All of Pagw's Comments + Replies

Pagw's Shortform

When thinking about whether to donate to Helen Keller International's Vitamin A supplementation program, I wondered whether this is problematic for animal welfare, since Vit A is usually derived from animal sources as I understand it. So I asked HKI and they said their Vit A is chemically synthesised without animal origin, though their capsules do contain gelatin sourced from cattle. My perception is that the use of gelatin wouldn't be expected to contribute a lot to animal welfare problems (though it might matter for people who never want to fund purchasing of animal products). I just thought I'd share this in case anyone else wondered.

Questions on "humane" farms

I only just saw your reply. Here's a (fairly old) report that discusses organic farming in the UK, including management of disease, that may be useful - though note it was sponsored by a organic-promoting organisation, but it does include criticism and doesn't just seem to be a piece of marketing: http://charliepyesmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2003/01/Batteries-not-included.pdf . I don't know of any other thorough reports - it would be useful if there were more. 

Questions on "humane" farms

Yeah OK, the US seems a lot worse for this. UK organic (Soil Association) standards seem to be the best or nearly the best in the world as far as I know (but only a small fraction of meat is produced that way).

Questions on "humane" farms

'in "humane" farms the animals are more often sick (since they do not take antibiotics, ...)'

It sounds like the book is referring to organic farms, which are not necessarily as humane as could be possible, for reasons like this. I've read about UK organic farms and it seems that disease rates can be relatively low even without antibiotics due to using lower stocking densities. For sheep it's a problem, though, because they can't help encountering germs in their environment. There's nothing to stop a truly humane farm from using antibiotics, though.

1JaimeRV9mo
Thanks for the reply. Yeah reading the book I got the impression that the example the author uses could be an isolated one and it was not everywhere like that. However, I also did not find easy to find statistics on the problem in internet. But your response seems more accurate than what it is presented in the book
Questions on "humane" farms

"life on any factory farm still stinks" - the term "humane farm" means to me not a factory farm, but one with actual net positive animal welfare (at least). Though I don't know if that's how it's used in the book. From my reading about UK high-end organic farming, it seems to me that beef cows and pigs could have positive welfare overall, and so could chickens if their density were reduced even further than in organic systems. I'm not sure about sheep - it sounds like their lives may just be hard.

2alene9mo
That makes sense. The reason I tried to break down the various meanings that the word 'humane' can have is exactly this: It is a confusing word, which is often used with the goal of deceiving. The whole point is to mean different things to different people. Companies use the concept of 'humane farming' to make consumers think of old-fashioned, pasture-based farms where animals roam freely. It is a marketing term. But in reality, most of the time that a company talks about its farm being 'humane,' at least in the US, the company is actually still talking about a factory farm. In the US (the only country I'm familiar with), the vast majority of meat comes from factory farms. Even "cage-free" or "free-range" meat usually comes from a factory farm. Sometimes, 'humane farming' refers to factory farms that treat their animals a little better than the typical factory farm, and sometimes it just refers to a typical factory farm. So I personally don't think 'humane farming' a very useful concept for us to try to talk about. In my experience, when animal advocates talk about 'humane farms,' they are doing it with the goal of being sarcastic or disparaging. Their goal is basically to criticize certain farms for deceiving consumers. Perhaps that is why the book used the term, but again, I didn't read it. Those animal advocates who are focused on improving the treatment of animals in farms don't usually talk about "humane farming," in my experience. Instead, we would talk about 'less cruel' methods of production, or we would talk about specific practices that a farm has eliminated, like the use of battery cages or gestation crates. As for non-factory-farms: I'm not actually sure what the best term for them is, since they come up so rarely in my work. Maybe you could call them "pasture-based farms," "old-fashioned farms," "small-scale farms"?
Jamie_Harris's Shortform

It's an interesting analysis. Just a thought - since the value of 1 unit is up to the responder if I've understood correctly, it might be more meaningful to calculate ratios of the responses for each person and average these rather than average the responses to each part - for the latter, if any responder picked small "unit" sizes and correspondingly gave large numerical values, they would make an outsized contribution. Calculating ratios first cancels out whatever "unit" people have decided on. Though it should only matter much if people's "units" differ considerably in size.

