Building Support for Wild Animal Suffering [Transcript]

At EAG San Fran­cisco 2018, there was a panel dis­cus­sion hosted by Per­sis Eskan­der, then of Wild An­i­mal Suffer­ing Re­search, with Abra­ham Rowe, then of Utility Farm; Kieran Grieg of An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors; and Ozy Bren­nan, then also of Wild An­i­mal Suffer­ing Re­search, on Build­ing Sup­port for Wild An­i­mal Suffer­ing. Since then, Wild An­i­mal Suffer­ing Re­search have merged into a sin­gle or­ga­ni­za­tion, Wild An­i­mal Ini­ti­a­tive. I found the dis­cus­sion to be an un­usu­ally in­for­ma­tive and in-depth con­ver­sa­tion about many cru­cial top­ics in the field of wild an­i­mal welfare. Dur­ing, the pan­elists dis­cuss:

  • How to more clearly and hon­estly com­mu­ni­cate the best points in favour of stew­ard­ing na­ture to im­prove wild an­i­mal welfare with­out over­shoot­ing with overly rad­i­cal or spec­u­la­tive pro­pos­als.

  • How ob­jec­tions to stew­ard­ing na­ture from the view­point hu­man­ity should leave na­ture alone pre­sume hu­man­ity could leave na­ture ut­terly pris­tine, when we in fact can­not, and our only choice is to de­ter­mine how we im­pact na­ture.

  • How there re­mains much un­cer­tainty about what re­search is best done in academia, and what re­search on wild an­i­mal welfare is bet­ter done in the non-profit sec­tor by the wild an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy move­ment it­self.

  • How value-al­igned aca­demics should or will at differ­ent stages of the de­vel­op­ment of wild an­i­mal welfare and welfare biol­ogy as fields, and how we can do more em­piri­cal re­search to gauge how wild an­i­mal welfare as an idea may be re­ceived by differ­ent aca­demic fields.

  • Mak­ing clear fund­ing and sup­port are available for re­searchers of wild an­i­mal welfare in academia from or­ga­ni­za­tions in the effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment is one easy way to in­crease the chances aca­demics will opt to fo­cus on re­search­ing the sub­ject.

  • While many an­i­mal rights and an­i­mal welfare ac­tivists and ad­vo­cates re­spond to the idea of wild an­i­mal welfare by point­ing out how farmed an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy seems a more im­por­tant and tractable cause at this point in time, over­all the farmed an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy move­ment is well-suited for the kinds of val­ues-spread­ing that shifts pub­lic at­ti­tude in favour of con­cern for the welfare of both farmed and wild an­i­mals.

  • Con­crete ac­tions the wild an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy move­ment can take to build sup­port for the cause of con­cern for wild an­i­mal suffer­ing is to ad­vo­cate for how more re­search is needed to un­der­stand what the lives of wild an­i­mals are like, and how differ­ent ways of stew­ard­ing na­ture may im­pact them; and illus­trat­ing how on­go­ing and small-scale pre­sent in­ter­ven­tions into na­ture already con­sti­tute work­ing wilder­ness in­ter­ven­tions peo­ple already make for the benefit of wild an­i­mals.

  • How to com­mu­ni­cate is­sues in wild an­i­mal welfare so they’ll be most well-re­ceived is ex­tremely de­pen­dent on fram­ing, so wild an­i­mal ad­vo­cates should be both cau­tious in how they frame these is­sues, and pur­sue more re­search about how differ­ences in com­mu­ni­cat­ing con­cepts af­fect peo­ple’s re­cep­tion to con­cerns about wild an­i­mal welfare.

Over­all, I think this talk points to a lot of cru­cial av­enues for re­search for the wild an­i­mal welfare com­mu­nity to pur­sue, and so I thought it would be valuable to have a tran­script of this panel dis­cus­sion available for refer­ence on the EA Fo­rum. I hope this tran­script is use­ful for un­der­stand­ing the state of the wild an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy com­mu­nity bet­ter!

Per­sis: Great! So, to­day, the goal for this white­board ses­sion are what are some suc­cess­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies, or tech­niques, that we could be ap­ply­ing, de­pend­ing on differ­ent tar­get au­di­ences that are rele­vant for wild an­i­mal suffer­ing. So, it’s go­ing to be bro­ken down into four cat­e­gories. The first is ba­sic mes­sag­ing. The sec­ond is com­mu­ni­cat­ing wild an­i­mal suffer­ing to do­main ex­perts. So, for ex­am­ple, peo­ple in academia. The third is com­mu­ni­cat­ing wild an­i­mal suffer­ing to peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in an­i­mal rights or an­i­mal welfare, but who are not quite con­vinced we should be fo­cus­ing on this over more tra­di­tional is­sues. And the last one is on the best way to talk about in­ter­ven­tions.

So, I’m go­ing to start with ask­ing each of the pan­elists to give us an ex­am­ple of ba­sic mes­sag­ing that’s been re­ally suc­cess­ful, and ways they’ve been able to com­mu­ni­cate with some­one who is to­tally un­fa­mil­iar with wild an­i­mal suffer­ing. And, also, feel free to point out ar­eas in which things haven’t worked out quite as well. So we might start with Ozy and go down.

Ozy: Hi. So, I think one of the things for me in com­mu­ni­cat­ing about wild an­i­mal suffer­ing is I try to be au­then­tic, and I try to say the things I gen­uinely be­lieve. I think there is a real ten­dency for peo­ple to be like, “oh no, we have to, like, say things are re­ally calcu­lated to ap­peal to ev­ery­one,” and, like, I don’t think that that’s a good way to grow a move­ment. So, both eth­i­cally we should be hon­est about what our true thoughts are and what and, in terms of get­ting peo­ple who are re­ally value-al­igned, it might be helpful in the short-term, but in the long-run, you’re go­ing to need the peo­ple you’re go­ing to get by ac­tu­ally say­ing what you be­lieve.

And an­other thing I found that’s helpful on ba­sic mes­sag­ing is think­ing about the ob­jec­tions peo­ple always have and sort of, don’t wait for them to bring it up. And be­ing like, for ex­am­ple, usu­ally when I’m talk­ing to peo­ple about wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, I men­tion, like, I bring up by my­self, no­body is go­ing to do any­thing, no­body is go­ing to go out there and ge­net­i­cally en­g­ineer li­ons so that they only eat grass, to­mor­row. We’re go­ing to do lots of re­search be­fore we do any­thing. We’re go­ing to start with smaller-scale pro­jects. There’s a lot of un­cer­tainty about the ecol­ogy, and we’re to­tally aware of that, and this is some­thing we are con­cerned about, at Wild An­i­mal Suffer­ing Re­search, and other or­ga­ni­za­tions.

And an­other thing I tend to bring up is that I like to say is that right now a lot of wildlife man­age­ment is has a dual pur­pose. It’s man­aged for hu­man benefit, like recre­ation, go­ing out to na­ture, and also in terms of things like flood con­trol. It’s also man­aged for con­ser­va­tion pur­poses. And so my ideal thing would be to have it so wildlife man­age­ment is done with an eye to­wards hu­man benefit, and con­ser­va­tion, and the welfare of the an­i­mals them­selves. And, so, I think that ends up helping be­cause it’s not like, I’m not like, op­pos­ing hu­mans and wild an­i­mals, or con­ser­va­tion and wild an­i­mals, and be­ing, like, all these things are im­por­tant. Let’s try to find a way to do wildlife man­age­ment so we can do all of them.

Kieran: Yeah, that was a very de­tailed and com­pre­hen­sive an­swer. My an­swer is just quite ba­sic. I usu­ally say some­thing along the lines of, you know, “wild an­i­mals do mat­ter, and the con­di­tions for wild an­i­mals don’t seem great.” I try to stay away from more rad­i­cal, fringe ideas of wild an­i­mals be­ing crazily net nega­tive, or that the bulk of moral value is in in­sects. Yeah, this is ba­si­cally my ba­sic mes­sag­ing ap­proach.

