreasing the number of animals farmed) , has been a major force in the “ cage-free” push even-though Industrial-cage-free Egg farms tend to have higher mortality rates ( meaning more farmed animals per Kcal) than conventional farms. almost certainly net negative and should be tossed to the side.

You complain about hypotheticals far removed from reality, and then offer up one. There is no EA recognized organization that you could possibly use to offset the number of animals raised for your animal-product consumption. Donating to an ACE top charity means one of these four, one bad, one useless, one irrelevant, and one to difficult to quantify the impact of. People who claim to be offsetting There meat consumption ( is any one actually doing this???) are not.

I agree that donating to an ACE top charity doesn't mean offsetting. I didn't mean to suggest that, I'm sorry if it sounded like that. What I mean is that it should be in principle possible to offset meat consumption. I didn't get into the practicalities of how this would actually work for the sake of brevity, but I can do it here:

Imagine a food delivery app that works like this:

  • When people  buy vegan/vegetarian food, in the checkout process they have an option to donate to a meat offset fund. This option can be checked by default with a suggested donation amount.
  • When people are ordering food with meat, in the checkout process they have the option to offset their meal, which means basically donating an amount equivalent to their order to the meat offset fund.
  • Sometimes, randomly, when somebody clicks the "proceed with order" button and they have meat in their order, they are prompted with a pop up telling them "You were randomly selected for a free vegan meal! If you accept the offer, your X$ order will be cancelled and you will get a voucher of X$ that expires in an hour and can be used to order vegan food.

I think this app would come quite close to actually implementing a legitimate meat offsetting feature. Every time a meat eater takes the offer, they give up a meat meal and eat vegan instead.

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