by Brian Tomasik
First written: 28 Mar. 2016; last update: 18 Dec. 2016

Summary

This piece critiques the article "Altruistic murders" by Ricardo Torres, which argues against those interventions to reduce wild-animal suffering that require sacrificing some animals for the sake of others. The central thrust of my reply is that we should try to actually help wild animals in the near term as effectively as possible, rather than toeing a cautious ideological line to avoid offending the sensibilities of other animal advocates.

Introduction

Torres's article is an eloquent expression of one set of views within the movement to reduce wild-animal suffering. Here I reply to a number of the ideas in the article. My disagreements are sometimes about ethics and sometimes about what policies would be most effective even given the same ethical goals.

In the rest of this piece, I quote Torres's article using green italics and then write my replies directly below in normal text.

Replies to original article

Accipiter nisus - England -immature with killIf we reject speciesism and give moral consideration to nonhuman animals due to their sentience, we must take them into account regardless of the origin of the harms inflicted to them, so moral consideration should be given both to those who suffer from human action as to those who suffer in the wild.

Great! I agree.


It can be said that the huge amounts of suffering that exist in nature due to predation are a justification for hunting predators [...] Many people who see this message don’t interpret that hunting certain animals would be a means to reduce suffering, instead they are more likely to interpret that it’s OK to kill and to exploit any animals for human interests.

This is a valid concern. I gave a longer reply to it here, but following are the main ideas.

  • Given how many animals can be helped by the more effective forms of habitat change, the harmful memetic side-effects of favoring such habitat changes would have to be very strong in order to make it a bad idea to push for such changes. I'm more inclined to actually help animals now and worry about public relations later.
  • If we always couple lobbying for habitat changes with an antispeciesist message about wild-animal suffering (as I do), the likelihood of our being misinterpreted is lower, and in fact, we can have positive memetic spillover effects by encouraging people to think more rationally about how to reduce animal suffering.
  • If antispeciesism makes people more opposed to habitat destruction (as it seems to do), then maybe antispeciesism actually hurts animals on balance, given that habitat destruction plausibly prevents far more animal suffering than humans cause in all other ways combined.


Also, there is much uncertainty about the practical consequences of activities such as hunting. If predators from a certain species are hunted for the purpose of reduce its population, their prey would proliferate and possibly suffer from lack of food or other reasons, moreover, many predators attack prey which in turn are also predators. [...] So it is unclear whether, hunting certain type of predator, the consequences will be actually reduction or increase in predation and in suffering, or even reduction or increase in the population of predators.

Both of these are important considerations. I've discussed them and some other points here and here. Because of these complications, I generally favor land-use change and reduction of primary productivity rather than fiddling with higher levels of food chains.

That said, I think eliminating predators of large herbivores is likely to be net good, because this increases the population of large herbivores and thereby probably reduces the amount of plant food available to other animals. The numbers of small animals saved from lives of suffering probably outweigh the pain of starvation for a few larger herbivores.


It’s difficult to assess the many consequences of an event, and an unknown or poorly known factor can reverse the calculations, so something estimated in this way as net positive may be actually net negative and vice versa.

I agree! But this argument applies equally to cases of opposing a given change to wildlife as it does to supporting a given change. The uncertainty about unintended side effects is somewhat symmetric, unless one thinks that evolution has pushed ecosystems into particularly high-welfare equilibria, from which deviations tend to cause more harm than good. And I find it plausible that the reverse is often true: Ecosystems tend to settle into equilibria of very high plant and animal productivity, so disturbances may be more likely to reduce than increase animal suffering. Of course, the specific data in any particular case can often overwhelm these priors, and we have lots of historical information on the ecological side-effects of commonplace human environmental policies.


When a human being is found in danger, almost everyone agrees that we should provide assistance immediately, even without knowing exactly which are the consequences of this person’s existence. So if we reject speciesism, we should also help if we find any nonhuman animal in that situation, regardless of the species and of the consequences of the animal’s existence. This shows some speciesism in the defense of things such as hunting certain animals, because humans and nonhuman animals are explicitly treated differently in similar cases. Negative consequences are not a justification to cause the death of a sentient individual.