Abra­ham: Yeah, similarly, I think I like to fo­cus on the scope of suffer­ing in na­ture, but also re­ally talk about the ex­pe­riences of in­di­vi­d­u­als. So, com­pare, sort of, the sur­vival strat­egy of, say, hu­mans, who, you know, spend a lot of time nur­tur­ing their young all the way un­til they can ba­si­cally take care of them­selves, to that of other an­i­mals, where a lot of their young are go­ing to die at, you know, a young age, prob­a­bly painfully.

I definitely avoid talk­ing about spec­u­la­tive strate­gies to re­duce wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, un­less some­one is re­ally push­ing what we can do. And when that does hap­pen, I think it’s...say Utility Farm has done a cou­ple stud­ies on what kind of mes­sag­ing is most effec­tive for talk­ing about that, and pretty much de­scribing how the ex­act same strat­egy or in­ter­ven­tion us­ing differ­ent verbs can make a pretty rad­i­cal differ­ence in peo­ple’s re­cep­tivity to that. So, us­ing, talk­ing about, ad­dress­ing wild an­i­mal suffer­ing by stew­ard­ing na­ture, or par­ti­ci­pat­ing in a nat­u­ral ecosys­tem, as op­posed to ‘in­ter­ven­ing’ in the lives of an­i­mals in the wild. Just, peo­ple are a lot more will­ing, it seems like, to listen to what you have to say when you use kind of lan­guage that they’re used to and com­fortable with, like that.

Per­sis: So, two take­aways I’ve got­ten from what the three of you have said is that, the first is try­ing to make it re­lat­able, and that means, maybe, refer­ring to is­sues that peo­ple are already in sup­port of, and then maybe draw­ing that fur­ther, tak­ing the in­fer­ences fur­ther. And the sec­ond is try­ing to find com­pro­mises be­tween value sys­tems. One ques­tion I always feel peo­ple ask me when­ever I talk about wild an­i­mal suffer­ing is, when­ever I talk to some­one who is to­tally un­fa­mil­iar with it, is, um, well, suffer­ing in the wild is nat­u­ral. I mean, that’s a pretty straight­for­ward ar­gu­ment that a lot of peo­ple make. And, so, we have this act-omis­sion bias. Do you have thoughts on ways that we can ad­dress that?

Kieran: Yeah, so one thing that I would usu­ally go to there is that within hu­mans, there’s also a lot of nat­u­ral suffer­ing, and peo­ple are fine with erad­i­cat­ing dis­eases for hu­mans. When we ap­ply this rea­son­ing to hu­mans,it just doesn’t seem to stand up. So, I would point that out and then say if we kind of, fol­low that rea­son­ing for wild an­i­mals, it just doesn’t seem to hold up for me.

Ozy: Yeah, I think my point of view would be very much, well, malaria is nat­u­ral. You know, like, 50% of all chil­dren dy­ing be­fore the age of five is nat­u­ral. There’s lots of hor­rible things that are nat­u­ral. And I think that it is frankly speciesist to say we’re go­ing to try to get rid of nat­u­ral things that are hor­rible for hu­mans, but if you’re a wild an­i­mal, you’re on your own, sorry.

Abra­ham: Yeah, I feel like a lot of peo­ple who ex­press things like this have a bit of a mis­an­thropic view of na­ture. Like, “we don’t like the idea of hu­mans com­ing in and, sort of, mess­ing with na­ture.” And I like to play off that, and push on that, and ask them, “If what you see in na­ture is sort of the beauty and awe and grandeur, if that’s what’s valuable in nat­u­ral sys­tems, is that not sort of, as­cribing hu­man val­ues onto na­ture. And then, push­ing on the ques­tion of, well, what’s ac­tu­ally im­por­tant about nat­u­ral sys­tems, and I think a lot of peo­ple can come around to the idea that what re­ally mat­ters in na­ture is the lives of the be­ings who in­habit it.

Per­sis: Great, let’s move on to one that I’m par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in, com­mu­ni­cat­ing wild an­i­mal suffer­ing to do­main ex­perts. So, one dis­agree­ment that I think I’ve had with a lot of peo­ple who are re­ally in­vested in work­ing in wild an­i­mal welfare is the ex­tent to which we might need do­main ex­perts to be value-al­igned. So how im­por­tant is it to im­prove our un­der­stand­ing of wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, for do­main ex­perts to care about wild an­i­mal welfare, and be mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to im­prove the well-be­ing of wild an­i­mals, as op­posed to just be­ing ca­pa­ble of do­ing em­piri­cal re­search that we then find valuable? So, I’ll start with Abra­ham.

Abra­ham: Yeah, uh, so I don’t think do­main ex­perts are very al­igned right now. In my ex­pe­rience, a lot of peo­ple are re­ally open to the idea we should know more about the welfare of an­i­mals in the wild, but they stop at the step of, you know, “we should do some­thing to im­prove their welfare.” And, uh, I think to some ex­tent that’s okay. I think there’s definitely a lot of re­search that can be done by biol­o­gists and ecol­o­gists just to learn more about the welfare of an­i­mals cur­rently, but in the long-run we’re re­ally go­ing to need some kind of value al­ign­ment in or­der to, es­pe­cially to just kind as­sess how we can im­pact en­vi­ron­ments. So, on the reg­u­la­tory side there’s already a huge trea­sure trove of data from, like, the EPA, and other similar agen­cies in other coun­tries on how hu­mans im­pact ecosys­tems when they, you know, build sub­di­vi­sions, or do other sorts of pro­jects like that. There’s a very ro­bust field, and I think a lot of the work of trans­lat­ing that work into the lan­guage of welfare will re­quire peo­ple who are re­ally in­vested in do­ing these pro­jects to im­prove the the lives of wild an­i­mals.

Kieran: Yeah, so I think one crit­i­cal dis­tinc­tion here is pi­o­neers within the field ver­sus those who then join the field af­ter the field has been started.I think that for the pi­o­neers who are ini­tially in this field, that is prob­a­bly go­ing to be more tractable if they are value-al­igned. I think an­other crit­i­cal dis­tinc­tion here is whether the re­search is on these nitty-gritty em­piri­cal ques­tions, or whether the re­search is on pri­ori­tiz­ing differ­ent ques­tions. If it is on pri­ori­tiz­ing differ­ent ques­tions, I would say they very much need to be value-al­igned. If it is for things like nitty-gritty ques­tions, I think that they don’t re­ally need to be value-al­igned. I think they just need to have good re­search skills, and good re­search skills can be kind of or­thog­o­nal to this value al­ign­ment.

Ozy: I think per­son­ally hav­ing re­searchers that care about wild an­i­mal suffer­ing is very im­por­tant. It’s true there is a lot of in­for­ma­tion out there that’s valuable for wild an­i­mal suffer­ing for all sorts of rea­sons. There’s in­for­ma­tion about chronic stress in an­i­mals that peo­ple do be­cause they’re study­ing hu­man de­pres­sion, and com­par­ing it to wild an­i­mals. There’s re­search about an­i­mals in zoos. There’s re­search about epi­demiol­ogy. There’s tons of re­search about wildlife dis­eases that’s in­tended to pro­tect farmed an­i­mals. But the fact of the mat­ter is you’re not go­ing to get re­search on the most im­por­tant is­sues of wild an­i­mal suffer­ing if they’re pri­mar­ily be­ing done ei­ther for hu­man value, or the value of do­mes­tic an­i­mals or be­cause of sci­en­tific in­ter­est. Another thing that I think is re­ally im­por­tant for do­main ex­perts, I don’t think was talked about be­fore, is that do­main ex­perts have a lot of cred­i­bil­ity within gov­ern­ments, and I think that if we’re go­ing to have long-term change for wild an­i­mals, a lot of that is go­ing to be done through gov­ern­ments, be­cause gov­ern­ments end up set­ting the poli­cies about run­ning wildlife re­fuges and other places where lots of wildlife live.