Hedging against deep and moral uncertainty

Thanks for your thoughts and the links. I agree that more consideration of long-term effects and population ethics seems important (also, I would have thought, for the impact of accelerating animal welfare improvements). I don't know anything to go on for quantitative estimates of long-term effects myself, though.

Regarding the possibility of cage-free campaigns as being net negative, I agree this sounds like a risk, so perhaps I was loose in saying donating a certain amount to THL could be "robustly better". I'm not sure it's going to be possible to be 100... (read more)

2MichaelStJules2y
So, it's worth distinguishing between 1. quantified uncertainty, or, risk, when you can put a single probability on something, and 2. unquantified uncertainty, when you can't decide among multiple probabilities). If there's a quantified risk of negative, but your expected value is positive under all of the worldviews you find plausible enough to consider anyway (e.g. for all cause areas), then you're still okay under the framework I propose in this post. I am effectively suggesting that it's sufficient to have a positive expected effect in each area (although there may be important considerations that go beyond cause areas). However, you might have enough cluelessness that you can't find any portfolio that's positive in expected value under all plausible worldviews like this. That would suck, but I would normally accept continuing to look for robustly positive expected value portfolios as a good option (whether or not it is robustly positive).
Hedging against deep and moral uncertainty

Thanks Michael for the post. I happened to be thinking in similar terms recently regarding how to divide donations between saving human lives and increasing welfare of farmed animals (though nothing like as thoroughly and generally). I thought perhaps this could be an interesting real-world example to analyse:

  • This review estimated that saving a life in a very poor country would result in a reduction in births of 0.33-0.5, hence giving 0.5-0.67 extra lives. Though, the uncertainty in the various studies included indicates to me it could plausibly give 1 ext
... (read more)
4MichaelStJules2y
I think the overall approach you've taken is good, and it's cool to see you've worked through this. This is also the kind of example I had in mind, although I didn't bother to work with estimates. I do think it would be better to use some projections for animal product consumption and fertility rates in the regions MC works in (I expect consumption per capita to increase and fertility to decrease) to include effects of descendants and changing consumption habits, since these plausibly could end up dominating the effects of MC, or at least on animals (and you also have to decide on your population ethics: does the happiness of the additional descendants contribute to the good compared to if they were never born?). Then, there are also timelines for alternatives proteins (e.g. here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/4uYebcr5G2jqxuXG3/when-can-i-eat-meat-again] ), but these are much more speculative to me. I also personally worry that cage-free campaigns could be net negative in expectation (at least in the short-term, without further improvements), mostly since on-farm mortality rates are higher in cage-free systems. See some context and further discussion here [https://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/new-report-welfare-differences-between-cage-and-cage-free-housing] . I believe that corporate campaigns work, though, so I think we could come up with a target for a corporate campaign that we'd expect to be robustly positive for animals. I think work for more humane slaughter is robustly positive. Family planning interventions might be the most promising, see this new charity [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/M4vrdabyPDJ8PwbSk/five-new-ea-charities-with-high-potential-for-impact#FAMILY_EMPOWERMENT_MEDIA__FEM_] incubated by Charity Entrepreneurship and their supporting report [https://www.charityentrepreneurship.com/uploads/1/0/7/2/10726656/massmediacampaign.pdf] , including their estimated cost-effectiveness of: 1. "$144 per unintended birth averted"
How hot will it get?

Thanks for this analysis, it's very interesting. You might find it simpler and more accurate to go straight from emissions to warming using the transient climate response to cumulative carbon emissions (TCRE) rather than climate sensitivity, though (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transient_climate_response_to_cumulative_carbon_emissions ). A problem with using ECS is that it gives you the warming that occurs after Earth has reached equilibrium with a given CO2 concentration. However, in reality, the CO2 concentration won't stay constant once w... (read more)

How hot will it get?

