Should animal advocates donate now or later? A few considerations and a request for more.

Which con­sid­er­a­tions are im­por­tant for de­cid­ing when to donate your money, for those in­ter­ested in helping an­i­mals? I wrote down a few to get started, mostly spe­cific to an­i­mal pro­tec­tion, but I’m also look­ing for more and for feed­back on the ones I’ve in­cluded.


In favour of giv­ing later (af­ter a few decades)

1. We’ll have more and bet­ter re­search, so we can make more in­formed choices. There could be cost-effec­tive in­ter­ven­tions in var­i­ous ar­eas that we just haven’t thought of yet and may not have the in­for­ma­tion available to iden­tify as cost-effec­tive. Some of the re­search that we’ll find use­ful won’t come from the EAA com­mu­nity it­self (psy­chol­ogy, eco­nomics, his­tory, an­i­mal cog­ni­tion...), and so would be free to take ad­van­tage of.

2. We can in­vest our money and see re­turns, al­low­ing us to make larger dona­tions later. (We can also use donor-ad­vised funds to avoid value drift.)

3. As coun­tries de­velop, their farm­ing in­dus­tries may be­come more mo­nop­o­lis­tic, and cor­po­rate out­reach could be more fo­cused and af­fect more an­i­mals per cam­paign. https://​​fo­rum.effec­tivealtru­ism.org/​​posts/​​cMvC7m86ad5xuTJ7T/​​are-china-and-in­dia-the-most-promis­ing-coun­tries-for-animal

4. Over time, at­ti­tudes to­wards an­i­mals tend to im­prove with or with­out EA-al­igned an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy, and in­ter­ven­tions tend to be more suc­cess­ful when at­ti­tudes are more favourable to an­i­mals, so post­pon­ing an in­ter­ven­tion could in­crease its prob­a­bil­ity of suc­cess.


In favour of giv­ing now to­wards in­ter­ven­tions (fo­cus­ing within the next few decades)

This also in­cludes any­thing that helps an­i­mals di­rectly or in­di­rectly, in­clud­ing move­ment sup­port, ex­cept if it helps them pri­mar­ily through in­ter­ven­tion re­search, to iden­tify the best in­ter­ven­tions.

1. Clean meat and plant-based sub­sti­tutes are hap­pen­ing now. Set­ting aside donat­ing to help speed this up, this could mean that an­i­mal farm­ing (or fac­tory farm­ing, speci­fi­cally) has a rel­a­tively fixed end date re­gard­less of what we do, and it’ll be much less cost-effec­tive to help an­i­mals af­ter that.

2. Meat con­sump­tion is in­creas­ing in many coun­tries, es­pe­cially de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. It might be more cost-effec­tive to slow the trend now or im­prove con­di­tions than to try to re­verse it or im­prove con­di­tions later once it tops out and the in­dus­tries be­come more pow­er­ful.

3. An­i­mals are likely to be the most mis­treated within the next few decades rather than later, be­cause of the progress we’re mak­ing in an­i­mal welfare pro­tec­tions, and be­cause an­i­mal product con­sump­tion will peak within the next few decades re­gard­less (if the hu­man pop­u­la­tion peaks and most peo­ple would live in de­vel­oped coun­tries).

4. Mo­men­tum can be built, and the ex­pan­sion of pro­tec­tions (and the moral cir­cle, to all sen­tient in­di­vi­d­u­als, even wild an­i­mals and fu­ture in­di­vi­d­u­als who aren’t an­i­mals) is in­cre­men­tal, so, if we were to post­pone ex­actly the same work by some num­ber of years, we might ex­pect the ex­pan­sion of pro­tec­tions to be be­hind a few years for a very long time, and the gap could close or in­crease. Un­til the gaps closes if it ever does, we might ex­pect an­i­mals (and other sen­tient be­ings) to con­tinue to be worse off than oth­er­wise. This re­sults in ad­di­tional re­turns on in­vest­ment than just the di­rect im­pacts if we do give now. In the short term, we might build mo­men­tum. In the long term, if we think the amount of suffer­ing or wellbe­ing that we can rea­son­ably in­fluence will tend to in­crease over time or at most de­crease slowly, then the op­por­tu­nity costs of this post­pone­ment could add up to be very sig­nifi­cant. In the case that the max­i­mum amount of welfare we could in­fluence tends to in­crease over time, you could see the op­por­tu­nity costs grow­ing faster than lin­early over time.

5. Value lock-in from AGI (ar­tifi­cial gen­eral in­tel­li­gence) with short AI timelines or hu­mans spread­ing out into space and be­ing much more difficult to in­fluence (the lat­ter doesn’t seem to be hap­pen­ing soon, and AI (safety) re­searchers seem to fall on both sides of the is­sue for AI timelines ).

6. If we’re very likely to go ex­tinct soon, then fac­tory farm­ing will end if/​when we do any­way.


In favour of giv­ing to re­search now

This also in­cludes long-term or in­di­rect sup­port for re­search, e.g. build­ing welfare biol­ogy as an aca­demic field with the ul­ti­mate aim of helping wild an­i­mals.

1. Without An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors, the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject, Founders Pledge, Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship, Sen­tience In­sti­tute, Re­think Pri­ori­ties and other EA-al­igned char­i­ties do­ing in­ter­ven­tion and char­ity re­search, we’d be even more un­cer­tain about which in­ter­ven­tions are cost-effec­tive. If in­ter­ven­tion re­search comes pri­mar­ily from effec­tive an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy (I don’t know that it does; there’s a lot of back­ground re­search that is used in the re­ports, not all of which comes from us), then point 1 in favour of giv­ing later would be much weaker, and we might not be sup­port­ing the in­ter­ven­tions we sup­port now, which we think are much more cost-effec­tive than their al­ter­na­tives, a huge op­por­tu­nity cost. Given how lit­tle re­search has been done, and for ex­am­ple, the new op­por­tu­ni­ties that Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship is find­ing, there might be much more cost-effec­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties that have yet to be dis­cov­ered.


Other resources

https://​​www.sen­tien­ce­in­sti­tute.org/​​foun­da­tional-ques­tions-summaries

https://​​fo­rum.effec­tivealtru­ism.org/​​posts/​​BY8gXSpGijyp­bGitT/​​why-i-pri­ori­tize-moral-cir­cle-ex­pan­sion-over-artificial

https://​​causepri­ori­ti­za­tion.org/​​Donat­ing_now_vs_later

https://​​fo­rum.effec­tivealtru­ism.org/​​posts/​​7uJcBNZhinomKtH9p/​​giv­ing-now-vs-later-a-summary

https://​​www.face­book.com/​​groups/​​effec­tive.al­tru­ists/​​perma­l­ink/​​2593427090713632/​​

https://​​www.open­philan­thropy.org/​​blog/​​good-ven­tures-and-giv­ing-now-vs-later-2016-update

https://​​globalpri­ori­tiesin­sti­tute.org/​​wp-con­tent/​​up­loads/​​2019/​​MacAskill_When_should_an_effec­tive_al­tru­ist_donate.pdf

https://​​mdick­ens.me/​​2019/​​01/​​21/​​should_global_poverty_donors_give_now_or_later/​​