Per­sis: I have a fol­low-up ques­tion: do you...to what ex­tent do you think it might be use­ful to work with aca­demics who maybe aren’t value-al­igned in the be­gin­ning, and then see how far along the pro­cess we can move them? Or, do you think per­haps val­ues-spread­ing within academia is a less effec­tive route than start­ing di­rectly with value-al­igned aca­demics and hav­ing them grow the move­ment for us? Any­one feel free to start.

Abra­ham: Yeah, yeah. I don’t think they’re mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. I think we should be do­ing both. You know, the peo­ple who are pub­lished already, who bring le­gi­t­i­macy are go­ing to be aca­demics, so hav­ing them do some of the out­reach within academia is very im­por­tant. But I also think we can just by build­ing broader pub­lic aware­ness of these is­sues, we can make them seem more nor­mal­ized, and make peo­ple more com­fortable re­search­ing them in gen­eral, so both are im­por­tant.

Kieran: Yeah, I think it’s a re­ally good ques­tion. I don’t have strong views on it. One thing I would say is just to pick up on what Abra­ham just said, I think it is im­por­tant to have aca­demics pro­mot­ing these ideas to other aca­demics. I think it’s a lot harder to do val­ues-spread­ing from kind of the non-profit sec­tor into academia. It would be great for an ecol­o­gist or biol­o­gist and who­ever it is, and pro­mote it to their peers.

Ozy: Yeah, I feel like I don’t re­ally have a good sense right now of what are the best ways to do spread­ing of anti-an­i­mal suffer­ing val­ues are. I think we should try a bunch of differ­ent things and see what works.

Per­sis: So, I’d be in­ter­ested in your ex­pe­riences about how re­cep­tive do­main ex­perts have been, and it would be great if you could give an ex­am­ple of a con­ver­sa­tion that you’ve had, maybe one that was ei­ther… where the aca­demic was very re­cep­tive or one where they were very un­re­cep­tive, and where you think the con­ver­sa­tion went well or poorly.

Abra­ham: Yeah, I think I’ve had a lot of in­cred­ibly pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tions about the need for know­ing more.about the welfare of an­i­mals in the wild with aca­demics. But I can think of mul­ti­ple par­tic­u­lar cases where that con­ver­sa­tion has gone re­ally well, and the per­son has looked into kind of the his­tor­i­cal back­ground of our move­ment, and got­ten very wary of be­ing as­so­ci­ated with the move­ment, and I think that’s a ma­jor is­sue. For peo­ple to kind of...the first con­tent that they see when they Google “wild an­i­mal suffer­ing” to be maybe not su­per ac­cessible, or be fo­cused on very ob­scure is­sues or con­tro­ver­sial is­sues. And so I can think of mul­ti­ple par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ples where peo­ple have kind of come back to me af­ter I’ve had a very pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tion with them, and ex­press some hes­i­tance to con­tinue work­ing on this. I think the other thing is, I’ve heard a lot of peo­ple say that they’re in­ter­ested in it, but a lack of fund­ing is go­ing to stop them from pur­su­ing re­search in it. And so I think there is a lot of op­por­tu­nity to reach out to, I mean, there’s in­di­vi­d­ual de­ci­sion-mak­ers in large sci­en­tific foun­da­tions that are do­ing fund­ing, who good out­reach to might be able to make a sig­nifi­cant differ­ence, be­cause there’s peo­ple who think this is im­por­tant who just think they can’t get the fund­ing they would need right now to do the re­search that they’d like to do. So I think there’s po­ten­tial there as well.

Kieran: So I have fairly limited ex­pe­rience with this. So I feel like I do not have a great sense of it. So, I think that one thing to bear in mind with this ques­tion is that the aca­demic field is split along differ­ent kinds of dis­ci­plines; so we have, like, philos­o­phy, biol­ogy, ecol­ogy, psy­chol­ogy. It’s go­ing to be differ­ent for differ­ent dis­ci­plines. I think that we’ll need differ­ent ap­proaches for differ­ent dis­ci­plines. I think it’s also an em­piri­cal ques­tion, and some­thing that could be use­ful here is hav­ing a sur­vey of biol­o­gists or a sur­vey of ecol­o­gists, and see­ing what their baseline vies are. I think that some­thing else that is im­por­tant to com­mu­ni­cate is that there is fun­ders that are in­ter­ested in this, so that you can be funded for this. The other thing I would say is that there is ex­ist­ing liter­a­ture on this, and the other thing that I would say is that po­ten­tially some of the early pub­li­ca­tions could be very pres­ti­gious be­cause later on they would re­ceive many cita­tions.

Ozy: One of the things I’ve no­ticed that is in­ter­est­ing to me is that there is a very pos­i­tive re­sponse to wild an­i­mal suffer­ing stuff from philoso­phers. There are sev­eral philoso­phers I can think of who are work­ing on it fairly in­ten­sively. There’s a sur­pris­ingly pos­i­tive re­sponse from economists for some rea­son, but the nat­u­ral sci­ences tend to be much lower up­take I’ve no­ticed, I’m not sure why that is. I am puz­zled by the num­ber of economists that are in­ter­ested in wild an­i­mal suffer­ing. And an­other thing I’ve no­ticed is that there are a lot of peo­ple, aca­demics I think, in the nat­u­ral sci­ences who care about wild an­i­mals, and be­lieve we should help wild an­i­mals, and think the best thing we can do for wild an­i­mals is to leave them alone. And I think this is a fairly com­mon po­si­tion, and so I think...I’m not sure to what ex­tent it’s right, and I think it’s some­thing we’re go­ing to have to en­gage with as a move­ment of “yes, wild an­i­mals mat­ter, but we’re not go­ing to be able to im­prove their lives any­more than just by not pol­lut­ing, or not feed­ing them, and so on and so forth.”

Per­sis: So two hur­dles that have already come up are fund­ing con­straints, and per­haps be­ing too con­tro­ver­sial to early on. I can think of an­other hur­dle in terms of value differ­ences, which I think Ozy also men­tioned. I’d be in­ter­ested in your views on what other ma­jor hur­dles there might be for aca­demics get­ting in­volved, and so it would be in­ter­est­ing to see if there is a dis­tinc­tion in your ex­pe­rience of talk­ing to peo­ple in philos­o­phy, or peo­ple in eco­nomics, or peo­ple in biol­ogy. And what some pos­si­ble solu­tions might be. So if some­one, if an aca­demic tells you they’re fund­ing-con­strained, what is a way around that other than the ob­vi­ous of giv­ing their uni­ver­sity fund­ing, but how can we bet­ter sup­port them?

Kieran: Yeah, so that’s a re­ally good ques­tion. One thing...so one ap­proach that could be helpful here could be to have wild an­i­mal suffer­ing be a part of the re­search, so not the fo­cus of their re­search, so in­cor­po­rat­ing that into their ex­ist­ing re­search, that could be use­ful in terms of them get­ting fund­ing for that. I think that an­other thing that could be use­ful is fo­cus­ing on aca­demics who already have the tenure, so they have the free­dom to fo­cus on these is­sues if they wish, rather than fo­cus­ing on these up-and-com­ing aca­demics who are very much con­strained in what they can pub­lish on.

Ozy: One pro­ject I think is very in­ter­est­ing is the Effec­tive Th­e­sis pro­ject, which is a pro­ject that lists a bunch of the­sis ideas that effec­tive al­tru­ists are in­ter­ested in that are in a va­ri­ety of differ­ent fields, with the idea that peo­ple who are do­ing a Master’s the­sis, or a Ph.D. the­sis, or maybe even an un­der­grad­u­ate the­sis would be able to look at them, and then do work on these EA top­ics. I be­lieve that a sub­stan­tial num­ber of these ideas in the Effec­tive Th­e­sis pro­ject are wild an­i­mal suffer­ing-ori­ented right now.