A good analogy for a predator animal is a person with a gun who's shooting at civilians. We can predict that any given predator will kill another animal with perhaps comparable certainty as we can predict that a rampaging person with a gun will kill other people. Mainstream human morality favors killing the rampaging shooter.


Many humans also cause a lot of harm to sentient individuals with their lifestyle.

But humans also cause enormous benefit to sentient individuals by existing. In fact, humans probably cause much more benefit than harm. Torres later mentions this point (although he goes on to critique it):

there is another argument to exempt harmful humans, and not nonhuman animals, from being killed. It can be said that through the civilizing processes that harm many animals, humankind actually increases utility because habitat destruction prevents new generations, therefore reducing suffering.


But some differences between humans and nonhuman animals can be raised to strategically justify differential treatment: [...] (2) causing the death of people unconditionally would make a more violent and less cooperative society; [...] even if (2) were a good reason, it would not be enough, because it also applies to nonhuman animals, i.e., it is also important to give full consideration to nonhuman animals in such cases because otherwise speciesism would be strengthened and people would care less and would be violent with them, increasing their suffering;

This is an important concern -- the same one that came up earlier, in the discussion of hunting. One key difference between the case of humans and the case of non-human animals is that violence against humans directly provokes a violent response and breakdown of social order. In contrast, the impact that forceful interventions to reduce harms in nature has on human violence toward animals in general is unclear and depends sensitively on the memetic lens through which people view the situation. If people understand that some killing may be necessary in order to prevent far greater numbers of wild animals from being killed in the future, it's not at all clear that this reinforces willingness to be violent toward animals in general, any more than the idea that UN peacekeepers may need to use their weapons to stop atrocities reinforces the notion that violence against humans is justified. Context and message are very important.

In any case, it's important to keep perspective on magnitudes of harm. The violence that humans inflict on animals, while horrific, is only a small fraction of the total violence that animals endure worldwide. Even if forceful reductions in wild-animal suffering do increase human violence toward animals on balance (which is far from clear), that increase in violence would probably be less than the reduction in violence that would result from reducing wild-animal populations.


(3) doing so would also be socially outcast, since it would go against the ideas of almost everyone. [...] if (3) were true, it would also be a strong reason to oppose hunting and similar practices because there is quite opposition against them (especially in animal activism) and they would also create a negative image of the idea of intervention to help wild animals.

Probably ~99% of the human population, including those in power, opposes killing humans for the greater good except in special circumstances like war or other forms of crisis. The fraction of humanity that opposes hunting, including the fraction among those in power, is probably not more than ~50%. And this difference is reflected in laws: Killing a person sends one to prison for life, while killing a thousand non-pet non-humans typically carries no punitive consequences. I'm not saying this distinction is morally right, but that's the way things are.

I'm not convinced that necessary use of force to prevent greater violence would create a bad image of the movement to reduce wild-animal suffering. The Allies' use of force to stop fascism in World War II generally didn't create a negative image for efforts to reduce human suffering (except in the case of plausibly needless atrocities like the bombing of Dresden). It depends on the framing of the issue and the moral views of the audience.


This is because the various animals that are killed in situations that are difficult to avoid, such as trampling, being run over by cars, agriculture and by other processes indirectly. [...] the average amount of harm created by a person probably goes far beyond the harm produced by any individual of another species.

But the benefit of a single human for wild animals by reducing habitat is also greater than the benefit of a single non-human, as discussed previously.


In general, punishments like killing are often not accepted even to moral agents, to prevent further harms by people who have committed a very serious crime, so its use against animals is even more senseless.

I fully agree that there's never any reason to think in punitive terms regarding wild animals. Punishment is only useful as a means to prevent future crimes by rational, calculating agents.


holistic views such as the consideration of ecosystems and species instead of (or above) sentient individuals [...]. While the motivation is different in both cases, the reasoning is similar: sacrificing individuals (something considered unacceptable in certain contexts) for the benefit of an abstract entity or collective, in one case, the equilibrium of ecosystems or biodiversity, in the other, utility. This further keeps away the defense of hunting from anti-speciesism, and approximates it to ecologist positions, such as those which advocate killing animals of invasive species, for instance.

