Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Under Obama's Leadership

As a follow-up to Why Trump Will Be President, Ezra Klein notes that in the 8 years that Obama has lead the Democratic Party:

"Democrats share of seats in the Senate has fallen from 59 to 48. They've lost 62 House seats. 12 governorships. And ... 958 seats in state legislatures."

More here: Obama got a lot done, but still left us living in Ronald Reagan’s America

Monday, January 16, 2017

From Tobias, and Bonus West Wing Video

This is quite good from Tobias:

10 vegan things I recently changed my mind about

And for all the West Wing fans, this is amazing!

The Difficulty of Evaluating the Impact of Advocacy

An effective altruist asked if One Step had evaluated our current video against a more "standard" pro-veg video. This was our response:

While we’ll be testing a different pro-chicken video against our current one in February, we’ve not tested our message / video against a “standard” message, because we don’t know how to get data that would be meaningful. As you know, we would need to get impact data from everyone who sees the message, not just those who click through.

More importantly, and even more difficult is to get is the longitudinal data necessary to be able to make clear conclusions. Given that 80% of people who go veg go back to eating animals (and thus become spokespersons against ethical eating), it is important (but basically impossible for us) to do long enough studies to see what the full reaction is of everyone over time.

Our intention, of course, is that by avoiding a veg message, we avoid creating four failed vegetarians for every lasting new vegetarian.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Rambling Rant to Ezra Klein re: Global Warming

One of my favorite interviewers, Ezra Klein, co-founder of Vox Media, recently interviewed Elizabeth Kolbert about global warming (1/10/17). As you can see below, it pushed me over the edge. Since this is my personal blog, I can share this rant with you. You won't tell anyone, right?

Hi Ezra,

I just finished your latest podcast. I thought it might be useful to preface this short rant with a little background.

From 1991 to 1996 I was one of a few dozen Department of Energy Global Change Fellows in the country. I got an MS in Forest Ecology (working on carbon sequestration) at UIUC, and an MS in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon. I left the PhD program in Environmental Engineering at CMU (with my dissertation about 20% done) to run a nonprofit focused on exposing and ending factory farms.

I say this just to establish that I have science and policy background in global warming, and have a dedication to making the world a better place. Fundamentally, I am driven to reduce the amount of suffering in the world.

I know I’ve written to you before to point out that so many people dismiss or just don’t even know how much horror and crushing and unimaginable suffering there is in the world right now. But, in general, things are getting better (first link below, Pinker’s book), at least for humans.

My main question: What exactly did Ms. Kolbert say that is actually so terrible? Some people use boats instead of dogs. Elephants and giraffes aren’t reproducing as fast as they are dying. And then the claim that people could potentially face starvation as optimal growing areas shift north. (Although she said people would have to move, this is obviously not true – farming and a handful of farmers move, but the majority of people don’t. People can live in the desert (it gets to 115 here in Tucson) or Los Angeles. Food gets shipped in from around the world, water gets desalinated, life goes on.)

But doesn’t the claim of potential starvation beg the questions: How many people suffer and die from starvation and forced migration, now and in the past? How many people have suffered, in childhood and the prime of life, from horrible diseases that we can now treat or that we’ve eradicated or could eradicate soon? How many people have and are living indescribably miserable lives from ungodly poverty? Lives that are horrible beyond our imagining….

Consider the past. Stalin’s purges, the Great Leap Forward / Cultural Revolution, and even the partitioning of India caused human suffering on a scale beyond anything we can imagine today. Yet most people don’t even know they happened. The Spanish Flu … well, that goes without saying. If that happened today, it would be treated like the end of the world. It could easily lead to a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. Heck, with “Mr. Build the Wall” / “China is out to get us” with the nuclear codes, it could be even worse.

Less speculative: you, Annie, your kids, and your grandkids are way, way more likely to die from an antibiotic resistant infection than global warming.

Haven’t there always been environmentalists yelling “the sky is falling”? Haven’t every single one of their doomsday predictions been proven wrong (see first link below)? Shouldn't this give us pause when evaluating new claims?

And not to be cynical, but if global warming truly is The Worst Thing Ever, why is geoengineering a topic we can’t even discuss? Ocean seeding and enhanced weathering – these aren’t even part of the discussion. Increasing albedo is dismissed because the sky would look different?