Abra­ham: Yeah, I think there is a lot of po­ten­tial for differ­ent kinds of ad­vo­cacy within academia that aren’t nec­es­sar­ily aren’t get­ting pub­lished re­search. Espe­cially in ed­i­to­rial ad­vo­cacy, I think there’s room for biblio­gra­phies on stuff that’s already been pub­lished that is already been pub­lished that is already le­gi­t­i­mate, and there’s room for just peo­ple ar­gu­ing that there’s more of a need for this field,and that usu­ally doesn’t have to be well-funded re­search, that’s some­thing many aca­demics are able to do with the re­sources they have, and I think work­ing with aca­demics to get those pub­lished in le­gi­t­i­mate sci­ence jour­nals is definitely a way to help just cre­ate buzz about the field, and get it es­tab­lished.

Per­sis: That’s great. Let’s move on now to com­mu­ni­cat­ing with an­i­mal rights or welfare ad­vo­cates. When talk­ing about wild an­i­mal suffer­ing with ad­vo­cates who are skep­ti­cal, what do you think is...well, how would you weigh a fo­cus on so­cial change ver­sus a fo­cus on prag­matic in­ter­ven­tions, and I guess this ques­tion in part re­quires an un­der­stand­ing of, why might an ad­vo­cate be skep­ti­cal? And so it might be in­ter­est­ing to first men­tion some of the skep­ti­cism that ad­vo­cates have raised, and then how you best think you could ad­dress it. Maybe we can start with Ozy?

Ozy: Ac­tu­ally, in my ex­pe­rience, a lot of the an­i­mal rights peo­ple I’ve talked to have been re­ally re­cep­tive about wild an­i­mal suffer­ing stuff, and in my ex­pe­rience that big ob­jec­tions that peo­ple have had is: “okay, but can we do some­thing about this that is go­ing to be a bet­ter way to help an­i­mals than deal­ing with farmed an­i­mal stuff?” Like, that has been the biggest ob­jec­tion that I’ve had is peo­ple be­ing like, “we are to­tally con­cerned about suffer­ing in na­ture, but it’s com­pli­cated, it’s hard.” There might be knock-on nega­tive effects, and we definitely know that try­ing to get rid of fac­tory farm­ing is go­ing to be pos­i­tive.

Kieran: So I think the biggest ob­jec­tion is that I come across is just now is not re­ally the time for this. Now is more a time for farmed an­i­mals. We should fo­cus on farmed an­i­mals. Once we have the farmed an­i­mals situ­a­tion un­der con­trol, then we can move onto wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, and I think I’m fairly sym­pa­thetic to that. What I would say is that I do lean more in a so­cial change di­rec­tion than the prag­matic in­ter­ven­tion di­rec­tion, and I think a large part of that is be­cause I’m just not sure there re­ally is any prag­matic in­ter­ven­tions right now. So if we did have fur­ther re­search on this, and we did iden­tify some of those, I would cer­tainly be open to up­dat­ing on that, but un­til we iden­tify those, I think we should be lean­ing in im­pact so­cial change di­rec­tion.

Abra­ham: Yeah, I don’t know if I agree about there not be­ing vi­able in­ter­ven­tions right now, but I definitely agree that so­cial change is the way to go with many an­i­mal ad­vo­cates. I think part of the rea­son is one of the best ways to sort of en­sure we might do some­thing about wild an­i­mal suffer­ing in the fu­ture is just, in­still­ing broader val­ues of com­pas­sion for an­i­mals in peo­ple, and I think the group of peo­ple who does that re­ally well is of­ten the farmed an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy move­ment. So if wild an­i­mals are part of the con­ver­sa­tion as well, that seems re­ally benefi­cial to the move­ment in the long run. I also think that, yeah, definitely a lot of an­i­mal ad­vo­cates are skep­ti­cal of the pro­posed in­ter­ven­tions, and maybe it’s not the best idea to talk about those, but they’re are peo­ple who are just su­per com­pas­sion­ate, and have a lot of em­pa­thy for an­i­mals, and point­ing to the suffer­ing that is in na­ture, they of­ten see and un­der­stand that that’s a huge, and aren’t go­ing to for­get about that, so I think it’s definitely worth­while to do that kind of out­reach.

Per­sis: One fol­low-up ques­tion that came out of Kieran’s re­sponse, so if we don’t think there are vi­able in­ter­ven­tions, or there are prag­matic in­ter­ven­tions at the mo­ment, and we in­stead fo­cus pre­dom­i­nantly on so­cial change, does that hin­der our abil­ity to do re­search to then later on dis­cover prag­matic in­ter­ven­tions? Or do you think they’re not re­ally mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive, and you can both en­courage so­cial change whilst also do­ing the re­search on the side?

Kieran: Yeah, I don’t see them as mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. I would say that it seems like a to­tally vi­able ap­proach to do both. I would say that it seems like a to­tally vi­able ap­proach to do both. One thing I would say is I think it would be helpful to have in­ter­ven­tions that we could point out as pos­si­ble ex­am­ples be­cause oth­er­wise, peo­ple will see this is­sue as too in­tractable, but if we do have these in­ter­ven­tions they can serve as a psy­cholog­i­cal hook, al­most. So I think, yeah, it would be re­ally helpful to have these in­ter­ven­tions, like, go-to in­ter­ven­tions, and I would still prob­a­bly fo­cus on the so­cial change as­pect.

Ozy: I think that, I mean...I don’t know that right now there are in­ter­ven­tions that are vi­able in­ter­ven­tions in the sense of, you should donate to this in­ter­ven­tion in­stead of buy malaria nets for peo­ple in the de­vel­op­ing world, but I sus­pect that there are, with our cur­rent level of knowl­edge, in­ter­ven­tions that we can be fairly cer­tain are net pos­i­tive. Peo­ple, keep your cats in­side and clean your bird feed­ers. And I think be­ing able to have these sorts of con­crete in­ter­ven­tions is im­por­tant for be­ing able to do so­cial change, be­cause if you just try to con­cen­trate on, like, get­ting peo­ple to care about wild an­i­mals, then, you’re like “ok, peo­ple, care about wild an­i­mals.” And then they’re like “okay, so what do we do now that we care about wild an­i­mals, and we’re like, “oh, tell more peo­ple they should care about wild an­i­mals.” And then, it just, I feel like that’s un­satis­fy­ing for a lot of peo­ple, and they’re like “why should I care about wild an­i­mals if I’m not go­ing to do any­thing with my car­ing.” So I think that be­ing able to point to well, these are some thing that we’re work­ing on, that said, I’m not sure that any­thing that we have right now is go­ing to beat farmed an­i­mals or global poverty char­i­ties in terms of cost-effec­tive­ness. I’m op­ti­mistic that some of them will in the fu­ture.

Abra­ham: I definitely agree that point to spe­cific in­ter­ven­tions, or spe­cific calls to ac­tion, is re­ally im­por­tant, but I also think the so­cial change is a fun­da­men­tal part of get­ting the prag­matic re­search done just be­cause, I think a big bar­rier to peo­ple do­ing the re­search is the fact that it’s not nor­mal­ized to, like, be­lieve that we should do some­thing about the suffer­ing of wild an­i­mals, and, you know, so­cial change is the way that you nor­mal­ize that. So, if peo­ple Google wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, there should be aca­demics talk­ing about it. There should be ran­dom peo­ple who, like, have no back­ground in this is­sue be­ing, like, “yeah, wild an­i­mals are im­por­tant, and there is a lot of suffer­ing. Like, it should seem very nor­mal to be­lieve that we should do some­thing about this.

Ozy: Yeah. I think that “we should do more re­search” is a con­crete call to ac­tion, es­pe­cially if you’re tar­get­ing aca­demics which, go­ing back to the aca­demics topic, you know, be­ing, like, “we should care about wild an­i­mals and be­cause you care about wild an­i­mals, “you should do re­search into the prevalence of chronic stress in na­ture,” or what­ever, is, like, very much a con­crete in­ter­ven­tion that we can… a con­crete thing that we can ask peo­ple to do.

