5067 karmaJoined Dec 2015Bow Rd, London E3, UK


Currently, I'm unemployed. Previously, I worked as an animal advocacy researcher at Rethink Priorities for four years. I also did some earning-to-give as a programmer, did some community building, and was a research intern at Animal Charity Evaluators. I'm considering switching to longtermism but I haven't decided. I love meditation and talking about feelings.

Personal feedback form: It can be anonymous. I especially welcome you to fill it if you think I've done something inappropriate.


Topic Contributions


Nice post. It reminds me that I want to consider this option. By the way, someone once tried to very roughly estimate the cost-effectiveness of volunteering at a suicide hotline here.


You may know this already, but No Means No Worldwide works with children and adolescents. E.g., the mean age of girls in this study is 12.3 years. Founders Pledge evaluated them (see here for a summary and here for a full report) and provisionally recommended them. I don't know if the person is particularly looking into tackling sexual abuse of younger children, but this charity seems worth mentioning as an option.


I want to illustrate the “larger organizations are much more risk averse” point. When I worked at Rethink Priorities, I felt less freedom to publicly share unpolished and controversial thoughts because that could hurt Rethink Priorities reputation. And the bigger Rethink Priorities grew, the more there was to lose, the more this became a problem. Because of this, articles that I didn’t think were very promising but worth publishing (e.g., aquatic noise) took more time to finish as every claim went through more scrutiny than it would be optimal if I was an independent researcher. Also, I never publicly shared my preliminary findings on things that I didn’t think were promising because it would’ve taken too much time. Finally, it was more difficult to express some bold opinions like Wild Animal Welfare is not very promising because it could hurt Rethink Priorities' Wild Animal Welfare funding and relationships with some other organizations.


Note that aggressively seeking a serious monogamous relationship within EA is also problematic. For example, it might be a bad idea to ask out every other EA woman you had a nice 30 minute conversation with (e.g., see this comment).


Some EA parties (including some EA Global afterparties) involve cuddle puddles or hot tubs. The post made me wonder if that is also problematic. I've never heard anyone say that but some people might feel pressure to comply in order to fit in and possibly make important connections. It also probably increases the probability of various problems like touching without consent. Such things might also repulse some new commers from EA, especially after all the scandals. Perhaps people should consider whether such things are appropriate for a given gathering a bit more?


I imagine that few people would say that it’s actively harmful to try to decrease s-risks to digital minds (especially when it involves trying to prevent escalating conflicts, sadism, and retributivism). Most people would say it’s just a waste of money and effort. Most people agree that it’s important that animals used for food are well cared for. Not everyone votes for welfare improvements in ballot initiatives but a significant proportion of people do. And if we had infinite money, I don't think anyone would mind improving conditions for farmed animals. But if there was a ballot initiative asking “shall we actively try to decrease wild animal numbers?”, I imagine that almost everyone would passionately oppose it. I don't feel comfortable working on things most people would passionately oppose (and not just because it's a waste of resources, but because they think that our desired outcome is bad). It also makes it difficult to work on it as an EA cause and it could repulse some people from EA. But I now weakened (or changed) my position on reducing populations after realizing that it doesn’t always to lead to more environmental issues (see this comment). Also, people might not mind if we are only decreasing populations of tiny animals.


Hi again Brian. I agree that your vision for the WAW movement is different from what WAW organizations are currently doing. I criticized the latter and don’t have a strong opinion on your vision of focusing on very small animals and reducing populations. I said that I don’t want to reduce populations partly because that usually includes reducing plant productivity which in turn causes more climate change, which might increase s-risks, x-risks, poverty, etc. But perhaps some interventions in your list could reduce populations without causing more environmental issues. I hadn’t considered them because they didn't qualify for my WAW intervention search, and I had forgotten about them. 