One closing question:

Why are so many liberals so overwhelmingly concerned about global warming – something potentially bad in the future – while they are not only unwilling to address but are actively taking part in what you recognize as the obvious horror of today: factory farming? I understand that depriving India and Africa the fossil fuel resources to develop out of crushing poverty (second link below) is somewhat abstract. But eating factory farmed animals is not an abstraction. It is directly (and knowingly) contributing to absolute horrific and undeniable brutality.

But it is much easier to talk about (potential) Big Bad Things in the future, and blame others, than actually care about suffering we’re directly connected to, and could help end, right now.

And, of course, factory farming contributes significantly to global warming (it is telling that Ms. Kolbert didn’t even know that meat production really is on the same order of magnitude as transportation: “I don’t think it does rise to that level ... people have to eat”). By being inefficient in resource use, eating animals plays a role in global hunger and starvation. It will almost certainly be the source of our next pandemic, and it is driving the antibiotic resistance that really does threaten you and your future descendants. But almost no one talks about it, because it implicates them personally. Better to worry about the future and blame faceless governments.

But enough ranting from me (and if you’ve perused, you know this isn’t how I advocate in public). Some important bits that I think you would want to consider:

Again – I’m no right-winger head-in-the-sander. Or a techno-utopian (although everyone who talks about what the climate will be in 100 years is hugely underestimating how much humanity / society will have changed by then). I’m a painist utilitarian who actually recognizes how much suffering there has been and currently is.

Thanks again for all your amazing work, especially your insistence on always bringing up chickens!

-Matt Ball

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ellen's Fax to John McCain

To Senator McCain and Staff,

I'm writing to express my strong opposition to any repeal, partial repeal, or defunding of the Affordable Care Act. 

Obamacare is the reason my father is alive today. After losing his job and subsequently the insurance provided by his employer, both of my parents were able to buy health insurance, health insurance they would not otherwise have been able to get, as both have 'preexisting conditions'. When my dad started experiencing chest pains, having insurance gave him the confidence to go to the emergency room knowing that it would not bankrupt his family. My dad freely admits that if he had not had insurance, he would likely have waited to see if the pain went away - waiting that would have killed him, as the tension pneumothorax pushed his heart to the wrong side of his chest. 

Much can - and should - be said about the high financial cost of repealing the ACA, about the number of people who will lose insurance, about the many successes of the ACA in cutting the number of uninsured and reducing health coverage costs for low income families, but here's the most important truth: repealing the ACA will kill people. 

I trust that the Senator will take this into consideration when planning his votes, and I hope to see a statement from the Senator opposing a reckless repeal of the ACA soon. 

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Ellen Green
Tucson, AZ 85750

PS. I'm sure you'll all be hearing a lot about Russia over the next few days, but I would just like to say that I'm very proud of the Senator for his cosponsorship of sanctions against Russia. Their efforts to interfere in our elections are deplorable and I applaud the Senator's legislation.

“Vegan” is a distraction

In 2015, Tobias, the brains at Vegan Strategist, did an extended interview with me. I'm reproducing several questions here. 

VS: How would you define a vegan? A vegan diet?
MB: Before considering this question, I think it is important to step back and consider what is actually happening in the real world. Hopefully, it could help put the focus on what really matters….
You could argue that Jane’s brothers had it better. Andy and Bruce and Gene and Martin were tossed into a bag, on top of hundreds of others. Over many agonizing minutes, they were crushed as more and more were added to the bag. With increasing panic, they struggled with all their might to move, to breathe, as their collective weight squeezed the air from their lungs. No matter how desperately they fought and gasped, they couldn’t get enough air, until finally, mercifully, they blacked out and eventually died.

