Monday, July 28, 2014

Ellen Week, Part 1

Our daughter, Ellen, has written some of my favorite pieces. Here's one of her college admissions essays:

Can I Be Admitted if I Don’t Exist?

“Well, that was the most interesting conversation I’ve heard in a long time,” the waiter told us as he dropped off the receipt. “Just don’t strain your brains too much.”

We grinned at each other as we stood up from our table. Who could blame him – after all, it’s not very often you overhear arguments for the moral imperative to build AI, Fermi’s Paradox, the efficacy of SETI, the factors of Drake’s equation, rooting for the machines in The Matrix, all discussed while scarfing down a scrumptious vegan feast.

I think the line that got the waiter was: “So you probably don’t really exist.”

Well, your consciousness may exist, but not ‘you’ in the form you’re used to. More specifically, there’s a good chance you are a simulation running on an alien computer.

You shouldn’t worry, though: everyone around you is, too.

How can that be? I’m glad you asked.

Take a technological civilization – even ours in the not-too-distant future – and allow it to create sentient artificial intelligences. If you assume all the people – or even a significant fraction of them – choose to create their own simulations with these AI (and, given the current popularity of games such as World of Warcraft or the Sims and Spore, this isn’t an unreasonable hypothesis), the AI would soon outnumber the corporeal members of the civilization.

Therefore, if an individual is conscious, it is more probable they are an artificial, simulated intelligence, rather than a physical being.

It is counter-intuitive, at least superficially troubling, and ultimately irrelevant; there’s no way to test the hypothesis. And even if I don’t exist, I still want to attend sim-Pomona – the aliens have done a great job putting together my dream school!

Or is this just what they want me to think?


Team Green-Ball on Ellen's 20th Birthday.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Future of Humanity?

As I've written elsewhere, technology will be one of the drivers of de facto animal liberation. But as someone who lived through the Cold War and remembers fearing nuclear annihilation (my speech at high school graduation in 1986 was about the threat of nuclear war), there is always the question of the potential downsides of technology.

Today, even as we reap the benefits of rapidly advancing technology, we face different existential risks. This Atlantic article:  But What Would the End of Humanity Mean for Me? covers the thoughts of some of the smartest people around today.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Part 2: Optimal Animal Advocacy in the Real World

Continued from yesterday:

Does This Feel Weird to You?
Looking at our diet and farm animals in this way might feel odd. It might appear as if we’re seeing animals as mere numbers instead of individuals. Advocates of vegetarian eating might even believe it betrays those animals who aren’t “important” enough to focus on (specifically cows and pigs, but also ducks, geese, goats, sheep, and rabbits). It’s also difficult for any of us not to focus on pigs and cows since we tend to see them as more intelligent and human-like than chickens and fish.
If all of this feels weird to you, it’s because human beings don’t usually make ethical decisions based on calculations. For example, when people were asked in one study how much they’d pay to improve the welfare of an individual egg-laying hen, they replied that they’d pay about a dollar. When they were asked how much they would pay to improve the welfare of a hundred hens, they responded that they’d pay about $15—or just 15 cents a bird. To improve the lives of the nearly 300 million egg laying hens in the U.S., people indicated they’d be willing to lay out a paltry $340—which comes out to about one ten-thousandth of a cent per animal. (A third of respondents said they wouldn’t pay a penny.) Furthermore, even though pigs and egg-laying hens are intelligent and unique individuals, people in this study were willing to pay about three times more money to improve the lives of pigs than they were to better the lives of hens (Norwood and Lusk).
On the outside looking in, it’s easy to judge the people surveyed as possessing a very muddled ethical sense. Logically, if improving the life of one chicken is worth spending one dollar on, then enhancing the lives of a hundred chickens should be worth spending $100 on. Sure, a few people might not be able to spare $100, but most could. And for those of us who see all animals as having more or less equal value, it’s easy to criticize those who would pay $3 to help a pig but only $1 to help a chicken.
The fact is that using logic in this manner is simply not how the human mind works. Our beliefs and ethics don’t come from a thoughtful computation on how we can do the most good. They should, but they don’t. Unfortunately, our empathy often seems to be split from our calculating, analytical minds. Even thinking with the analytical part of our brains seems to make us less compassionate (Cooney 2011). This isn’t only true when it comes to animals; it’s the case for most social issues.
If our ethical choices were based on logic and we heard that millions of people were starving in Africa we’d give more money to help those millions than if we heard about one, undernourished child. Yet studies show the opposite is true: focusing on how large a problem is causes us to donate less (Cooney 2011).
In the same vein, all of us would agree that saving a child from dying of easily preventable malaria is more important than supporting the performance of a local orchestra. Yet Americans contribute dramatically more to the arts each year than they do to efforts to eradicate malaria (Giving USA 2012).
For most people, the goal of any altruistic act is simply to do something helpful. Very few of us choose where to donate, where to volunteer, and how to live our lives based on the answer to the question, “How can I do the most possible good in the world?” And yet it is that calculating attitude that is crucial to helping as many animals (or people) as possible.
Some nonprofits are starting to catch on. For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on issues where they can save the greatest number of human lives per dollar. This orientation includes very successful efforts to decrease the instances of malaria, to vaccinate more children, and to improve child health in poorer nations. The Foundation constantly gathers data to determine how many lives it is saving, and what it can do to save even more for the same amount of money (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).
Does such an approach mean the Foundation is turning its back on those who suffer in other ways around the globe? Not at all. The Gateses see value in every human life, but they know their resources are limited and try to put them toward programs that will save the most lives. Literally millions of children are only alive today because the Gates Foundation chose to take this analytical approach to improving the world. If the Foundation had spent an equal amount of money on improving the world and had been equally passionate about its work, but had not taken a data-based approach, most of those children would be dead.
Using a similar method in its philanthropy, the website GiveWell.org reviews hundreds of charities and provides recommendations to donors about which organizations will save the most lives per dollar donated. The website EffectiveAnimalActivism.org was launched in 2012 to provide similar advice for donors wanting to support animal protection causes.

