PhD in physics (thermodynamics of ecosystems) and in moral philosophy (animal rights), master in economics, researcher in health and welfare economics at KULeuven, president of EABelgium, environmental footprint analyst at Ecolife
fully agree, one of the many limitations of using a survey to test the stepping stone model.
one difficult to avoid cause of farm animal suffering are diseases that are caused by burdens of extreme growth. Meat animals grow too rapidly, which is unhealthy. So let's say those animals have 50% less suffering from mutilations, diseases,...
Thanks for the comments. Some quick replies
You can consider total instead of per capita CO2 emissions, but then I could also consider total instead of per capita welfare (life-satisfaction or well-being). Perhaps per capita life satisfaction doesn’t grow with income (Easterlin’s paradox), but total life satisfaction increases with population size (just like total emissions increase with population size in a decoupled economy with constant per capita emissions).
The decrease in emissions is not quick enough, but the question is what is the most effective way to make it quicker. As we already see some decoupling, further and faster decoupling seems feasible. We could make it faster, with more technological innovation. I don’t see much evidence that degrowth would result in faster emission reductions, given the fact that it seems hard to even start degrowth. No country voluntarily started degrowth so far. And to meet climate policy targets with only degrowth, degrowth not only has to start, but it also has to be very fast.
One reason to grow now is to have more money available for more scientific research to have more technological solutions to many problems such as climate change. Spending money on campaigns to have an economy with less money (i.e. degrowth campaigns to reduce GDP), seems to me more like a waste of money, that could have been used to fund research. (And not just a waste of money, but also in a sense a bit stealing and burning money.)
Other types of environmental damage are also a concern just like climate change, but as with climate change, no sufficient reason for degrowth. Environmental costs of rare metals can be included in the price, as a tax, just like a carbon tax. And the human rights violations can more effectively be addressed with appropriate international policy than with degrowth.
The more autocratic countries seem to lie more about their GDP, but this does not refute the usefulness of GDP. And as GDP positively correlates with many important measures (life expectancy,…), I don’t think it is so bad to not attempting to decrease GDP.
Thanks for the study about GDP and life satisfaction. On Easterlin’s paradox, this is an interesting read: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/coryFCkmcMKdJb7Pz/does-economic-growth-meaningfully-improve-well-being-an
Tariffs on polluting goods and severance taxes are proposed by degrowthers, but also by most mainstream economists, so I don’t consider them to be characteristic degrowth policies.
Giving parents less child care subsidies seems a bad idea to me, given some studies I recently heard about that free child care is probably at least as good (cost-effective) as direct cash transfers. Child care subsidies are good for household incomes (mothers can work more and earn higher income) and child development.
Taxing people from working too much hours: I think that basically comes down to the usual labor taxation we already have, especially in a progressive income taxation system. People who work more hours have higher incomes and hence higher marginal tax rates in a progressive system. That is basically taxing extra working hours.
Working less may indeed result in higher life satisfaction, but people can freely choose to work less, if they want such higher life satisfaction. But that also means they earn less, so they face a trade-off between money and life satisfaction. It is possible that people prefer more money above more life satisfaction. If this is the case, then from a preferentialist utilitarian perspective, it is better if people earn more money (hence higher GDP) than if they get a higher life satisfaction. Looking back at Easterlin’s paradox: a higher GDP results in more preference satisfaction than a higher life satisfaction does. So if preference satisfaction (and not life satisfaction) is what ultimately matters, growing GDP is good.
A carbon tax is indeed regressive, and a climate income (carbon fee and dividend) system is more progressive, but I’m not sure that such a system is more progressive than a system where the carbon tax income is for example used to fund clean tech R&D. It could be that clean tech R&D can more effectively reduce emissions and reduce climate change than a fee and dividend system. And if climate change harms the poorest people more (marginal damages or costs to people in poorest countries are highest), then reducing more climate change might be more progressive. So if you include future generations and people in poor countries, I’m not sure whether the “carbon fee and dividend” system is more progressive than a “carbon fee and clean tech R&D subsidies” system.
You can have population ethical theories that entail having fewer people is good, but they also often face very counter-intuitive implications. Negative utilitarianism could entail a preference for total extinction (through sterilization). I don’t see how contractarianism, Kantian ethics and libertarian ethics really entail having a smaller population is good.
See also this study (of mine): Bruers, S. (2022). The animal welfare cost of meat: evidence from a survey of hypothetical scenarios among Belgian consumers. Journal of Environmental Economics and Policy, 1-18.
And here: https://stijnbruers.wordpress.com/2022/11/29/the-deathprint-of-replacing-beef-by-chicken-and-insect-meat/
Neither DICE nor calculations by Nordhaus were used in that study. Here I was not talking about the impact on GDP, but on the expected deaths from undernourishment, fluvial flooding,... (supplementary material figure 3) (These deaths were then used to calculate loss of economic welfare in monetary terms using the value of a statistical life, but that contestable step is not important here.)
According to this study, the excess deaths from temperature are much larger than the deaths from climate change related famines, floods,... I'm not sure if deaths from wars have to be included, because I would say the aggressor who starts the war is responsible for those deaths.
Just read the article by Parncutt about the 1000 tonne rule. Apparently, it is 1 death per 1000 tonnes of carbon, i.e. 1 death per 3700 tonnes of CO2, close to Bressler's estimate
Thanks for referring to that study. That 1 death per 1000 tons is in the same order of magnitude of the 1 death per 4000 tons that I used based on Daniel Bressler's study. So I think the main takeaways are still valid. But yes, there is a possibility that deaths from climate induced famines, wars,... are some orders of magnitude larger than deaths from temperature change
As I'm further analyzing the survey results and writing a paper about this research, the conclusions become a bit more nuanced. I think a major recommendation for animal advocates becomes: focus on reducing meat consumption by promoting animal-free meat substitutes, and introduce animal welfare certified meat only after a sufficient majority of the population switched to mostly animal-free food. The remaining minority of persistent meat eaters, who will never switch to vegetarianism or veganism, can then choose the animal welfare certified meat. If you introduce the certified meat too early, then all meat eaters may switch to eating certified meat. Many people who would have eventually chosen plant-based food, now keep on eating meat that is slightly better in terms of animal welfare, but still involves animal suffering. In that case, society becomes locked-in in a suboptimal state with a slightly less harmful social norm, i.e. animal farming that still contains some animal suffering.