Peter here - so actually I'd say this isn't clear now - here's some recent work for example suggesting that estimates of future warming won't change much compared to those from the previous set of models once recent observed warming is used as a constraint i.e. those newer models with higher sensitivity seem to warm too fast compared to observations e.g. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549 . Well, the models are only one piece of evidence going into the overall estimate anyway. I don't follow the literature on this closely enough to be confident about what the IPCC will actually conclude.

Pangea: The Worst of Times

Very interesting, thanks. I would just suggest adding to your list of caveats at the end that today's rate of warming is much faster than in episodes like the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which increases risks.

[Link] What opinions do you hold that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of effective altruists? Anonymous form.

I think it would be helpful to establish a norm that people would remove themselves from investigations involving people they have a personal or professional relationship with (which to me means from being on first-name terms upwards or where there is a conflict of interest). Where that is not possible (eg because there would not be enough competent people to do the work) then it ought to be stated what personal or professional relationships exist - but I don't think we need to know whether that relationship is going for the occasional drink or co-hosting weekly orgies...

[Link] What opinions do you hold that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of effective altruists? Anonymous form.

I also think the form should exist. I would agree that attacks on individuals should be removed (with a comment left explaining why). I'm uneasy about screening the comments more than that, as then people may not trust that no bias has come in. For negative comments about organisations, perhaps people could be encouraged to briefly explain their thoughts and link to evidence. I would hope that people reading the comments would know to take criticism of organisations with no evidence given with a very big pinch of salt, since there will be people around with gripes due to rejected applications etc.

[updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than climate change interventions

Thanks for this. One thing that perplexes me about the Ricke et al. (2018) analysis is that the SCC for most African countries looks to be lower than for the USA (fig.2), whereas the general consensus seems to be that the impacts of climate change will have far worse effects on individuals' utilities in Africa. So this makes me wonder have they properly captured the effect of marginal utility changing with income? I'm not an economist, so I don't know how to judge this myself.

6Hauke Hillebrandt3y
Excellent point I think it's a mixture of the following: 1. African countries are relatively small 2. the social cost of carbon measures the cost to GDP - and if your GDP is not very big to start with then there's not a big cost to you. It is quite unintuitive/ disconcerting that the official social cost of carbon for the DRC (one of the poorest countries, 80 million people, close to the equator and particularly affected by climate change), only has a social cost of carbon of 30 cents per tonne, whereas the US has one of $40 - see: https://country-level-scc.github.io/explorer/ [https://country-level-scc.github.io/explorer/As] As I said above, there are contributors to (true) social cost of carbon not fully captured by empirical, macroeconomic damage functions, and their likely impacts on the social cost of carbon (see Table S5 in the paper’s supplementary material [https://www.google.com/url?q=https://static-content.springer.com/esm/art%253A10.1038%252Fs41558-018-0282-y/MediaObjects/41558_2018_282_MOESM1_ESM.pdf%23page%3D23&sa=D&ust=1570007685886000] and Table 1 in[21] [https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vTU5mwUFtxKG0CGJN7ohkm8fMfkPVnykD8EILgQ5eSRkVMQvhss6Q__2G4dLl24_NapOh_POozctpKQ/pub#ftnt21] ). For instance: * Adjustment costs (short-term costs of adaptation) * Non-market damages (biodiversity loss, cultural losses, etc.) * Tipping points in the climate system (catastrophic climate events, hysteresis etc.) * High inertia effects of CO2 (ocean acidification, sea level rise) * General equilibrium effects (spillover, trade, etc.) * Macro-scale adaptation (long-term restructuring of economy) * Political instability and violent conflicts * Large migration flows * More extreme weather and natural disasters * Bresler finds that explicitly accounting for climate mortality costs triples the welfare costs of climate change.[22] [https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vTU5mwUFtxKG0CGJN7ohkm8fMfkPVnykD8EILgQ5eSRkVMQvhss6Q__2G4dLl24_N