Per­sis: So one thing I en­counter when I have spo­ken to an­i­mal rights ac­tivists or ad­vo­cates is when we come to talk about what vi­able in­ter­ven­tions might be, I of­ten come up against the in­trin­sic value of na­ture ar­gu­ment, and of­ten it’s very difficult to have this dis­cus­sion with some­one who maybe, firstly, doesn’t re­ally rec­og­nize that they value na­ture in­trin­si­cally, and sec­ondly, be­cause it’s ex­tremely difficult to try and shift val­ues. And I’d be in­ter­ested in your ex­pe­riences when you have en­coun­tered that, and what are some smart ways that you’ve been able to ad­dress that?

Ozy: One thing I try to point out to peo­ple is that, like, re­gard­less of whether or not a non-in­ter­vened-in na­ture would be a good thing, we don’t have that op­tion. It’s not on the table. In fact, we are heat­ing up the en­tire globe, there’s pol­lu­tion in the air. There’s, you know, the Scot­tish High­lands? They’re that way be­cause of sheep. They used to be forests. There used to be mam­moths in Amer­ica, and then hu­mans drove them ex­tinct. It might be nice to go back to hav­ing forests in the Scot­tish High­lands and mam­moths, but we don’t re­ally have that op­tion. Every cit we have is an in­ter­ven­tion into na­ture. The ques­tion is whether we’re go­ing to in­ter­vene into na­ture re­spon­si­bly and with stew­ard­ship for the an­i­mals that are there, or whether we’re just go­ing to be like, “yes, we’re go­ing to in­ter­vene in na­ture in ways that benefit us and for­get the an­i­mals that are there.”

Kieran: Yeah. I think I agree with all of that. What I would add is, so one, it’s an em­piri­cal ques­tion. We could do fur­ther re­search on this. We can sur­vey peo­ple and see what mes­sages they are most re­cep­tive to. The other point I would add is that, yes, so we are already in­ter­ven­ing in na­ture, and, you know, in these ways that we’re already in­ter­ven­ing, are there bet­ter ways that we could be in­ter­ven­ing? So, kind of point­ing these out. So per­haps some­thing along the lines of, you know, wild-caught fish, if there’s, like, more hu­mane slaugh­ter prac­tices there.
Ozy: Another thing I would point out is that we can, even if you are like, “all I want to do is stop hu­mans from in­ter­ven­ing in na­ture, you can pri­ori­tize which en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist things you do, based on, in part, their effects on wild an­i­mals. For ex­am­ple, some­thing like an­thro­pogenic noise could have a very nega­tive effect on fish, and it is pos­si­ble that from a per­spec­tive fo­cuses on wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, you’re like “I’m go­ing to care more about an­thro­pogenic noise and maybe less about things that don’t also cause harm to wild an­i­mals.”

Abra­ham: I think also, for­tu­nately, the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist move­ment has just in­stil­led some, like, deep as­so­ci­a­tions with spe­cific lan­guage, and again, we can use that lan­guage to talk about im­prov­ing the lives of wild an­i­mals. So, I mean, I think it is re­ally im­por­tant to move away from the idea of in­ter­ven­ing in na­ture be­cause that is, I think, at its core where peo­ple have this is­sue, and talk about stew­ard­ing na­ture, or par­ti­ci­pat­ing in nat­u­ral sys­tems just be­cause, again, peo­ple are just much more re­cep­tive to talk­ing about this if we frame it with lan­gauge that they’re com­fortable with, and that doesn’t seem sort of im­me­di­ately bad.

Ozy: One fi­nal thing I’ve no­ticed is that a lot of peo­ple have prob­lems with in­ter­ven­tions in gen­eral don’t have prob­lems with con­crete in­ter­ven­tions. Like, if you’re like, “okay, you have a prob­lem with in­ter­ven­tions in gen­eral, do you have a prob­lem with the ex­is­tence of bird feed­ers?” They’re like “no.” Do you have a prob­lem with wildlife care cen­ters where they help in­jured wildlife? They’re like “no.” And you’re like *shrugs*. So I sus­pect to a cer­tain de­gree this prob­lem will go away if we have con­crete in­ter­ven­tions, and then they will be like “yes, I op­pose in­ter­ven­tion but, like, that thing you’re do­ing with wildlife con­tra­cep­tion is great.”

Abra­ham: And I also think, on that note, there are his­tor­i­cal suc­cesses in, sort of, par­ti­ci­pat­ing in nat­u­ral sys­tems to im­prove the lives of wild an­i­mals. So, giv­ing horses con­tra­cep­tives to re­duce their pop­u­la­tion and de­crease com­pe­ti­tion for re­sources in the Western U.S., or, like, erad­i­cat­ing the screw worm, which was a fly that, you know, not only, prob­a­bly, did most screw worms live bad lives them­selves, but they laid eggs in the skins of mam­mals and caused these awful in­juries, and we got rid of them in North Amer­ica, and there’s prob­a­bly not that many peo­ple that would have been op­posed to that pro­ject. Or in 2016, in Mon­roe County, Florida, like 57 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion voted or 50 per­cent of vot­ers agreed to a refer­en­dum to get rid of mosquitoes in the area by in­tro­duc­ing, like, males who would pro­duce ster­ile offspring, or offspring who wouldn’t live to adult­hood. I think when we can point to spe­cific ex­am­ples where we think we will suc­ceed or we have suc­ceeded in the past, peo­ple are ac­tu­ally, of­ten fairly com­fortable with it.

Per­sis: So one thing that comes out from the re­sponses that you’ve given is the...talk­ing about the role that we have with the en­vi­ron­ment, so the role that we play in na­ture. And, Abra­ham, you pointed out that stew­ard­ship in na­ture is a much more effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion ap­proach than in­ter­ven­tions. Can you give us a lit­tle bit more de­tail in terms of how you de­scribe a stew­ard in na­ture? And what are some fun­da­men­tal differ­ences be­tween this ‘in­ter­ven­ing,’ and ‘stew­ard­ing,’ when in prac­tice they in­volve very similar ac­tivi­ties?

Abra­ham: Yeah, ab­solutely. So, for refer­ence, this was a study we’ve done twice now on the same lan­guage, and liter­ally the ex­act same para­graph with the verbs changed made peo­ple much more re­cep­tive to this. And so, that just sug­gests that, I think peo­ple have re­ally pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tions with the word stew­ard­ship. It’s the phrase that the con­ser­va­tion move­ment has used for a long time for de­scribing con­serv­ing na­ture. But when we used it to de­scribe pro­jects that would prob­a­bly come across as offen­sive to many peo­ple, like liter­ally re­mov­ing preda­tors or some­thing like that from an ecosys­tem, peo­ple had, still showed we got not nearly the kind of de­crease in sup­port that we got when we used the word ‘in­ter­vene.’ So, I think, yeah, we can de­scribe hu­mans as com­pas­sion­ate stew­ards of nat­u­ral sys­tems who are there to, sort of, im­prove the well-be­ing of an­i­mals, and whose role in na­ture is be­ing some kind of ar­biter. And, I think, if we use that pos­i­tive lan­guage, that makes us seem com­pas­sion­ate. And it makes us seem em­pa­thetic to the an­i­mals whom we’re helping or spar­ing. Then, it’s not so kind of offen­sive as mak­ing us seem like this cruel dic­ta­tor who is step­ping in.

Ozy: It also makes me think that it’s a con­nec­tion to a lot of re­li­gious be­liefs about an­i­mals, that I think the stew­ard­ship idea is very big in the Abra­hamic re­li­gions. For, like, hu­mans be­ings as be­ing cho­sen by God to be stew­ards of na­ture which might make it more pow­er­ful for a lot of peo­ple.

Per­sis: Great. One last ques­tion in this cat­e­gory, and this is, maybe we’ll start with Ozy for this one, be­cause Ozy’s been work­ing on this, a ques­tion that has come up for us a lot is how differ­ent views within an­i­mals rights and an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy can sup­port wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, or how you might re­spond to wild an­i­mal sufer­ing based on these views? And the one that I think stands out the most is a rights-based view, and so Ozy re­cently wrote a post on cru­cial con­sid­er­a­tions for wild an­i­mal suffer­ing which briefly touched on this, and we’ll be­ing work­ing on some posts fol­low­ing this. I’d be in­ter­ested in get­ting all of your thoughts on how a rights-based view, how would you frame wild an­i­mal suffer­ing for sup­port­ers of a rights-based view. And we’ll start with Ozy, and then go down.