Putting It Into Practice
Advocates of vegetarian eating can and should take a page from the strategy of GiveWell, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other charities that are moving toward data-based altruism. By doing so, they can spare many, many more animals from a lifetime of suffering.
One way to accomplish this is to focus on the foods where, as we’ve seen, activists can get the most bang for their buck, as it were: chicken, fish, and eggs. Concentrating on these three products, especially chicken, could mean the difference between helping hundreds of animals and helping thousands.
Many vegetarian advocates are already doing this. In conversations with friends or the public, they make sure to emphasize that nearly all of the farm animals killed for food are chickens. They point out that by simply cutting out or cutting back on eating chicken, each of us can spare dozens of animals a year from a lifetime of misery. When talking with people who are considering changing their diet, they encourage them to cut out chicken as the first step. They may also point out the possible health risks of eating chicken and fish, while intentionally not mentioning the health risks of red meat.
And it’s not just individual advocates who are adopting this new strategy. Surveys conducted by vegetarian advocacy groups such as Farm Animal Rights Movement, The Humane League, and Farm Sanctuary suggest that placing extra and explicit emphasis on chicken in their outreach efforts worked. It led to more animals being spared a wretched existence and death.

The Ideal Message
If vegetarian advocates aim to promote the dietary changes that will spare the greatest number of animals, they need to consider something else. The public may be much more willing to give up certain products than they are to give up animal products entirely.
Leaving aside the issue of chicken for a moment, consider the difference between encouraging someone to go vegetarian and urging that person to go vegan. Vegetarians do almost as much good for farm animals as vegans. They reduce 88 percent as many days of suffering, and spare 94 percent as many lives. And if you’re talking about vegetarians who give up eggs, by both measures they do over 99 percent as much good.
Unfortunately, many vegans forget this fact. They fixate on the negative aspects of vegetarian eating instead of considering the positives. One study suggested that the most common belief vegans held about vegetarians was not that the latter were helping animals or eating more healthily, but that they were hypocrites (Povey et al. 2001). Talk about missing the forest for the trees!
Although vegans do only slightly more good for farm animals than vegetarians, meat-eaters perceive a vegan diet as much more unrealistic. A 2001 study from the U.K. found that although meat-eaters had mixed feelings about vegetarianism, a number of them perceived the diet as healthier, along with other benefits. On the other hand, meat-eaters saw veganism as unhealthful, extreme, and restrictive; not one had anything positive to say about being a vegan. Even many pescatarians and vegetarians have the perception that veganism is difficult and potentially not healthy (Povey et al. 2001).
Meat-eaters probably have a better impression of veganism today than they did more than a decade ago. But in all likelihood, they continue to think of vegetarian eating as a healthier and more viable lifestyle than veganism. They also continue to like vegetarians more than they do vegans (Americans Pick Ronald McDonald). As a result, nearly everyone who wants a more animal-friendly diet starts off by going vegetarian, pescatarian, or semi-vegetarian. Even the vast majority of vegans spent several years as vegetarians before taking the next step (Hirschler 2011).
