Effective Altruism: Do the Most Good

Author: Pooja Chandwani

I have never been a big fan of appealing to someone’s emotional side, or engineer a response from someone based on sentiments. It to me always has and will feel like a manipulation of sorts and is termed as such – argumentum ad passiones or appeal to emotion is a logical fallacy characterised by the manipulation of recipient’s emotions in order to win an argument or state a point. So let’s stay away from that for next few minutes, shall we? I will try and present facts and talk about effectively supporting certain charities, effective being the keyword.

Animal Welfare is an area that is hugely important due to its scale and neglectedness. Over 56 billion farmed animals are killed every year by humans (Ref: http://www.animalequality.net/food) which excludes the 80 billion farmed fish, farmed being the operative word. If you have ever watched an animal rights group covert videos you know many of the current practices within animal agriculture are likely to cause extreme suffering over the course of many animals’ lives. Speciesism – assigning different inherent values, rights, or considerations to individuals based on species membership – may bias us to value animals less than they might deserve.

Although the overall field of animal welfare receives a large volume of donations, most of that money goes to the comparatively few animals in shelters, laboratories, etc. Relatively little funding goes to addressing the impacts of industrial agriculture on animal welfare. These factors make this area particularly neglected.

The chart shows how little of the money actually makes it to animal charities, what’s worse, 98% of this tiny amount is then allocated to charities that help only cats and dogs. I am not saying that we shouldn’t help our furry little friends, I am just bringing the fact that not much is done here to notice.

What we are going to talk about today is to look into the areas that have greatest impact with helping these animals. Doing good is not enough. Doing good effectively is what counts. Doing good effectively is a principle applied by EA (Effective Altruism). Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that applies evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others, in our case we will just talk about animals. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values (here the value is to reduce animal suffering). It is the broad, evidence-based approach that distinguishes effective altruism from traditional altruism or charity.

Many effective altruists believe that reducing animal suffering should be a major priority and that, at the current margin, there are cost-effective ways of accomplishing this. Peter Singer (whose philosophy gave rise to EA moment) quotes estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the British organization Fishcount per which 60 billion (not far a figure from earlier stated animal equality group), land animals are slaughtered and between 1 and 2.7 trillion individual fish are killed each year for human consumption. He argues that effective animal welfare altruists should prioritize factory farming over more overfunded popular causes such as pet welfare. Singer also argues that, if farm animals such as chickens are assigned even a modicum of consciousness, efforts to reduce factory farming (for example, by reducing global meat consumption) could be an even more underfunded and cost-effective way of reducing current global suffering than human poverty reduction. Philosophically, wild animal suffering may be an additional moral concern for effective altruists.

Animal Charity Evaluators (https://animalcharityevaluators.org/) (ACE, formerly called Effective Animal Activism) is an organization connected with the movement that evaluates and compares various animal charities based on their cost-effectiveness and transparency, particularly those that are tackling factory farming. Faunalytics (formerly the Humane Research Council) is an organization loosely affiliated with the movement that conducts independent research on important animal welfare topics, provides resources for advocates and donors, and works with animal protection organizations to evaluate their work.

Let’s quickly look at the philosophy behind the organization:
1. No individual should be given less than full moral consideration on the basis of any morally irrelevant feature of their identity, and this includes species membership.
2. All other morally relevant factors being equal, the best (most morally good) action is the one that results in the highest net welfare.
3. Empirical research can help us determine which action is best.
The full page outlining ACE’s philosophical commitments can be found here.

Before we go into what according to ACE is considered effective, it’s good to look at how do they do their evaluation in the first place:

Evaluation Process:
Their evaluation process consists of several rounds in which they consider progressively fewer charities in progressively greater detail. They give basic consideration to a very large number of groups, conduct exploratory reviews of a smaller number, and then conduct comprehensive reviews of a small group of likely candidates for their recommendations.

After conducting these rounds of evaluation, they update their recommendations and the reviews are published on their site. All their Top and Standout Charities have received comprehensive reviews, but not all charities for which they have written comprehensive reviews are in these categories.

For further information I would highly recommend checking out their website where they have explained in detail how they conduct each of these evaluation phases. They also talk about the criteria they use for the said evaluation. Let’s have a quick look at the criterion:

1. The charity has room for more funding and concrete plans for growth. It has plans that cannot be fully accomplished with the expected funding from other sources, and the barriers to accomplishing those plans are monetary, not due to time, a lack of qualified personnel, or other non-monetary issues. Receiving money from donors directed by ACE would be very likely to increase the charity’s total impact.