Ozy: One thing I would point out for peo­ple in a rights-based view is that there are many an­i­mals which are called synan­thropic an­i­mals, that are ones that have co-evolved with hu­mans, but not as do­mes­tic an­i­mals. They’re species like pi­geons, rats and mice, and even some bugs, and of­ten, peo­ple in a rights-based view are like, “Oh, we have this spe­cial obli­ga­tion to do­mes­tic an­i­mals be­cause of how our ac­tions have led to vi­o­la­tions of their rights. We don’t have this obli­ga­tion to wild an­i­mals. And I think that, like, at the very least a rights-based view im­plies that we have a cer­tain duty of benefi­cence to the synan­thropic species. Although I ad­mit it’s prob­a­bly not go­ing to be a very pop­u­lar po­si­tion that we don’t have any moral obli­ga­tions to deer but we do have moral obli­ga­tions to rats. Yeah.

Kieran: So, I feel like I haven’t thought about this ques­tion a lot. When I think about wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, this, to me, feel like not the most tractable lever to be pul­ling on. I think that po­ten­tially they could be fram­ing it around fair­ness and equal­ity that a rights-based view would find ap­peal­ing. I think that you could frame things in terms of, you know, un­der cur­rent con­di­tions, sud­den rights are not be­ing met, even though, an­i­mals, plau­si­bly could have some, like, a right to an­i­mals to non-in­terfer­ence, be­cause their rights are not be­ing met un­der cur­rent con­di­tions. This is over­whelming that. Yeah, I think that would be my ini­tial re­ac­tion to that.

Abra­ham: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think there’s any con­flicts be­tween ad­vo­cat­ing for more re­search into the suffer­ing of wild an­i­mals and a rights-based view, so I think that’s com­pletely pos­si­ble and straight­for­ward. I also think there’s great ex­am­ples of, I mean, of­ten pro­jects to re­duce wild an­i­mal suffer­ing are framed as be­ing, sort of anti-na­tal­ist, like ways to re­duce the suffer­ing es­pe­cially young an­i­mals, who die painful deaths at a very young age. And, of course, many peo­ple int this room par­ti­ci­pate in the farmed an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy move­ment, which is all an anti-na­tal­ist pro­ject as well. And it’s not framed that way. We don’t talk about eat­ing ve­gan diets as like work­ing to make, like, cows not ex­ist, and I think we can think about the fram­ing the farmed an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy move­ment has used, which is there are an­i­mals who are liv­ing ter­rible lives, and there is some­thing we can do so they don’t live ter­rible lives. You know, I think the things that would vi­o­late a rights frame­work would be, you know, if we’re talk­ing about go­ing and ac­tively in­jur­ing, or like, you know, eu­th­a­niz­ing an­i­mals in the wild. And in­stead we can talk about go­ing in and pro­vid­ing birth con­trol to an­i­mals who would have offspring who would com­pete with each other for re­sources. I think you would pretty much get the same re­sult with­out vi­o­lat­ing any­one’s rights in those in­stances, and peo­ple are very com­fortable with that. I think it’s also a much more pleas­ant thing as an­i­mal ad­vo­cates who care about an­i­mals to do.

Ozy: I think ul­ti­mately what it comes down to is that if you are do­ing some­thing wrong when there is a lion who is, like, bother a two year-old, or is about to at­tack a two year-old, and you’re like, “eh, I’m go­ing to ig­nore that.” Then you are also kind of do­ing some­thing wrong if you see a lion about to at­tack a ze­bra and you’re like, I’m not gonna do any­thing about that. You know, like, oth­er­wise, it’s speciesist. It’s treat­ing hu­mans and non-hu­man an­i­mals differ­ently sim­ply on the ba­sis of our species mem­ber­ship.


Per­sis: Great. So, we’ve got about 20 min­utes to go. So, I want to move on to our next topic, which is in­ter­ven­tion. So there’s a lot of dis­agree­ment, I think, amongst wild an­i­mal welfare ad­vo­cates for which kinds of in­ter­ven­tions we should be con­sid­er­ing, and how we should best be com­mu­ni­cat­ing in­ter­ven­tions. Do we want to com­mu­ni­cate mostly large-scale in­ter­ven­tions, or should we fo­cus on what in­di­vi­d­u­als can do? How much should we be dis­cussing the rel­a­tive in­tractabil­ity of some ideas? How much should we be pro­mot­ing only those that are very vi­able, or only those that are most likely to be adopted? What I want to start with is some use­ful strate­gies against the case that when we have in­ter­vened in na­ture in the past, we’ve only made things worse, and that we don’t re­ally have a very good pic­ture of what the flow-through effects of our ac­tions might be.

Abra­ham: Yeah. So, of­ten when peo­ple say some­thing like this, I just ask them, can they name a time when we’ve in­ter­vened in na­ture to im­prove the welfare of wild an­i­mals, and it, of­ten, yeah, we build sub­di­vi­sions. We, like, build fac­to­ries that dump chem­i­cals into rivers, and that does have un­in­tended con­se­quences en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences, but we weren’t do­ing those things to make the lives of wild an­i­mals bet­ter. We were do­ing those things for other rea­sons. And so it’s ob­vi­ous that we can’t, like, re­ally ex­pect them to pro­duce the re­sults we might want, like helping wild an­i­mals. And I think there’s lots of his­tor­i­cal ex­am­ples of us hav­ing done things for wild an­i­mals that turned out good for the wild that turned out good for the wild an­i­mals in the way we wanted it to. Again, like the erad­i­ca­tion of the screw worm, or pro­vid­ing con­tra­cep­tion to horses, or ra­bies vac­cines for rac­coons or other wildlife, and I think point­ing to these pro­jects can definitely just help peo­ple re­al­ize that this is ac­tu­ally fairly tractable to do. Again, I also don’t think im­pact as­sess­ment is re­ally where the lack of knowl­edge is. We have this in­cred­ibly ro­bust field of en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment work that’s been done just by for-profit com­pa­nies who want to, like, build mines and things like that, just due to en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion. There’s great rubrics that re­searchers have made for do­ing this work, and I think a lot of that can be trans­lated to look­ing into the welfare of wild an­i­mals, but that just hasn’t hap­pened yet. So, I don’t think it’s ac­tu­ally as hard to do as some peo­ple make it out. Maybe think­ing about the con­se­quences over decades and decades is com­pli­cated, but in short-term I think it’s very pos­si­ble.


Kieran: Yeah, so, I think that I would ex­press some limited agree­ment here, and I think I would say things are along the lines of, “I agree, we should be cau­tious and we do need fur­ther re­search, but with fur­ther re­search we can re­duce un­cer­tainty about these ques­tions. I think that we can also point at ways where we do already in­ter­vene in na­ture, and do these in­ter­ven­tions more effec­tively in or­der to im­prove the welfare of wild an­i­mals. And I think just to pick up on, you know, what Abra­ham was say­ing, os thing like the vac­ci­na­tion of rac­coons, yeah, I think these would be the main things I would men­tion.

Ozy: What I would say is that this ap­plies to, like, ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion we have with na­ture. And, as a mat­ter of fact, no­body goes, “Oh, I don’t know whether hav­ing a larger wildlife re­fuge, or a smaller wildlife re­fuge is go­ing to, like, make it eas­ier to con­serve species. Maybe if we, like, bul­l­doze the en­tire rain­for­est, it’ll make it eas­ier to con­trol rain­for­est species.” In fact, there are things we know about na­ture, such as the fact that bul­l­doz­ing the en­tire Ama­zon rain­for­est will not make it eas­ier to pre­serve rain­for­est species. I think that it is true that in­ter­ven­ing in na­ture is com­pli­cated, and that there are a lot of...that we need to be care­ful, and there are a lot of un­ex­pected flow-through effects, but in fact there are ways that we can make pre­dic­tions and say, “Okay, we think this thing is go­ing to have that effect.” Other­wise, we couldn’t do en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion at all.