I’m unsure how one would go about lobbying for these things. I’d be a bit afraid of PR risks too. Imagine a farmer lobby figuring out that the real motivation for people funding lobbying against their irrigation subsidies are weirdos from Effective Altruism who are worried about small invertebrate suffering. That could cause some bad press for EA. I also think that the few potential WAW funders I talked to wouldn’t have funded such interventions but there could be other funders.


Sorry, I still plan to look into microbes someday but now I don’t know when I’ll get to it anymore. I suddenly got quite busy and I am extremely slow at reading. For now I’ll just say this: I criticized the WAW movement as I currently see it. That is, a WAW movement that doesn’t focus on microbes, nor on decreasing wild animal populations. I currently simply don’t have an opinion about a WAW movement that would focus on such things. There were some restrictions on the kind of short-term interventions I could recommend in my intervention search. Interventions that would help microbes (or help wild populations just by reducing their populations) simply didn’t qualify.


Ok, let’s consider this for each type of farmed animal welfare intervention:

  • Humane slaughter of farmed animals and wild-caught fish. I’m guessing that it doesn’t impact WAW that much.
  • Reducing animal product production. E.g., diet change advocacy, meat alternatives. Such interventions increase wild populations a lot. If you believe that wild animals live bad lives (which is questionable but I’d give it a 65% probability), then it follows that reducing meat production is likely bad for short-term animal welfare. I personally still think that reducing meat production is good but not for short-term animal welfare reasons. For example, it reduces climate change. According to 80,000 hours, climate change could "destabilise society, destroy ecosystems, put millions into poverty, and worsen other existential threats such as engineered pandemics, risks from AI, or nuclear war." But I probably wouldn’t myself fund reducing animal product production, at least not with money dedicated to animal welfare, partly due to WAW issues.
  • Improving farmed animal welfare. Raising higher welfare animals usually requires more resources and more land.[1] So it probably decreases wild animal populations (which is maybe good for WAW?) but causes a bit more of those environmental problems. But I’d say that if environmental costs are ever worth it, this is the case (especially for chickens because they don’t require that much resources per individual either way). I’m not going to sit here with my radiator on and say that chickens should continue suffering bone fractures and not being able to extend their wings because of the small environmental cost.

It seems I hadn’t considered this enough, so thank you very much for the question :)

  1. ^

     For example, National Chicken Council argues that slower growing (and hence higher welfare) broiler breeds will have higher environmental costs: more feed, fuel, land, and water will be needed (I think it’s a biased source but the general conclusion makes sense). Similarly, according to Xin et al. (2011), “hens in noncage houses are less efficient in resource (feed, energy, and land) utilization, leading to a greater carbon footprint.” (I adapted this text from this post of mine).


Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Brian. I should’ve mentioned that I think that WAW might be tractable for people who think that reducing wild animal populations is good. I don’t think that reducing populations is good because:

  1.  I remain very uncertain whether wild animals experience more suffering than happiness (see this talk). I still think it’s more likely that there is more suffering due to painful deaths but not by much. This is partly because I give less weight to short but very intense pain than you do.
  2. Reducing wild animal populations usually goes against various human interests [EDIT: actually, this doesn't apply to some interventions in your list. I'm now thinking about whether any of them are promising.]
  3. It’s not what most people want. Hence, even if I did think that reducing wild populations is good, I’d be afraid that I’ll change my mind in 10 years.

I worry that researching the big questions you mention might be intractable. You wrote a detailed analysis about the impact of climate change on wild animal suffering, and concluded that your “probabilities are basically 50% net good vs. 50% net bad when just considering animal suffering on Earth in the next few centuries (ignoring side effects on humanity's very long-term future).” Correct me if I’m wrong, but your analysis rests on the assumption that reducing wild populations is good. An analysis without this assumption would be vastly more difficult because it would require analyzing whether various populations would become happier (instead of just analyzing changes in population). I worry that we wouldn’t have enough confidence in that analysis to inform our decisions.

All that said, I think that attempting to research WAW impacts of vegetarianism might still be worth it, though I’m unsure.

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