Communication researchers have found that to get people to alter their behavior most significantly, advocates should promote a change that is substantial but that individuals can picture themselves accomplishing (Cooney 2011). Clearly, most meat-eaters cannot and would not want to picture themselves as vegans. As we’ve seen, they think that veganism is unhealthful, restrictive, and extreme. But a number of meat-eaters could picture themselves as vegetarians. One study suggested that a full 7 percent of American meat-eaters could be willing to give up meat entirely (Humane Research Council, Advocating Meat Reduction).
When you add to this the fact that vegans spare only slightly more animals than vegetarians, the implication becomes clear. By encouraging people to go vegetarian, you should lead to more animals being spared than encouraging them to go vegan. A “go vegetarian” message should also lead to the most vegans in the long term, since once a person becomes a vegetarian they’re more likely to go vegan than if they’re encouraged to move from omnivorism to veganism (Stahler, Retention Survey).
This observation hasn’t been proven yet. It’s an assumption based on general research about communication, persuasion, and perceptions of vegetarianism and veganism. We might hope that research will be done soon to confirm this is the case.
The logic applied above also brings us back to chickens. Animal advocates may be able to spare more animals by encouraging the public to avoid eating chicken—or by encouraging them to avoid eating chicken, fish, and eggs—than by urging them to go vegetarian. Why might this be the case?
Try this scenario: Imagine it’s ten years in the future. Climate change remains a major issue and the time has come for you to buy a new car. An environmentalist friend encourages you to just stop driving entirely. Another friend presses you to buy a solar-powered car, which generates 90 percent fewer greenhouse gases, is equally convenient, and is almost as cheap as a conventional car. What would you do?
While a few people may quit driving entirely, many more would be willing to buy the solar car. And in making the switch, they’d be doing 90 percent as much good for the environment as if they had stopped driving entirely. It is the second message—the one encouraging people to buy a solar-powered car—that would be a more effective one for protecting the Earth. Persuading five people to buy the solar car would do more to lower greenhouse-gas emissions than getting four people to stop driving entirely.
The same situation holds true when it comes to the meat Americans eat. Simply by ditching chicken—even if they replace it with beef and pork—Americans can reduce the number of farm animals they are killing by about 90 percent. True, if they replaced all of that chicken with farm-raised fish and eggs, the switch would be of little to no benefit for animals. But it seems unlikely that many people would do that. In all likelihood, the public would be more willing to give up one type of meat than to give up all meat. Indeed, polls show that there are far more chicken-avoiders than vegetarians. One national poll found that while only two percent of Americans were vegetarian at that time, 6 percent said they did not eat chicken. (It’s also worth noting that 9 percent said they did not eat eggs, and 15 percent stated they did not eat fish.) (Stahler, How Many Adults)
Focusing on chicken could prove more beneficial in the long run as well. People who eliminate one food become more open to other changes later on, and they’ve already taken the most important step by no longer eating chicken. To the extent they spread this behavioral change to friends and family members, they’re leading to an alteration in their diet that spares 90 percent of farm animals and is much easier to adopt than vegetarianism.
Only research will be able to tell us for sure whether encouraging people to “go vegan,” “go vegetarian,” “cut back on meat,” or “ditch chicken” helps the most animals. Vegetarian advocates may find, though, that encouraging people to simply cut out or cut back on chicken (or chicken, eggs, and fish) spares more animals in both the short and long term.

