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Visualising animal agriculture

I made a visualisation trying to demonstrate the scale of animal agriculture (and the suffering caused by it). Unfortunately I can't embed it in a post; go have a look at it here.

Interested to hear what people think of it, and whether this sort of thing is likely to be useful as a persuasive tool. It's nothing groundbreaking - just a re-imagining of some existing graphs published by ACE plus some fancy animations. But anecdotally, some people seem to find it quite powerful.

Henry

 

Comments (11)

Comment author: Inyuki 17 June 2018 10:05:45AM 2 points [-]

Good question -- "But a crucial question to ask is: which animals need our help most?"

"The number of wild animals vastly exceeds that of animals on factory farms, in laboratories, or kept as pets." ( https://inf.li/#/wefindx.com:en/@/topic/94 )

Comment author: aRound 18 June 2018 09:11:54PM 1 point [-]

This isn't something I'd thought about at all - I guess wild animal suffering is one of those things you just accept as unfortunate but inevitable.

Still I wouldn't say the absolute scale (# of suffering farm animals vs. # of suffering wild animals) makes much of a difference, rather the scale of what can be accomplished with a given resource investment. Suffering in factories seems like a much easier problem to solve, and I'd expect the amount of suffering reduced per dollar invested to be far higher.

Also, I would feel a lot more hesitant about large-scale interventions on wild animals, since they are part of complex ecosystems where I've been led to believe we don't have a good enough understanding to anticipate long-term consequences accurately. Farm animals are situated in a fairly simple living situation where I'd feel much more confident about the long-term suffering reduction of various interventions.

Maybe I'm missing some obvious high-impact interventions though? Or maybe the area is unexplored and there are big potential benefits from spending some effort figuring out if there are high-impact interventions?

Comment author: markus_over 20 June 2018 08:33:43AM *  0 points [-]

Or maybe the area is unexplored and there are big potential benefits from spending some effort figuring out if there are high-impact interventions?

I think that's pretty much it. Right now, there aren't many known concrete promising interventions to my knowledge, but the value of information in this area seems extremely high.

Using the standard method of rating cause areas by scale, neglectedness and tractability, it seems wild animal suffering scores a lot higher on scale, much higher on neglectedness (although farm animals are already pretty neglected), and seemingly much lower on tractability. There's quite a bit of uncertainty regarding the scale, but still it seems very clear it's orders of magnitude beyond farm animals. Neglectedness is apparent and not uncertain at all. The one point that would count against investing in wild animal suffering, tractability, on the other hand is highly uncertain (i.e. has "low resilience", see https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/the-moral-value-of-information-amanda-askell/ ), so there's a chance that even little research could yield highly effective interventions, making it a highly promising cause area in that regard.

I would feel a lot more hesitant about large-scale interventions on wild animals, since they are part of complex ecosystems where I've been led to believe we don't have a good enough understanding to anticipate long-term consequences accurately

You're right about this one, and we probably all agree on things being a bit tricky. So either research on our long term impact on ecosystems could be very helpful, or we could try focusing on interventions that have a very high likelihood of having predictable consequences.

(That all being said, there may be many reasons to still put a lot of our attention on farm animal suffering; e.g. going too public with the whole wild animal suffering topic before there's a more solid fundamental understanding of what the situation is and what, in principle, we could do to solve it while avoiding unforeseen negative effects, seems like a bad idea. Also finding ways to stop factory farming might be necessary for humanity's "moral circle" to expand far enough to even consider wild animals in the first place, thus making a solution to factory farming a precondition to successful large scale work on wild animal suffering. But I'm rambling now, and don't actually know enough about the whole topic to justify the amount of text I've just produced)

Comment author: bwildi 20 June 2018 10:22:27AM *  1 point [-]

I think high amounts of concern for wild animals is actually a bit of a defect in utilitarianism. A quite compelling reason for caring more about factory farmed animals is that we are inflicting a massive injustice against them, and that isn't the case for wild animals generally. We do often feel moral obligations to wild animals when we are responsible for their suffering (think oil spills for example). That's not to say wild animals don't matter, but they might be further down our priority list for that reason.