Per­sis: To what ex­tent do you think a con­sid­er­a­tion, like, whether or not na­ture is un­pre­dictable im­pacts the way we talk about strate­gies? Is it some­thing that we might want to be work­ing on now so that we have an an­swer to this ques­tion in the fu­ture, or is it some­thing that we might just learn whilst work­ing on our in­ter­ven­tions, whilst work­ing on de­vel­op­ing in­ter­ven­tions?

Abra­ham: Yeah, I think it’s fairly un­likely that we’ll be able to kind of know ev­ery­thing un­til we’ve started de­vel­op­ing in­ter­ven­tions, but again, there’s been a ton of work done on, you know, pop­u­la­tions, and the way that they’re im­pacted by hu­man ac­tivi­ties already. And I think it’s prob­a­bly the case that there could be a lot done to just trans­late that work to the lan­guage of welfare ,and un­der­stand how our past ac­tivi­ties have im­pacted an­i­mals in or­der to form how our fu­ture ones might.

Kieran: I think some­thing that I’d find re­ally helpful here is if we had go-to ex­am­ples. I think that Abra­ham already men­tioned that screw worms, so if we had this list of go-to ex­am­ples of ways in which we’ve in­ter­vened in the en­vi­ron­ment, and it turned out pos­i­tively for wild an­i­mals, that would be, like, re­ally, re­ally helpful. I think that, again, it’s worth be­ing cau­tious in our ap­proach here and not over­step­ping, and say­ing we do need fur­ther re­search. Yes, these are com­pli­cated ecosys­tems. Pop­u­la­tion dy­nam­ics aren’t eas­ily pre­dicted. Yes, these are com­pli­cated ecosys­tems. Pop­u­la­tion dy­nam­ics aren’t eas­ily pre­dicted. So, yeah, I think this is how I would re­spond.

Ozy: Yeah, I’m pretty much in agree­ment with you guys.

Per­sis: Great. The next ques­tion that I had is how benefi­cial do you think it is, and we’ll break this down into the short-term and the long-term, to al­ign peo­ple by refer­ring to small-scale things that we can do, like helping in­jured an­i­mals on the side of the road, pro­vid­ing them with vet­eri­nary care, pro­vid­ing small-scale sup­ple­men­tal feed­ing when we have small num­bers of an­i­mals that might be starv­ing through­out a win­ter, or vac­ci­na­tion pro­grams. In the short term, how use­ful do you think this might be? And then, in the longer term, do you ex­pect there to be some bar­ri­ers to mov­ing peo­ple on to con­sid­er­ing large-scale in­ter­ven­tions that might not look the same way?

Ozy: I think it’s re­ally, one thing that’s re­ally im­por­tant about recom­mend­ing small-scale in­ter­ven­tions is to make sure to recom­mend things that ac­tu­ally have pos­i­tive effects, and not that have nega­tive or neu­tral effects. One of the things I see, I think, when peo­ple do in­ter­ven­tion-based mes­sag­ing is, “Oh, sup­ple­men­tal feed­ing.” Well, I’ve ac­tu­ally just writ­ten a very long pa­per on this and I think that sup­ple­men­tal feed­ing ac­tu­ally is prob­a­bly nega­tive for an­i­mals in most cases. And so I think that if we’re go­ing to be talk­ing about small-scale in­ter­ven­tions, to make sure that they are ones that ac­tu­ally help an­i­mals, and not ones that are go­ing to make situ­a­tions worse.

Kieran: Yeah, I to­tally agree with that. The other thing I would say on it is that I think these small-scale in­ter­ven­tions are helpful as psy­cholog­i­cal hooks, and peo­ple don’t just re­ject the idea as some­thing that is in­tractable, and there’s noth­ing that we can do about it. I think that, plau­si­bly, some of these in­ter­ven­tions could be quite cost-effec­tive, so I think that on that front they could just be very promis­ing. But I would say, kind of, my un­der­stand­ing of the situ­a­tion is that the end goal here is go­ing to be a large-scale in­ter­ven­tion in na­ture where we are dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing ecosys­tems, or dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing, kind of, how an­i­mals are in­ter­act­ing with each other, and that does seem like a sig­nifi­cant step up. I feel like we do need a lot more re­search, that ob­vi­ously this is quite far down the line. We’re talk­ing decades, or per­haps close to a cen­tury, where we’re at this point, but hope­fully at that point we’ll have a lot more re­search. You know, the val­ues of the pub­lic will be sig­nifi­cantly differ­ent than what they are now, and we can juat have a pub­lic dis­cus­sion about it, and yeah, I think that’s what I would say for that.

Ozy: I think right now a lot o the more large-scale in­ter­ven­tions, things like Brian To­masik’s ideas about habitat de­struc­tion, or David Pearce’s ideas about ge­net­i­cally en­g­ineer­ing li­ons to eat plants, are thing that peo­ple tend to find, just, re­ally up­set­ting. And, I do think that peo­ple should be au­then­tic and gen­er­ally say, if you gen­uinely be­lieve that we should con­cen­trate our en­ergy on try­ing to ge­net­i­cally en­g­ineer li­ons to eat plants, you should say that, but I also think that one thing to take into ac­count when we’re talk­ing about these sorts of things is that there are a lot of peo­ple who might get on board with wildlife con­tra­cep­tion, or with cut­ting back on an­thro­pogenic noise, or some­thing smaller-scale like that are just go­ing to to­tally bounce off of some whole larger-scale ones.

Abra­ham: Yeah, I mean, I think, again, fram­ing is ev­ery­thing. Pav­ing over a woods with con­crete is the ex­act same thing as ad­vo­cat­ing for ve­g­anism in terms of the way that it helps an­i­mal, but I’m sure you all have rad­i­cally differ­ent, you all have rad­i­cally differ­ent re­sponses to those two kinds of things. And that’s for a very food rea­son, which is that we need to frame things pos­i­tively. We have to frame it as di­rectly helping an­i­mals, even though those an­i­mals might never ex­ist. And so, I ht­ink it’s all about the way we talk about these things ul­ti­mately. I do think it’s fairly helpful to kind of cre­ate tropes of just helping wild an­i­mals. I think in the long run, if we need broad pub­lic sup­port to do large-scale in­ter­ven­tions, peo­ple also have to be com­fortable with the idea that they sort of have daily obli­ga­tions to help the wild an­i­mals they see in need, even though it’s hard to know ex­actly how they’re helping those wild an­i­mals in cer­tain cases. I think there’s plenty of ex­am­ples of peo­ple who do reg­u­larly sort of help wild an­i­mals on a small scale, and there’s prob­a­bly use­ful re­search to be done sort of com­par­ing their at­ti­tudes to­wards larger-scale in­ter­ven­tions against peo­ple who might ig­nore in­jured wild an­i­mals or some­thing. And maybe this is also, to some ex­tent, an em­piri­cal ques­tion.

Per­sis: So, one dis­tinc­tion that I can see be­tween small-scale and large-scale in­ter­ven­tions is that, for ex­am­ple, sup­ple­men­tal feed­ing for one starv­ing deer might be par­tic­u­larly benefi­cial and im­prove the well-be­ing of that par­tic­u­lar deer’s life. But then when you trans­late it onto a larger-scale, it be­comes less likely to be a pos­i­tive in­ter­ven­tion. So, how would you try...what are some strate­gies you could use to com­mu­ni­cate that one in­ter­ven­tion might be a use­ful trope, but when you try and ex­pand it, it be­comes some­thing that we don’t want to ad­vo­cate for?