But Wait, Do Vegetarians Really Spare All Those Animals?
This is all very interesting, you may say, but have we really answered the question that kicked off this chapter? How do we know that going vegetarian actually spares real, live animals from a life of suffering? And is there anything we’re missing in calculating how many animals a vegetarian spares?
In a general sense, it’s clear that when a portion of the public goes vegetarian or eats less meat the number of animals killed for food drops. Like every other product, meat is subject to the laws of supply and demand. As demand for a product goes down, producers start making less of it. Americans were eating about 10 percent less meat per person in 2012 than they were in 2006. As a result in 2012 there were hundreds of millions of animals who were not bred, raised in cruel factory-farm conditions, and killed at a slaughterhouse.
But there’s another rule of supply and demand that we’ve been ignoring. When demand for a product goes down, the unwanted product ends up sitting on the shelf. Producers and retailers want to sell it, but there aren’t enough customers willing to buy it. So what do retailers do? They lower the price. So when demand goes down, the price falls as well. And the lower prices in turn drive demand slightly back up.
What does this mean for vegetarians? If you decide to leave 50 pounds of chicken off your plate this year, that doesn’t mean that 50 fewer pounds will be produced next year. The amount of chicken that won’t be produced is something less than 50 pounds. Norwood and Lusk have calculated what the actual impact is when someone—such as a vegetarian—decides to leave animal products off their plate. Their model predicts the following:

·      If you give up one pound of beef, total beef production eventually falls by .68 pounds
·      If you give up one pound of chicken, total chicken production eventually falls by .76 pounds
·      If you give up one pound of pork, total pork production eventually falls by .74 pounds
·      If you give up one pound of milk, total milk production eventually falls by .56 pounds
·      If you give up one pound of eggs, total egg production eventually falls by .91 pounds
                                    (Norwood and Lusk)

In other words, leaving animal products off of our plates doesn’t do quite as much good as we thought. While it’s true that the average American omnivore kills 33 farm animals each year, going vegan will only spare about 25 animals per year. Going vegetarian will spare 23 animals.
This seems like bad news. However, there’s a big upside. The same rates hold true when people add more meat to their diet, or when new meat-eaters are born. If your neighbor decides to eat a hundred extra pounds of chicken this year, total chicken production will only increase by 76 pounds.
Of course, at the individual level this is all a bit silly. Norwood and Lusk have calculated down to the per-pound level what is really a large-scale phenomenon. If Americans eat ten thousand fewer pounds of chicken this year, farmers will take notice. Next year, they’ll produce about 7,600 fewer pounds of chicken meat. If only one person eats less chicken, the industry is not going to notice.
In that sense, eating is like donating to charity. Let’s say that one particular non-profit spends in all about $20 for each child they vaccinate against a deadly disease. Does that mean that if you donate $20 you can be sure that one additional child will be vaccinated? No. The charity is not going to cash your check, smile, and then go find one more kid to vaccinate with your $20. So should you still donate? Of course! Because the principle works, except on a larger scale. If a thousand people each donate $20, then most likely a thousand additional children will be vaccinated. That $20,000, when pooled together, would be enough to open another clinic in a new village.
The same holds true for avoiding animal products. If you decide to stop eating meat, will the chicken farmer near you actually raise and kill 28 (or rather 22, once you factor in supply-and-demand fluctuations) fewer chickens next year? No. But as soon as some modest number of people have decided to go vegetarian, their collective impact will be noticed. The farmer will cut back on production, at a rate of about 22 chickens per new vegetarian.
As researcher Jason Gaverick Matheny has pointed out, each person who gives up meat has a chance of being the one who tips the scales. Each new vegetarian could be the person who brings the total quantity of meat being boycotted to a large enough level that farmers take notice and reduce the number of animals they raise (Matheny 2002).
For example, let’s say chicken farmers only notice and adjust production levels once a thousand people have ditched chicken. At that point, farmers would decrease production by 22,000 birds. Chances are small that your decision not to eat meat would be the one that brought the total amount of chicken being boycotted to that threshold. In fact, your chances would be only one in a thousand. But if you were that lucky person, your decision would spare 22,000 chickens! In other words, by giving up chicken, you’d have a one-in-a-thousand chance of sparing 22,000 animals.
Clearly, the ethical thing to do is to stop eating chickens. This is true even if you can’t be sure that your individual choice will be the one that tips the scales. But when you average it out among all of the vegetarians across the country, each of you would have spared 22 chickens from a lifetime of misery.

So congratulations vegetarians, vegans, and meat reducers—you really are making a difference!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Part 1: Analyzing the Numbers to Optimize Our Advocacy

For me, the most important part of Nick Cooney's Veganomics is his opening chapter. He doesn't just repeat "feel-good" numbers (e.g., "Vegans save 296 animals a year!"). Rather, he breaks down the numbers by relative sentience, relative suffering, demand elasticity, and replacability. Of particular importance is his insight into wild fish, especially relative to farmed fish.