I think the visualization is great. I think the exploding red dots is very powerful, demonstrates just an immense amount of bloodshed.

Comment author: markus_over 20 June 2018 11:39:23AM *  1 point [-]

A quite compelling reason for caring more about factory farmed animals is that we are inflicting a massive injustice against them, and that isn't the case for wild animals generally.

But couldn't you say that, for instance, the forces of evolution are inflicting an even more massive injustice against wild animals? Assuming injustices are more relevant because our species happens to inflict them doesn't seem 100% convincing to me. From the animal's point of view, it probably doesn't matter very much whether its situation is caused by some kind of injustice, what matters to the animal is whether and by what degree it's suffering.

I do of course share your intuition about injustice being bad generally, and "fixing your own mistakes before fixing those of others" so to speak seems like a reasonable heuristic. It's hard to tell whether the hypothetical "ideal EA movement" would shift its focus more towards WAS than it currently does, or not. My rather uninformed impression is that quite many EAs know about the topic and like talking about it - just like we are now - so it often seems there's a huge focus on wild animals, but the actual work going into the area is still a great degree lower than that. https://was-research.org/about-us/team/ still only lists three employees, after all.

Also I, too, like the visualization. I wonder how it would look with ~2k animals/second, which seems to be the sad statistic of the planet.

Comment author: Safa_Amirbayat 10 July 2018 10:46:00PM 1 point [-]

I think what you've done is compelling. Visual is visceral. Take Stabilo's recent advertising campaign 'Highlight the Remarkable'. Or the recent mining crisis, a near-textbook case of scope insensitivity. The challenge is in reducing numbers to names, and the people who can do that - designers, creatives etc. are I think, severely lacking in EA; so keep it up! But I think that attitude should go beyond graphs to metaphors, mottos and the like; though in doing so there is a risk of a loss of rigorous thinking, something to perhaps consider.

Comment author: Safa_Amirbayat 10 July 2018 10:55:22PM 1 point [-]

For example, music is one of the most powerful media, yet I know of not one EA related song, rap, etc. But there are hundreds on the Israel Palestine conflict; many for veganism etc. This has probably been addressed before but I (tentatively) think ethical belief systems need a balanced diet to survive, and EA is eating too much of the logical food. Other ways are possible too, take the London activist Chakabars as an example, who has propelled to stardom from obscurity with memes and mini-essays to promote a plant-based diet and anti-colonial worldview. I'm probably being cynical, but sometimes I feel too much emphasis is put on drawn out, watertight arguments - which should, to me atleast, be in the small print for people who haven't got time to read them all.

Comment author: aRound 18 June 2018 09:29:16PM 1 point [-]

For another anecdotal data point - I found that both the contrast between where money is spent and where the suffering happens, and the cumulative death count were highly effective emotionally (the dots animation less so).

However, for me personally, I'm not sure 'number of killed animals' is the best measurement for negative impact. I could imagine viewing an animal farming industry where the animals got to live free and happy lives until their sudden painless deaths as a pretty positive thing - animals in the wild generally live in far worse conditions and it seems unrealistic to expect humans to keep animals in a happy environment if there was no gain from it whatsoever.

Comment author: michaelchen 16 June 2018 01:14:53PM *  0 points [-]

I'm getting "Error: Unexpected call to method or property access." for the first two code snippets.

Comment author: Henry_Stanley 16 June 2018 10:54:07PM 0 points [-]

That's strange; what are you using to view the page?

Comment author: michaelchen 17 June 2018 06:30:15AM *  0 points [-]

Sorry, should have said that I was using Microsoft Edge. It works fine on Firefox and Chrome. On Internet Explorer it's just a blank white page, but that's because the entire domain (observablehq.com) is just a blank white page on IE.