Ozy: I think, per­son­ally, I tend to think we should ad­vo­cate less for peo­ple to do in­di­vi­d­ual ac­tions, and more for peo­ple to be en­gaged poli­ti­cally on this is­sue. I mean, when we have an in­ter­ven­tion, par­tially be­cause I think the sort of things that gov­ern­ment can do will be much more cost-effec­tive, and par­tially be­cause I think it is gen­er­ally a hard sell for peo­ple to do in­di­vi­d­ual ac­tions, par­tic­u­larly ac­tions that cause a lot of sac­ri­fice. As an ex­am­ple, try talk­ing peo­ple into be­com­ing ve­gan. It’s hard. But I think if peo­ple are like, “Oh, I should write a let­ter to my con­gressper­son about…” like, I don’t know, “...ex­pand­ing the use of hu­mane in­sec­ti­cides or some­thing.” This is some­thing where they get to feel good about them­selves, and it has a con­crete benefit for the world, and it’s not hard. It’s not a ma­jor sac­ri­fice. And, so, I think that what I would recom­mend is not for peo­ple to do these smaller-scale in­ter­ven­tions, but in­stead to have, I guess, maybe a medium-scale in­ter­ven­tion. Some­thing that’s in be­tween feed­ing one deer, and com­plete re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the en­tire ecosys­tem, but is to get peo­ple to ad­vo­cate for at least more, sort of, medium-scale in­ter­ven­tions is what I would ar­gue for.

Per­sis: Great. Any other thoughts, or we’ll move onto the next ques­tion? Okay, so we have five min­utes, and one ques­tion. I prob­a­bly shouldn’t have left this one un­til the end, but an­other dis­cus­sion that of­ten comes up amongst wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, peo­ple who would like to re­duce wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, is the benefit of dis­cussing the idea of a hap­piness-to-suffer­ing ra­tio, or net dis­value or value in na­ture. I’d be re­ally in­ter­ested in your thoughts on how use­ful it is to firstly, frame the prob­lem in this way, and then how use­ful it is to try and...how would you best ad­dress these con­ver­sa­tions. Let’s start with Kieran, then.

Kieran: So, I think for now I would stay away from, kind of, net suffer­ing in na­ture, and the idea that some wild an­i­mals are wildly net nega­tive. I think I would, prob­a­bly wouldn’t frame it in terms of ei­ther net hap­piness or net suffer­ing. I would fram­ing things in terms of im­prov­ing welfare, im­prov­ing qual­ity of life.

Abra­ham: Yeah, I mean, I think I wouldn’t use the phrase, like, ‘net suffer­ing,’ but I prob­a­bly would frame it to some ex­tent that way just in­so­far as I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to de­scribe in­di­vi­d­ual an­i­mals, and what in­di­vi­d­ual an­i­mals’ ex­pe­riences are like. And then, also de­scribe the mas­sive scope of how many ter­rible ex­pe­riences like that there are. And that is get­ting at sort of the net suffer­ing in a sense, and point­ing to how mas­sive this is­sue is, but maybe not use so, kind of, jar­gony lan­guage.

Ozy: I don’t re­ally think about net suffer­ing or net hap­piness in na­ture be­cause I per­son­ally don’t feel like I know whether there’s net suffer­ing or net hap­piness in na­ture. I feel like this ques­tion de­pends on a lot of difficult philo­soph­i­cal is­sues, about like, it de­pends on a lot of in­di­vi­d­ual de­tails about what an in­di­vi­d­ual an­i­mal’s life is like. I think a lot of of the ar­gu­ments for net suffer­ing in na­ture ei­ther hinge on death, on the ex­pe­rience of dy­ing be­ing ex­tremely bad, which is I think some­thing that many peo­ple are go­ing to ques­tion. And, I think that other ar­gu­ments de­pend on as­sump­tions about what it must be like to ex­pe­rience the risk of pre­da­tion, which of­ten are a lit­tle bit an­thro­po­mor­phic. And, so, I end up not us­ing the net suffer­ing ver­sus net hap­piness in na­ture fram­ing just be­cause I don’t know which side of that I would fall on, and I’m not sure… I think we would have to col­lect a lot of in­for­ma­tion be­fore I would be com­fortable hav­ing an opinion on that. That is a re­ally big ques­tion.

Per­sis: Any more thoughts? Well, we have a few min­utes, I think. Two min­utes? I just have one very gen­eral ques­tion, which I think is im­por­tant for any­one who wants to be an ad­vo­cate, re­gard­less of whether you’re ad­vo­cat­ing for wild an­i­mal suffer­ing, or an­other is­sue, which is to do with com­mu­ni­ca­tion ap­proaches that are just par­tic­u­larly use­ful in terms of pre­vent­ing, well in terms of bring­ing peo­ple on board, en­gag­ing them and avoid­ing alienat­ing peo­ple. So, I’d be in­ter­ested in your thoughts about smart com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies when you dis­agree with some­one, per­haps be­havi­oural strate­gies that have been re­ally use­ful. Gen­er­ally, the sorts of ap­proaches that you’ve found have worked best when you en­gage in dis­agree­ments.

Abra­ham: Well, first of all, I have an ar­ti­cle about this, so feel free to, like, reach out to me, or ask me, and I’ll send you the link. I think, in gen­eral, not refer­ring to par­tic­u­lar stew­ard­ship pro­jects. If you do re­fer to them, call them things like that in­stead of in­ter­ven­tions in na­ture, and then also when, like, peo­ple get an­tag­o­nis­tic, just say, “Well, I think we need to do a lot more re­search, and learn a lot more about what the lives of wild an­i­mals are like.” And I think very few peo­ple dis­agree with that claim, and I think that it’s a good mid­dle ground most peo­ple will agree with you on.

Kieran: Yeah, so I would say try to un­der­stand the other per­son’s po­si­tion as well as you can be­fore start­ing to crit­i­cize that po­si­tion Be char­i­ta­ble. So, don’t in­fer bad mo­ti­va­tions. Don’t jump to a con­clu­sion that they’re in­sult­ing you, or they’re in­sult­ing a cer­tain school of thought, be­fore you re­ally have to. Try and have a pro­longed dis­cus­sion. Try and have pri­vate dis­cus­sions to avoid the pos­tur­ing that can go on. Cer­tainly in per­son things are go­ing to be, peo­ple I think will just be more agree­able than on­line. And I also think that there could be room for ad­ver­sar­ial col­lab­o­ra­tions on these top­ics.

Ozy: One thing that I think is re­ally im­por­tant is hon­esty. I think that there is a real ten­dency when you’re pro­mot­ing a char­ity, when you’re pro­mot­ing a cause, to be like “Oh, peo­ple can’t un­der­stand this, like, re­ally com­pli­cated thing that I be­lieve. I should try to sim­plify it. I should try to, like, in­stead of talk­ing about this weird, com­pli­cated thing I be­lieve, I should try and pre­sent some­thing sim­pler, and I don’t re­ally think it’s true, but maybe it will per­suade them.” And, I think you should be hon­est. I think you should say the down­sides, the flaws of your po­si­tion if you have them. You should say the prob­lems with your in­ter­ven­tions. You should say the thing you ac­tu­ally be­lieve, even if it is weird, and might be offputting. And, I think that this is, that not try­ing to do PR, pub­lic re­la­tions, too hard is a re­ally im­por­tant thing in the effec­tive al­tru­ist move­ment. The rea­son that the effec­tive al­tru­ist move­ment ex­ists at all is there are a bunch of char­i­ties who, in­stead of try­ing to tell the truth about what their char­i­ties were do­ing, are try­ing to op­ti­mize for get­ting the most money, and the most sup­port. That is why effec­tive al­tru­ism ex­ists, and can ex­ist, and peo­ple aren’t just all donat­ing to the best char­ity to be­gin with. And so, I think that, as part of that, we as effec­tive al­tru­ists need to make a par­tic­u­lar effort to com­mu­ni­cate the down­sides of our po­si­tions, com­mu­ni­cate the things that make our po­si­tion weaker than it oth­er­wise would be, and say things that are true even if they might make peo­ple less likely to be­lieve us.

Per­sis: Great. We have to wrap up now. Our time is up. I hope you found this in­ter­est­ing, and in­for­ma­tive. I have just huge thanks for Ozy, Abra­ham, and Kieran. So please give them a round of ap­plause. They did an amaz­ing job.

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