As I discuss here, understanding these numbers are just as important as understanding the psychology of personal and social change. Thanks to Nick for letting me serialize his first chapter. Here is part 1, the numbers; tomorrow, the implications.


Move Aside, Cows and Pigs
How What We Eat Really Impacts Animals

Does being vegetarian really help animals? It sounds silly to some, but to many people it’s a serious question. One study discovered that fewer than half of all meat-eaters think going vegetarian prevents cruelty to farm animals (Lea, Moving from Meat). Scroll through the comments on any YouTube video on factory farming and you’ll see that same sentiment over and over: “This is bad, but going vegetarian won’t help, the animals will still be treated that way.”
So does being a vegetarian really help animals? And if so, how many animals—and what kinds of animals—does it help? Not only are the answers surprising, they also have major implications for anyone who wants to promote vegetarian eating.
By the way, in this book we’ll use the phrase “vegetarian eating” and not “vegan eating” for two reasons. First, nearly every study we refer to focuses on vegetarians. The results might apply to vegans, and to promoting vegan eating, but we can’t assume that. It also would be impractical to use the phrase “vegetarians and vegans” in every sentence. “Vegetarians” is a simpler term and it covers both vegetarians and vegans. As you’ll see though, our hope is the public will cut all cruelty out of their diet—including eggs and dairy.

How Many Animals Does a Vegetarian Spare?
How many farm animals are killed each year for the average American omnivore? Dr. Harish Sethu at the blog CountingAnimals.com analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find out. As of 2012, about 31 farm animals suffer and die for the average meat-eater. In rounded figures, the number of animals killed breaks down to:

28 chickens
1 turkey
½ pig
⅛ beef cow
1⅓ farm-raised fish
                                    (Sethu, How Many Animals)

The consumption of dairy and eggs adds about two more animals into the mix:

2 chickens (one laying hen, one male chick that is killed shortly after birth)
1/30 dairy cow
                                    (Norwood and Lusk)

If we consider shellfish and wild fish, the numbers grow dramatically higher:

Over 225 fish
Over 151 shellfish
                                    (Sethu, How Many Animals)

Most of the shellfish—such as shrimp, crabs, lobsters, and squids—are eaten directly. Some wild fish are consumed in the same way, but many are fed to farm-raised fish to help fatten them up. If those numbers of fish seem high to you, keep in mind that many fish—such as anchovies—are very small.
As you may have noticed, we’ve left out animals that are eaten in relatively small numbers, such as goats, rabbits, and sheep. We’re also ignoring the indirect ways that animals are killed in the meat production process. For example, we’re not including the fish and other wild animals killed when pollution from factory farms seeps into waterways. We’re also not including the wild animals who are killed by pesticide poisoning, or who are run over by farm threshing equipment, on corn and soy fields. (Vegetarians are responsible for some of these deaths as well, but not to the same degree as meat-eaters. Producing meat requires a lot of grain.)
Looking at the number of animals killed for food, we see a surprising picture. When most people think about food animals, they envision a cow. But far more fish are killed for food than any other type of animal. And when it comes to farm animal deaths, chickens easily rule the roost.
For every cow they eat, Americans eat 190 chickens and kill over 1,400 fish. For every pig they eat, Americans eat 60 chickens and kill over 450 fish.
The disparity is even larger when we look at specific animal products. In their entire adult life the average American omnivore will cause the death of only about two dairy cows, eight beef cows, and 30 pigs. But they’ll kill about 80 farm-raised fish, 120 egg industry hens, and a whopping 1,680 broiler chickens. If you can bear to see the astronomical numbers for wild fish and shellfish, here they are: over their entire adult life, the average American meat-eater is responsible for the killing of over 13,500 wild fish and 9,060 shellfish.