I think there's little risk that my views will be mistaken as environmentalist. :)

Even in the case of hunting, the types of hunting that I think might be net beneficial are precisely the types of hunting that environmentalists oppose: namely, eliminating predators of large herbivores, so that there will be less plant growth in the long run. And the types of hunting that environmentalists support -- e.g., culling high deer populations -- are precisely those that I oppose, because killing large herbivores plausibly increases total wild-animal suffering.


it also claims that destroying nature is easier than improving it, because it’s something cheaper and faster than more complex alternatives that would be better if most people supported this cause and if there were many more resources. But resources are limited and there is a difference between what is feasible and what would be ideal, so it is necessary to set priorities and choose where to focus, and in the real scenario, probably there will be less suffering if we focus in interventions such as habitat destruction, which are the most feasible options.

This is exactly my view. :)


habitat destruction is a consequence of complex and large collective processes such as urbanization and agriculture and rarely of the actions of human individuals taken separately. Their participation is negligible except perhaps in small communities, so each human individual has very little importance and merit in the good consequences that these processes may have

This is not true. In expectation, the demand for resources that any given person contributes to the economic system creates an increase in the quantity supplied of those resources and hence increases habitat loss. This same reasoning explains why individual vegetarianism does make a difference beyond merely being a symbolic act.


So again it is interesting to compare habitat destruction with what would be done if there were human victims, in order to avoid speciesism. In the case of humans it may be rejected even to dislodge people and to intervene in their migrations, let alone destroy their homes and kill individuals.

This section is a partial reply, noting that there are many practical differences between the case of humans in need and the case of non-human animals suffering in the wild. Torres mentions some of those differences as well, in the next quoted snippet.


Although proper aid to animals such as insects is much more difficult than assistance to humans, killing people in extremely miserable situation, in which suffering clearly predominates, by destroying the places where they live in order to avoid current and future suffering would not be accepted as a solution. Obviously it would be rejected and would be sought other ways to help, even if it takes longer and costs more money than merely killing people.

Because resources to help wild animals are so attenuate, while the numbers of wild animals (especially small ones) are so large, the choice is not between (1) destroying habitats and preventing future births vs. (2) improving the wellbeing of the animals, but rather between (1) destroying habitats and preventing future births vs. (2) helping only a tiny number of wild animals, while otherwise allowing Darwinian atrocities to continue.

Imagine you're a single doctor on a battlefield where 100 wounded soldiers lie. Backup help won't arrive for another day. You only have time to treat 5 of the wounded in a way that would restore them to health. The rest will, by default, die in terrible pain over the next few hours. I think many people would agree that such a doctor should euthanize the soldiers who will die within a few hours. (Unfortunately, habitat destruction does not euthanize currently existing wild animals, but it does dramatically reduce total suffering in the long run.)


Views that promote anything that is less bad than status quo instead of seeking what is the best thing that can be done ignore alternatives and are too simplistic. Suppose, for instance, that someone finds a baby drowning, and nobody except that person can help, but then she decides the easier thing to do is to shoot him in order to prevent his suffering, rather than make a greater effort and rescue him.

That's not the situation we find ourselves in. A better analogy would be this: There are 100 babies who will all die in severe pain if we don't act. We can either save one of them, leaving the other 99 to die horrifically. Or we can kill all 100 in a less painful way. Due to limited resources, we cannot do both.

Torres mentions a similar point:

But the fact is that it is simply impossible today to act in a better way with beings such as insects because their populations are huge and they are in a much more painful situation than humans, so that there is no way to give them a fate as comfortable as it is given to humans.


If the alternatives mentioned are not widely available now, and, rather than supporting killing animals now, we wait for or promote these alternative, the best consequences are more likely to be obtained in the long term, because in doing so there won’t be the same harms and proper regard to nonhuman animals will be encouraged.

If that's a gamble some people are willing to take, so be it. There may be value in having a diversity of approaches within the movement to reduce wild-animal suffering. But I prefer to help as many animals as I can in the shorter term.

In my view, it's unlikely humanity will ever deliberately intervene to help wild animals on a large scale. I think the only realistic way to substantially reduce wild-animal suffering is through habitat loss as a byproduct of human land-use changes. This is especially so when we consider small animals like insects, for whom interventions other than population reduction seem unlikely to be feasible.


