My understanding was that, in the though experiment you described, "the victim" would have a good/positive life. By definition, having a good/positive life means it being lived is better than it not existing, everything else equal. So there is a sense in which I would be happy to add positive lives to the universe regardless of what they involve, as long as the expected total hedonistic utility of the rest of the universe did not decrease (or decreased less than the extra utility coming from the added life). In practice, the situation you described being good is highly implausible.
Thanks for sharing your thought! They seem right to me. A typical argument against "overall-comparative-methodology-and-estimate building" is that the opportunity cost is high, but it seems worth it on the margin given the large sums of money being granted. However, grantmakers have disagreed with this at least implicitly, in the sense the estimation infrastructure is apparently not super developped.
Thanks for the thought experiment!
I am very strongly against forcibly impregnating or murdering humans under almost all circumstances, including the one you describe. Humans are not only moral patients, but also moral agents, and these being forcibly impregnated or murdered is highly anti-cooperative. I follow expectational total hedonistic utilitarianism, but this only justifies creating net positive lives all else equal. In a society where humans are forcibly impregnated and murdered for food, I think it is fair to say that all else would not be equal! One should take into account the actions involved in the creation of lives, and forced impregnation and murder are actions with pretty bad consequences. For example, they would tend to normalise violence and inequality, which correlate with lower wellbeing longterm.
These concerns apply to animals too. Forcibly impregnating or murdering animals is still uncooperative, and my ideal world does not involve those. However, by decreasing the consumption of animals, one may accidently increase the suffering of wild animals, and the existential risk from ASRSs. So, as a precautionary measure, I think it would be better to increase resilience to ASRSs before/while driving down the number of factory-farmed animals. I think welfare reforms are more robustly good because they significantly decrease the suffering of factory-farmed animals while not decreasing much the resilience against ASRSs, at least in the nearterm (in the longer term, continued welfare reforms will increase prices, and therefore decrease the consumption of animals).
Great work! I really appreciate how FP Climate's work is relevant to the broader project of effective altruism, and decision-making under uncertainty. Heuristics like FP Climate's impact multipliers can be modelled, and I am glad you are working towards that.
I wish Open Philanthropy moved towards your approach, at least in the context of global health and wellbeing where there is less uncertainty. Open Philanthropy has a much larger team and moves much more money that FP, so I am surprised with the low level of transparency, and lack of rigorous comparative approaches in its grantmaking.
Great post, David!
I think one very important consideration is that the post-peril risk should be as low as possible, for the reasons described in this paper by Martin Weitzman. You consider a value of 0.01 % per century, but it maight be much lower (even if it is unlikely).
I love how your posts often bring together points about different cause areas, making connections between topics that those focused on particular causes are perhaps either unaware of or choose to ignore because they are complicated and inconvenient!
Nice that you like them!
Do you have an estimate of how likely an abrupt sunlight reduction scenario (ASRS) is to occur over the next (e.g.) 100 years? My intuition is that for the cases of volcanic and impact winters it's extremely low, perhaps less than 0.1%. In which case it probably comes down to the likelihood and consequences of nuclear war.
I agree nuclear war is the driver of the risk from ASRSs. When I last estimated the risk, I used Metaculus' community prediction for a global thermonuclear war by 2070, which is currently at 13 %. For the ejection of soot into the stratosphere conditional on a global nuclear war (as defined by the Metaculus' question), I used the results of Luisa Rodriguez, who thought about the matter much more than me. To estimate the reduction in future value given a certain soot ejection, I relied on historical data about socioeconomic indices plus a bunch of guesses.
I also wonder to what extent food shocks could be mitigated by the development of plant (or fungi) crops that are much more able to tolerate ASRS conditions. I can imagine these sorts of crops might be developed for the purposes of space exploration, e.g. if humans attempt to establish permanent bases on the Moon and Mars over the coming decades.
Great point, increasing the consumption of animals is far from the only way to increase resilience against food shocks. From ALLFED's page on resilient food solutions:
Thanks! I have now added:
- Mitigating antimicrobial resistance:
- From Carrique-Mas 2020, "the greatest quantities of antimicrobials (in decreasing order) were used in pigs (41.7% of total use), humans (28.3%), aquaculture (21.9%) and chickens (4.8%). Combined AMU in other species accounted for < 1.5%".
- Boeckel 2015 projects that "antimicrobial consumption [in livestock production] will rise by 67% by 2030 [relative to 2010]".
Back of the envelope calculations could be flawed due to bias, incomplete information, setting a bad precedent, flow-on effects, reputational damage, etc.
I agree, reality is hard! On the other hand, I would say such points should push us towards being less certain about what is right/wrong. A hallmark of naive utilitarianism is strongly optimising for a single metric (e.g. number of factory-farmed animals) without adequately accounting for other potential important effects (e.g. on wild animals and longterm future).
Another point is that reduced opposition to factory farming could prolong a situation which is both bad for farm animals and probably a suboptimal solution to the problems you have raised (ASRS, wild animal welfare).
I think you are alluding to a really important heuristic, which is thinking about what the optimal world would look like, and then figure out what would move us towards it. My ideal world does not include factory-farming (even if factory-farmed animals had positive lives, there likely are more efficient ways of producing wellbeing), which suggests opposition to factory-farming is good.
Nonetheless, opposition to factory-farming may also lead to effects which push against arriving to an optimal world. For example, my optimal world does not include lots of wild animal suffering, and abolitionist approaches to farmed animal welfare may decrease the likelihood of humans deciding to improve the lives of wild animals. So I am more sympathetic to welfare reforms than simply decreasing the consumption of animals.
In terms of ASRSs, I agree preparedness and response plans as well as R&D of resilient foods is more cost-effective at the margin than increasing the consumption of factory-farmed animals. However, directing edible animal feed to humans is probably one of the best approaches to increase food supply during ASRSs.
Great point, Jason!
I agree confidence is not warranted.
It looks like there is significant variation across countries (the relevant metric is per capita production, but I did not immediately find it):