Calculating Cruelty
Just what do these numbers mean for those who want to promote vegetarian eating? If vegetarian advocates want as many individuals as possible to be protected from cruelty, an important lesson is: focus on getting the public to give up chicken, fish, and eggs.
Cutting out red meat is a valuable goal, but if that is all a person does they will spare less than one animal per year. If they replace that red meat with chicken or fish, they will actually be harming many more animals.
On the other hand, by simply eating half as much chicken flesh as they used to a person can spare 14 farm animals per year. A person who gives up eating chickens entirely—even if they replace all of the chicken they used to eat with beef and pork—will spare 27 to 28 animals. If the entire country did that, the number of farm animals killed each year in the U.S. would drop from about 8.5 billion to 1 billion—even though Americans will be eating as much meat as they did before.
Eating fish appears to kill an even larger number of animals. As we saw earlier, about 225 wild fish are killed each year for the average meat-eater’s consumption. But a person who stops eating fish doesn’t actually prevent 225 fish from being killed. Why? Because most fish are omnivores—they eat other, smaller fish. So if humans did not eat a wild-caught tuna fish, that animal would be eating hundreds of other fish. As a result, we don’t know the number of wild animals impacted when a person stops eating fish.
The number of animals’ deaths we’re responsible for might not be what’s most important to vegetarian advocates. Perhaps the main concern should not be the number, but the amount of suffering that’s caused. In that case, priorities shift. Vegetarian advocates need to consider not just the number of animals killed but also how badly each animal suffers, and how long that suffering goes on for.
If reducing animal suffering is the main concern, then considerations about fish become less important. For most wild fish, the point of slaughter is the only time at which humans impact their existence. Most farm animals, on the other hand, endure a lifetime of misery. They are strictly confined on factory farms, and selective breeding causes them painful physical problems. Only farm-raised fish suffer to the same degree. Shellfish also take a back seat when we focus on the suffering of animals. Like fish, most shellfish come from the wild and their death similarly is the only occasion we affect their lives. And some shellfish, such as oysters and clams, are species that may not feel pain.
We can calculate the number of days each farm-animal species suffers because of the average meat-eater’s diet. For example, since the average American eats half of a pig each year, and a pig lives for 180 days before being slaughtered, the average pork consumer causes 90 days of pig suffering per year.
How do animal products stack up against one another when measured this way?
In terms of days spent suffering per year, the average meat-eater generates about 1,100 days of misery for chickens, an entire year for egg-laying hens, 120 days for turkeys, 90 days for pigs, 23 days for beef cows, and 12 days for dairy cows. Depending on what species of fish they eat, the average American also causes between 355 and 2,470 days of farmed-fish suffering each year (Farm Animal Welfare).
But we can’t just stop there. We still have to factor in how severely each animal suffers. For example, it is likely that an egg-laying hen experiences a lot more agony than a cow raised for beef. Egg-laying hens are kept for their entire lives in dirty wire cages so small they can barely turn around. Beef cows typically spend most of their time roaming open pastures. They aren’t intensely confined until the last few weeks or months of their life.
We don’t know exactly to what extent each species of farm animal experiences pain and misery, but animal welfare studies shed light on which ones probably undergo the most wretched existences. In his book Compassion, by the Pound, co-written with his fellow agricultural economist Jayson Lusk, F. Bailey Norwood reviews some of that research and shares his perceptions of how much farm animals suffer. On a scale of -10 to 10, with 10 being the most pleasant conditions, he rates the welfare of farm animals as follows:

Beef cows: 6
Dairy cows: 4
Broiler (meat) chickens: 3
Pigs: -2
Egg-laying hens: -8
                                    (Norwood and Lusk)

For another perspective, we turn to Dr. Sara Shields. Dr. Shields is an animal welfare expert who, along with a team of others, researches and writes the Humane Society of the United States’ rigorous white papers on farm animal welfare. On the same -10 to 10 scale, Dr. Shields rates the welfare of farm animals as follows:

Beef cows: 2
Dairy cows: 0
Pigs: -5
Fish: -7
Egg-laying hens: -7
Broiler (meat) chickens and turkeys: -8
                                    (Shields)