Similarly, one can recognize that unfortunate things like human slavery, carnivorous diets and animals agriculture produced some good consequences for others throughout history, but that does not prevents the harms caused by human or nonhuman slavery from being mourned with indignation and doesn’t mean that slavery is currently justified for bringing about good consequences, especially since it’s possible to get these consequences by other means, though perhaps with more difficulty.

The costs of slavery obviously outweigh the benefits. In contrast, the benefits of habitat loss outweigh the costs. Moreover, it's not feasible to get those same benefits of habitat reduction to any nontrivial degree via other means.


Extinction on a very large scale can also be regrettable because (except for some negative utilitarians) destroying all or most nonhuman sentient life, we lose possible future scenarios containing happy and net positive lives that won’t exist in this case. Although suffering currently outweighs happiness in the wild, future happy and untimed ecosystems should not be discarded at the cost of huge but limited amounts of current suffering.

Making nature contain net happiness would seem to require superintelligence, and by the time that arrives, it would be possible to create happiness vastly more efficiently by other means, such as by creating new, happier biological life forms or digital simulations. (Of course, the emergence of superintelligence will also multiply suffering, so I don't support it.)

In any case, I reject the principle of allowing vast amounts of suffering to continue now so that we can (possibly, if altruistic human values have control of the future) create other happy beings in the long run.


it also shouldn’t be ignored other strategies to reduce populations and natural harms without harming individuals. Among them, there are contraceptive methods, genetic modification, in vitro meat, and other technologies

The net impact of these activities is uncertain, perhaps more uncertain than the net impact of reducing habitats. But assuming these interventions are positive, I welcome them. The problem is that they're really expensive and would require the backing of other powerful humans in order to be implemented. While we try to achieve limited success with these difficult technological solutions, huge numbers of wild animals will continue to be born into lives of misery.

Torres acknowledges our limited resources a bit later:

solutions such as contraception, of course, would be better if most people were concerned about wild animal suffering and if there were enough resources available to be used on a large scale, but unfortunately that’s not the case.

Also, because of the complexity of ecosystems, even humane interventions like contraception are bound to kill some animals who otherwise would have lived longer. For instance, by failing to kill one wolf immediately, there will be fewer elk, which might cause another wolf to starve. Nature is a war zone. There's no intervention (or lack of intervention) that avoids bloodshed.


Needlessly killing animals with lives worth living instead of employing alternatives is not interesting, even if these animals are in small proportion. There is no way to choose which will die among individuals with lives worth living and those who suffer a lot (imagine killing healthy humans to end the suffering of many other individuals).

Relative to our limited resources, there are no gentler alternatives for 99.999% of wild animals. And most people are willing to tolerate a few civilian casualties if they occur as a practically unavoidable part of stopping ongoing atrocities.


Therefore, other long-term solutions are better and deserve greater focus. Insect populations can be reduced by making them have more male than female descendants, making them have (fewer) sterile offspring or sterilizing them. These techniques have been successfully used in large scale to prevent diseases in humans and also in crop cultivation.

I've written a bit about non-insecticide control measures like these. My main concern is that these methods target insect species narrowly and therefore, they don't decrease populations of non-target insects the way broad-spectrum insecticides do. Thus, these techniques may be dramatically less effective at reducing insect suffering than insecticides. (That said, I remain uncertain about the net impact of insecticides on insect suffering overall. The topic warrants further study.)

I probably support reducing mosquito populations in the developing world by any means because this may increase the size of the human population.


In the case of people oppressed in extremely miserable conditions, suffering from hunger and poverty (this example may be more appropriate than euthanasia in a hospital patient, as it also involves potential healthy individuals or individuals likely to have lives worth living among the others), death is rarely pointed as a solution to avoid their suffering, even if it is much more difficult and expensive to help by other means, if positive experiences are unlikely and if their condition will hardly improve in the short term.