Jane’s torments were just beginning, however. Her mouth was mutilated, leaving her in so much pain she couldn’t eat for several days. One of her sisters was unable to eat and starved to death. Jane ended up stuffed into a tiny wire cage with Becky, Arlene, Megan, Tracy, and Lynn. To call it a “prison” would be a gross understatement. They were crammed into the cage so tightly that the wires rubbed their skin raw. Their excrement mixed with that of thousands of others, and the horrible ammonia stench of the piles of feces burned their nostrils and lungs.
Struggling for freedom, Megan was eventually able to reach her head through the wires. But then she was trapped, unable to get back in. Over the next few days, she slowly, painfully died of dehydration.
After over a year of this torture, Jane’s feet became tangled in the wire mesh of the floor. Unable to move, she was beginning to dehydrate. But before death could end her pain, she was torn from the cage, her entangled toes left behind, ripped from her body. The brutality of her handler crushed many of her bones, and she was thrown into a truck. For the next 14 hours, she and hundreds of others were driven through the Iowa winter, without protection, food, or water. The cold numbed the pain of Jane’s mutilated feet, but not the acute agony of her shattered bones. She was then shackled upside down, and had her throat cut. That’s how her torment ended.
An unfathomable number of individuals have suffered and are suffering just as Jane did.
Given that this is the current reality, we have a difficult choice to make:
matt ball choiceWe can spend our very limited time and resources worrying about, arguing about, and attacking each other over words and definitions.
Or we can focus our efforts entirely on actually ending the system that brutalizes individuals like Tracy and Gene.
If we take Jane’s plight seriously, the best thing most of us can do at the moment is help persuade more people to buy more cruelty-free foods. As tempting as it is, we can’t just remain in our bubble, liking and retweeting what our fellow advocates say. We can’t be distracted by online arguments. We can’t endlessly reevaluate every question and debate.
Instead, we have to focus on realistic strategies that start to create significant and lasting change with new people in the real world. As hard as it is, we absolutely must stop paying attention to people who want to create the world’s smallest club, and start paying attention to what actually creates real change with people who currently don’t know about Jane’s plight.
Questions like the above – about our definitions and opinions – seem harmless. But not only do they waste valuable time and resources, they reinforce the idea that our work is an academic exercise. It isn’t – the lives of individuals like Tracy and Andy depend on us actually doing constructive work in the real world.

VS: To what extent should we use the word “vegan” in our outreach and to what extent other words? When? What words?
I stopped eating meat, eggs, and dairy over a quarter century ago. At the time, and for years after, I was mindlessly pro-“vegan.” Not pro-animal, or pro-compassion, or pro-change. Pro-“vegan.” The word. The identity. The philosophy and “lifestyle.”
matt ball2But in the real world, “vegan” is a stereotype, a punchline, an excuse. People say, “I could never be vegan,” and that is the end of the conversation – the end of any opportunity for constructive engagement, for steps taken that could have a real-world benefit for animals.
“Vegan” is an ego-boost, a divider, a distraction. It is too easy to simply judge things as “vegan / not vegan,” instead of focusing on cruelty to animals, working to end factory farms, and having any real impact in the real world.
When I focused on “vegan,” instead of how to bring about real change for animals in the real world, I was being both self-centered and lazy. I understand the desire to only care about “vegan,” of course. But at best, the word distracts from doing our best to help new people make compassionate choices that have real consequences for animals.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The United States is High School

I went to high school in small town Ohio. <shudder> I don't know if it is true in every school, but there was a very strong current of anti-intellectualism. The few smart people were mocked and/or actively hated and targeted.

In terms of elections, the US is just like high school The smart people (Gore, Hillary Clinton) are disdained and attacked over absurd invented bullshit. Yes, both won the popular vote, but winning the smarter states (NY, CA) by a lot just doesn't cut it given our anti-democratic Electoral College. John Kerry, Michael Dukakis -- smart people tarred with the "elite" label. (I do find it telling that we want an "elite" surgeon or pilot, but not President.)

On the other hand, the popular people who don't act smart -- George W Bush, Bill "Bubba" Clinton, Trump -- are liked enough to be elected.

Obama was fortunate to run in 2008, when anyone running against Bush's economic collapse would have won. Again, Romney was a rich "elite" type, while Obama was able to maintain enough "cool" aura to carry the needed states.

What this implies is that we need to nominate based on popularity -- likability -- rather than qualifications or policies. The US just isn't made up of an informed electorate, but rather a National Enquirer electorate. We need to accept that. Idiocracy wasn't satire, it was a documentary beamed back to us.

Monday, January 9, 2017

What Will Lead to Reconsideration?

In 2017, ~9 billion land animals will suffer on US factory farms and be slaughtered. If we focused all our resources on promoting veganism and, by some miracle, doubled the number of vegans in the country, the number of land animals suffering would be ... ~9 billion.

Yet even this is a fantasy. For all our vegan groups, vegan clubs, vegan mentoring, vegan booklets, and vegan chants, we have basically not altered the percentage of the population who are vegan at all.

Yet even this downplays how bad things are. Despite the untold millions of "GO VEGAN!" comments and exhortations, per-capita animal consumption is at an all-time high ... and going higher.

I honestly don't know what else has to happen for there to be a fundamental reconsideration of our approach.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Portland Now on YouTube

Cathy sends along this YouTube link for my recent talk in Portland. Thanks to everyone who has sent feedback on my talks over the years, and thanks to Cathy for getting me invited to Portland.