Although Shields’ ratings are lower, both she and Norwood follow roughly the same pattern. The only substantial difference is for broiler chickens and turkeys, which Shields rates as having the most wretched lives of all farm animals.
Averaging Shields’ and Norwood’s scores together, we can assume that egg-laying hens and farm-raised fish probably endure the most suffering. When we consider how these animals are raised, it’s easy to see why. Egg-laying hens experience more than just very cramped cages. Their beaks are often partly seared off with a laser, and many hens lose their feathers from constantly rubbing against the bars of their cages. Their feet become crippled from standing on wire-mesh flooring their whole life.
Farm-raised fish are penned in densely packed, waste-filled pools. Up to a third of them die slowly from disease or parasites. Some have their face or flesh chewed off by sea lice. Because the close confinement increases aggression, some fishes’ fins, tails, or eyes are bitten off and out by other fish.
Pigs and chickens raised for meat follow next on the scale of affliction. Both species are crammed into indoor pens or sheds with little room to move around. Sows are enclosed for most of their lives in cages so small they cannot turn around. Many meat-chickens (known as broilers) experience crippling leg disorders, heart attacks, and other painful ailments as a result of being bred to grow so large, so quickly. Hundreds of millions of them expire on the floors of their sheds, not even making it to the slaughterhouse.
Both Norwood and Shields agree that cows used by the dairy and beef industries endure the least painful lives. Even though they are abused in many ways, overall, cows undergo far less torment than chickens, farm-raised fish, and pigs.
Having considered how grievously each type of farm animal suffers, how many of them do so, and for how long, one thing becomes clear: vegetarian advocates should focus on getting the public to cut out chicken, farm-raised fish, and eggs.
When we look at the days of suffering that farm animals bear for the average meat-eater, there’s no contest. Chickens and fish account for 92 percent of those days of suffering. Turkeys make up a modest 4 percent, and pigs a mere 3 percent. Cows, both beef and dairy combined, make up just 1 percent of the number.
If we look at the total number of farm animals raised and killed, the proportions are almost identical. Chickens and fish account for 95 percent of farm animals butchered. Turkeys make up just 3 percent, pigs are 1.5 percent, and cows represent just 0.5 percent of all animals killed.

The simple truth is that chickens and farm-raised fish probably lead the most miserable lives of any farm animal. To the extent that promoting vegetarianism means encouraging a diet that is kind toward animals, one can argue that virtually all that matters is getting the public to cut out or cut back on eating chickens, farm-raised fish, and eggs. Nearly all of the good that a vegan or vegetarian does for farm animals comes from removing chicken, farm-raised fish, and eggs from their diet. Pork and turkey represent only small slices of the pie of suffering. Beef and dairy are statistically almost insignificant. This holds true both for the amount of misery cows undergo, how long they endure it for, and the numbers of animals that are affected.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Back from Death's Door

You might have noticed a lack of blogging. If you don't follow me on Facebook, you don't know I was trapped in Washington, DC with a collapsed lung that almost killed me.

Chalk up another victory for Obamacare. After Anne and I were suddenly unemployed, we signed up for insurance via Obamacare. With a pre-existing condition, I wouldn't have been able to get insurance otherwise. And if I hadn't had insurance, I almost certainly would have waited a bit after my lung collapsed. Since this one was not just spontaneous (while I was asleep, just like the 2013 one) but also a tension pneumothorax which had already shoved my heart into my right lung, any delay would have been fatal. And I owe Bhavya a Klingon Life-Debt now, as she got me to the ER in time. And then sat with me for hours.



Here was the summary I wrote at the time:

In May 2013, my left lung collapsed. It is a "spontaneous pneumothorax," and for those w/o risk factors (smoking, injury), it happens to tall, skinny guys. My pulmanologist called me the "poster boy" for it.

They fixed it, but warned I was at risk of it happening again. When it happened again here in DC during the wee hours of June 28, it was much worse. Re-inflating it was even harder, and I needed major chest surgery later in the day (they removed part of the lung, and basically glued the rest of it to the inside of my chest cavity, so it can't happen again, thank goodness). Recovery is slow and painful.

I also can't fly for several more weeks (pressure difference danger), so after I'm discharged and recovered enough (more time) at friends' here in Maryland, I have to be driven back to Tucson. Adventure!


Other than the "This goes to 11" pain (Or: why I'm basically a painist) and huge cost, the obvious worst thing is being away from Anne and Ellen.

[Update: I arrived home July 15, just in time for Ellen's 20th birthday. It was, by far, the longest Anne and I have been apart in 22 years.]

The upside is I have more true friends within 6 miles of this hospital than anywhere else in the world. [Thanks so much to everyone in the DC area who supported me, especially Bhavya, who took care or me, and Bruce and Alka, who supported me after I was discharged. And Paul and Josh for trying to kill me with laughter. And my Mom and sister who drove me back to Tucson.]

Not that I needed it, but this again reminds me why, we, the fortunate ones, should do the best we can to avoid dogma and just focus on reducing suffering. I so admire everyone who has been a part of this work -- thank you.