I can't think of an example of a population of humans where the majority of people have lives of net suffering (as judged by a typical non-negative utilitarian) that are unlikely to be improved any time soon. Maybe North Korea would be a close example, since we can't directly intervene to help the people of North Korea. But I'm not sure that human lives in North Korea are net bad. At least, life there seems better than life for most small wild animals. So I think our intuitions on this point are not well refined.

In any case, we don't face real-world situations in which it would be possible to cheaply eliminate a human population that experiences a net balance of sustained, unrelenting suffering. Our actual choices are either to leave such people alone or to help them. So we don't have much opportunity to develop feelings about whether it would be worse to forcefully prevent their future suffering or to leave them alone.

Consider the following scenario: The world is full of baby factories where human babies are raised and get eaten alive after just a few weeks or months of life, although 1 in 20 of the babies is allowed to live for 3 years with a pretty good life. Most people don't want to eliminate the factories and in fact embrace their existence, although some people accidentally destroy these factories by building parking lots and clearing forests. The process of destroying a factory kills the babies it contains but prevents future babies from being raised there. Now, because most of humanity is not on your side, you have a choice: You can, with your limited time, either promote economic activities that will destroy 100 baby factories, or you can heroically intervene to shut down 5 factories and thereby save the babies they contain from being killed. I would rather destroy 100 factories.

Sometimes I think our intuitions regarding animals are more humane than those regarding people. It's sometimes observed that pets may have better deaths than people, because we euthanize pets when they start enduring unbearable suffering, while we push terminally ill people to stay alive as long as possible. I think something similar might be going on in Torres's thought experiment. If people have clearly net bad lives, it seems wrong to me to just let that extreme suffering continue indefinitely into the future.


So in many cases killing individuals who suffer may not be the best solution. This excerpt from Boycott veganism emphasizes it:

[...]
There are good things that come with life, as well as bad, for all of us. And for us to say that some other person’s life is meaningless, (much less bad for the world!) because it involves too much pain or discomfort, is an affront to that person’s individual dignity and autonomy.

Bringing children into the world without their consent is also an affront to individual autonomy. Some of those children will wish they hadn't been born, and many will wish to be dead at some point or other in their lives. When an animal is being torn up in the jaws of a predator, it probably would wish (if it had linguistic concepts) that it hadn't been born. Forcing animals involuntarily to be born to endure experiences during which they will wish they were dead is, in my opinion, the greater affront to their dignity.


Views that propose that animals suffer serious harms to benefit a collectivity need to explain whether it is right to act the same way when the victims are humans, which is almost always denied.

This piece explains why utilitarianism is more appropriate for managing non-human populations than it is in human society.

Conclusion

If destruction is violence, creation, too, is violence. Procreation, therefore, involves violence. The creation of what is bound to perish certainly involves violence.

--Mahatma Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 32

I am in favor of less violence, less death, and fewer rights violations. Nature is an unending war in which violence never ceases. In a similar way as some use of force may be necessary to stop a brawl or shootout, some use of force is necessary to reduce long-run violence in nature.

While in theory, there are more compassionate ways to reduce nature's bloodshed, in practice we have to choose between being gentler toward a small number of animals versus saving a much larger number of animals from suffering by more forceful means.

A message of compassionate consequentialism with respect to wild-animal suffering needn't reinforce speciesism. But if the antispeciesist movement cannot accept habitat reduction as a compassionate intervention, then maybe antispeciesism ends up harming animals on the whole. I want to actually help wild animals, not play politics.

Replies to follow-up comments, Apr. 2016

Torres offered in-depth replies to this piece on 7 Apr. 2016. Following are my further responses.


being cautious may be important not to avoid offending the sensibilities of other people, but to help animals as much as possible and to have more people helping animals. Something can be more widely acceptable if it's acceptable from the perspective of different ethical theories.

Yes, of course you're right here. Where we differ is on the empirical question of how important this consideration is. Since I doubt that ethical intervention will ever occur on a wide scale, I think the benefits that utilitarians can achieve by "going it alone" now are (perhaps much) bigger than the benefits of maintaining alliances with deontologists.


There are many cases, as I mentioned before, in which hunting fails to reduce the population of predators of large herbivores.

