Timeline of the wild-animal suffering movement

by Louis_Francini1 min read16th Jun 20209 comments

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History of effective altruismWild animal welfare
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Here is a timeline of the wild-animal suffering (WAS) movement which I originally wrote in 2018. I recently updated the timeline with some more recent events. The timeline has major contributions from Mati Roy and Blue and some minor contributions from Vipul Naik and Issa Rice. Here are some of the major developments in the history of the movement, quoted from the article:

Big picture
pre-1970: Wild-animal suffering is occasionally mentioned by philosophers as an example of the amorality of nature. In general, there is little discussion of whether humans should intervene to improve the situation.
1970–2004: After the emergence of the contemporary animal rights/welfare movement, wild-animal suffering is discussed by animal rights philosophers and their critics. The critics consider intervention in nature a reductio ad absurdum of animal rights, while some animal rights authors take it to be a serious moral issue. Most discussion takes place through journals, and discussion participants are mostly academics.
2005–2012: During this period, interest in wild-animal suffering blossoms with the help of the Internet. Prolific and passionate individuals such as Brian Tomasik, David Pearce, and Oscar Horta play a leading role in creating content and birthing online communities. The academic moral philosophy community also continues debating the issue.
2013–2016: Organizations begin to form that focus on wild-animal suffering, research, and advocacy (as either a primary or secondary focus). Publications reated to wild animals come from a mix of individuals and organizations. Some organizations use prizes to incentivize work on wild-animal suffering, with mixed results. The nascent effective altruism community exposes more people to wild-animal suffering earlier on in their lives.
2017–2020: In this era, a large share of the production of research related to wild-animal suffering is by individuals as part of their work for organizations. Key organizations that sponsor a large number of publications are: Utility Farm, Wild-Animal Suffering Research (the two would later merge into the Wild Animal Initiative), Animal Ethics, Sentience Institute, and (starting late 2018) Rethink Priorities. The ecosystem is sustained by grant money from the Effective Altruism Animal Welfare Fund, Animal Charity Evaluators' Animal Advocacy Research Fund, and individual donors.

Any thoughts or feedback would be greatly appreciated!

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Impressive timeline!

Minor feedback: it could be nice to have an overall name for each of those big picture eras. Also I remember that Richard Dawkins has written about the suffering of wild animals but it isn't in your timeline: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_animal_suffering#Extent_of_suffering_in_nature

Apologies if that's an intentional omission.

Dawkins wrote about it and said "it must be so." Maybe the timeline is about people who explicitly challenged that perception.

Thanks, I've added Dawkins's River Out of Eden. I agree with Lukas Gloor that Dawkins doesn't challenge the perception of WAS as necessary, but then again many of the other early entries don't. I think it's worthy of inclusion here.

I like this quotation from the book which I think is quite powerful:

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored."

Nice and helpful -- thanks!

I've always been fascinated by the biblical vision of a perfect world which features the lion and the lamb (etc) living together peacefully: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_lamb_and_lion

It might be interesting to sift through the history of humanity in order to collect further pre-1970 visions which lament WAS or which feature a utopia without WAS. I know extremely little about Buddhism, Hinduism, etc but given the links between humans and animals via rebirths: isn't the Nirvana as a state without suffering also the ultimate vision for wild animals? Also, there is the biblical new testament reference to the *whole* creation groaning and waiting for redemption.

Amazing work, thanks for writing this up!

thanks for the summary. useful for me since i dont know a lot about this subject yet. :)

would definitely also enjoy a bit more detail about the results of the research of the last years. like what are the major camps, arguments, open questions etc

ACE's Effective Animal Advocacy Fund (full disclosure, I run this fund) also funds WAW orgs. ACE's EAA Fund is separate from ACE's Research Fund and not affiliated with EA Animal Welfare Fund.

I think I already included all relevant EAA Fund entries under April and November 2019 in the timeline. Is there anything I'm missing?

Edit: I just realized that you were referring to the "Big picture" section. Added!