2. The charity engages in programs that seem likely to be highly impactful. Without considering the specific implementation, the interventions pursued by the charity are among those expected to be highly effective. Often this information will come partly from their intervention evaluation process. At the very least, the charity is working in a domain with high potential for efficiency (for instance, farm animal advocacy) or is working in another domain with methods that appear to be exceptionally cost-effective.

3. The charity operates cost-effectively, according to our best estimates. Considering the charity’s budget and its demonstrated successes, it appears to be cost-effective in the goal of reducing animal suffering, relative to other charities. If these calculations were produced with perfect information, they would be the only factor necessary to consider beyond room for more funding. However, because their calculations are necessarily estimates, corroborative evidence is required. Read more about their cost-effectiveness estimates.

4. The charity possesses a strong track record of success. The charity has a record of successful achievement of incremental goals or of demonstrated progress towards larger goals. Note that this implies the charity has been in existence for some length of time. While very young charities may have strong potential to return large results for small initial amounts of funding, donating to charities without track records is inherently risky.

5. The charity identifies areas of success and failure and responds appropriately. The charity has both short and long term goals and can articulate signs that indicate whether they are moving towards or away from their goals. Regular self-assessments guide the charity’s program development. If applicable, the organization has responded appropriately in the past to signs that a program was not succeeding. Furthermore, they are able to innovate effectively: they regularly try small and large changes to programs, identify which changes improve outcomes, and act on that information.

6. The charity has strong leadership and a well-developed strategic vision. The current leaders of the charity seem competent and well-respected. The charity’s overall mission puts a strong emphasis on effectively reducing suffering, and the charity responds to new evidence with that goal in mind, revisiting their strategic plan regularly to ensure they stay aligned with that mission.

7. The charity has a healthy culture and a sustainable structure. The charity is stable and sustainable under ordinary conditions, and seems likely to survive the transition should some of the current leadership move on to other projects. The charity acts responsibly to stakeholders including staff, volunteers, donors, and others in the community. In particular, staff and volunteers develop and grow as advocates due to their relationship with the charity.

Let’s round this up with the charities they endorse:

Among these let’s look a little more into the first 3 that made the list:

Mercy For Animals

What does Mercy For Animals do?
Mercy For Animals (MFA) engages in a variety of farmed animal advocacy programs, often involving filming or promoting footage from their undercover investigations of factory farms. They promote investigation footage primarily through the media and online campaigns. MFA also engages in legal work and corporate campaigns on behalf of animals, and they conduct grassroots outreach designed to change individuals’ attitudes and behavior towards farmed animals. Read more on ACE’s website.

The Good Food Institute

What does The Good Food Institute do?
The Good Food Institute (GFI) is working to transform the animal agriculture industry by promoting the development of competitive alternatives to animal-based meat, dairy, and eggs. GFI seeks out entrepreneurs and scientists to join or form start-ups in the plant-based and cultured1 meat (i.e. meat grown in a culture without animal slaughter) market sectors. They provide business, legal, scientific, and strategic guidance for plant-based and cellular companies, and they engage in policy work (regulatory and statutory) to level the playing field for plant-based and cellular products in the marketplace. GFI builds relationships with chain restaurants, grocery stores, and foodservice companies to improve and promote plant-based alternatives to animal products. Finally, GFI works with grant-making institutions, corporations, and governments to mobilize resources for research in synthetic and plant biology and tissue engineering. Read more on ACE’s website.

The Humane League

What does The Humane League do?
The Humane League (THL) engages in a variety of programs that aim to persuade individuals and organizations to adopt behaviors that reduce farmed animal suffering. THL’s largest programs, based on their budget, are their corporate campaigns and grassroots outreach. They encourage corporations to shift to policies dictating a higher animal welfare standard and they educate the public using leaflets and online videos. THL also works with schools to implement Meatless Monday programs, presents humane education lectures to students, and trains college activists. Read more on ACE’s website.

Now that we have covered what charities are best to put your money into, let’s look at making the process more effective too.

Pledging to give.
It’s easy to intend to give a significant amount to charity, but it can be hard to follow through. One way we can hold ourselves to account is to take a public pledge to give.

Giving What We Can has a pledge that asks people to give 10 per cent of their lifetime income to the organizations that will make the biggest improvements to the world. The Life You Can Save has a similar pledge, starting at 1% of annual income to organizations’ fighting the effects of extreme poverty and / or animal cruelty.

Taking Action:
The best thing you can do is set a first goal for cutting back that fits within your lifestyle. This step-wise graphic can help!

The next step is to read our Starter Kit – it gives practical advice for those living in Singapore and will set you up for success! You can also help out in other ways via our website at http://AnimalAllies.sg/Action

I would finally like to end with a quote very aptly put forward by Jonathon Safran Foer: “Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn’t motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?”