One of the articles you cited was about how

  1. some hunters favor deliberately increasing populations of the hunted species and
  2. even if we reduce the populations of certain species, it doesn't help much with pest problems because whatever animals remain will still cause trouble (e.g., "garbage will attract black bears no matter how small the bear population").

I didn't see the article mention anywhere that hunting itself (rather than the indirect policies supported by hunters) can increase populations of the targeted species. Of course, sale of hunting licences can lead to actions that increase target-animal populations (including habitat conservation, which is bad), but this point doesn't apply for predator culling by governments, which I assume is how a lot of predators are hunted by humans?

I would definitely oppose any kind of blanket pro-hunting message, especially since most hunting kills large herbivores, and doing that probably increases wild-animal suffering.

The other article on cats was interesting, but it seems to be something of an outlier relative to general trends, which is why the researchers were surprised. My impression is that human hunting of predators has overall dramatically reduced predator populations.

There are many studies showing that predator control does reduce predator populations. Just one example is mentioned in this textbook:

a wolf control program in Alaska during the 1970s decreased predator abundance to 55-80 percent below pre-control density. Concurrently, the population of moose tripled. This observation suggests that predators reduced this moose population far below the maximum number that the habitat can support.

This page says "One case study in Panama found an inverse relationship between poaching intensity and abundance for 9 of 11 mammal species studied.[9]"


According to Lotka-Volterra equations, reducing certain population of animals by hunting can only lead to a temporary reduction, which BTW allows hunters to kill permanently.

Perhaps, but that's better than no reduction at all. Also, if hunting is steady, then unlike in Lotka-Volterra where the rate of killing changes, the population of hunted animals will remain at a lower level. Plus, in practice, predators may be eliminated entirely from an area, which has been a common occurrence in the United States and elsewhere.


If the rampaging shooter could be stopped by other means, it would often be considered a better solution.

Fair enough. At this point we get back to the issue of limited resources. Our current situation is that we have millions of rampaging shooters, and governments will only stop the shooters by killing them because alternatives are more expensive. If we can either kill the rampaging shooter or do nothing, it's plausibly better to kill the shooter.


Tomasik: "Human slavery is worse than animal slavery because humans understand being enslaved to a high degree, resent enslavement, and feel degraded."

Torres: One could say that bird slavery is worse than human slavery because birds can fly...

It depends whether failing to fly causes birds major subjective distress. I don't know the answer to that. At least most of the birds that people farm don't fly.


Moreover, there are many humans who don't understand being enslaved to a high degree, resent enslavement, or feel degraded, but using them as slaves is not considered less bad.

I have trouble coming up with many instances of this in the real world, since most people with severe intellectual disabilities don't make productive slaves. But suppose there are some such people. The utilitarian reasons for regarding their slavery as worse than slavery of certain non-human animals are, among others, that

  1. their parents and friends are extremely upset by their enslavement, including higher-level understanding of the objectification that's going on
  2. people in general may worry that if they, too, become intellectually disabled in the future, they'll become slaves, and this observation instills fear in the population.


Tomasik: "One key difference between the case of humans and the case of non-human animals is that violence against humans directly provokes a violent response and breakdown of social order."

Torres: This is not the case if a person is killed in a subtle way. One example that I mentioned would be killing influential environmentalists who were clearly net negative with respect to wild-animal suffering. If it could be done making it look like an accident, a sudden illness, etc. and it could have a huge impact on wild-animal suffering (more than killing predators) without causing significant disorder, but I don't think that someone would support this kind of intervention. Even if people understand that killing some humans may prevent far grater numbers of wild animals from being killed, doing so would likely be quite controversial.

In the real world, illegal behavior risks harming one's own values to a far greater degree in expectation than it may benefit one's values. If the scenario you depicted were carried out and were exposed, it would cause immense harm to the movement to help wild animals. This piece enumerates a number of utilitarian arguments for honesty, but many of those points also argue against stealing, murdering humans, etc.

You could stipulate a thought experiment in which the risk of getting caught was zero, but our moral intuitions are not well honed for thought experiments. Most of our deontological values are based on the statistical distribution of outcomes in real-world social life. Moreover, even if you were certain never to get caught, there would be decision-theoretic arguments against murdering -- namely, the idea of not defecting on a one-shot prisoner's dilemma. One should plausibly avoid doing something that almost everyone else regards as pure evil, since your decision to do so is correlated with the decisions of others about whether they should secretly carry out acts that you would regard as pure evil. Of course, environmental destruction is seen as evil by some, but the difference between environmental degradation and murder in the eyes of society at large is immense -- habitat loss is often tolerated in order for a company to produce slightly cheaper consumer products, while murder sends you to prison for life.

Being the kind of person who would seriously consider murdering others to advance his own particular values could imply subtle differences in behavior that might be detected by others:

Newcomblike problems occur whenever knowledge about what decision you will make leaks into the environment. The knowledge doesn't have to be 100% accurate, it just has to be correlated with your eventual actual action (in such a way that if you were going to take a different action, then you would have leaked different information). [...]

Information about what we're going to do is frequently leaking into the environment, via unconscious signaling and uncontrolled facial expressions or even just by habit — anyone following a simple routine is likely to act predictably.

These decision-theoretic arguments only apply in the case of interacting with other humans.


Tomasik: "the types of hunting that I think might be net beneficial are precisely the types of hunting that environmentalists oppose"

Torres: Predators of large herbivores are also killed for environmental reasons

Interesting! Of course, there will always be some exceptions, and overall, my policy proposals are more in conflict with environmentalist policies than yours are. Also, in the case of the wolf killing discussed in that article, it seems that environmental groups are actually skeptical about hunting the wolves: "Yet conservation groups like the Wildlife Defence League and Pacific Wild argue that it's actually deforestation, industrial development and other anthropocentric causes that are wiping out the caribou. Wolves, they say, are just being used as scapegoats for shoddy science and ill-informed government policies."


Hunting occurs mainly in wild areas, and requires that these areas be maintained, commonly with environmentalists' support, or even spread.

Yeah, this is a main reason I oppose hunting in general, especially sport hunting rather than government-conducted hunting.


I think it's not clear that this individual economic impact could always outweigh other effects, though humanity as a whole reduces animal populations. Different people would have very different contributions to habitat destruction, making the view that all individual human beings are similarly net positive because of habitat destruction unjustified. Again, a single person who contributes to rewilding, terraforming, bug farming, etc. (and there are many of them, even if we consider only direct and short-term effects) would have a worse, not better, effect on wild-animal suffering than a single non-human.

Yes, of course. :)


How do you think it's possible to maximize land-use changes, and why it would be easier than promoting concern about wild-animal suffering and speciesism, for example? Many of these land-use changes occur whether we like it or not. To have an impact on a large scale it's necessary a movement with relevant claims (or a very large amount of resources, which is not the case).

After further research that identifies land-use changes that are likely positive for wild animals on balance (e.g., maybe growing palm oil in former rainforests?), one could encourage changes in consumption on that basis, or at least oppose anti-palm-oil campaigns. One example of something similar is the infamous article "Ordering the vegetarian meal? There’s more animal blood on your hands", which argued against anti-beef messages by appealing (though perhaps with shaky numbers and an incomplete analysis) to considerations of wild-animal suffering. I assume this article and its spinoffs had a nontrivial effect on beef consumption. (Of course, I don't praise this particular piece as an example to follow, since it seems fairly biased, and the author probably didn't actually care much about saving animal lives?)

More generally, if we spread the idea that less habitat means less wild-animal suffering, this might slightly dampen enthusiasm for conservation among activists, policy makers, and the public. It's probably easier to dampen enthusiasm for conservation (since this saves people money and lets them be more lazy) than to garner support for active interventions to help wild animals (which cost money and, due to typically focusing on larger animals, may not actually reduce insect suffering anyway).

Finally, we can modify our personal consumption choices to increase positive forms of land-use change, in a similar way as we modify our personal consumption choices to reduce animal suffering in other domains.


Maybe the most effective proposal currently is not spreading and not recreating nature, which is more likely to be widely accepted than killing and doesn't have most of the negative effects mentioned.

Yeah, lobbying against spreading nature is promising. I don't currently know how its cost-effectiveness compares with increasing habitat loss. There are many fewer instances where people are spreading rather than destroying nature, but maybe we could make some difference to what few instances there are.