The Best Way To Help Animals Might Surprise You

A new movement has joined forces with animal advocates to improve the lives of animals using evidence and reason

In factory farms, as many as thousands of animals can be squeezed into a single building. Nowhere to move, they often suffer injury from immobility and turn on each other. Profit is maximised by breeding animals to grow as fast as possible, often resulting in physical abnormalities. By the time they reach maturity, many chickens can’t even stand.

Using animals for food causes suffering on an immense scale. Each year, hundreds of billions of aquatic animals are killed by commercial fishing and farming - some estimates place the number of animals affected at over 1 trillion. The number of land animals raised for food is now over 70 billion and continues to grow. Some 99% of animals raised in the US are from factory farms, and experience unimaginable suffering.

When I — and likely you — look at these figures, I feel compelled to help every last animal in need. An easy and impactful way to make a difference to animals is of course to go vegan, an act estimated to spare as many as hundreds of animals from factory farming or death each year. But what else can you do once you’ve gone vegan? The sad truth is that we simply don’t have the time and resources to help everyone, at least not all at once. The good news is that we can help more than you probably think through rigorous research and careful decision-making. Estimates suggest donations to the right charities of just a few dollars — less than the price of a cup of coffee — can spare dozens of animals from this horrific suffering. But how do we know what to do to have the most impact?

Luckily, many people are thinking about this question. Effective altruism is a global movement of individuals and organisations working to make the most positive difference they can in the lives of humans and non-human animals. Whether you’re thinking about which charity to give to, the best way to volunteer your time, or where to find a fulfilling and meaningful career, it’s easy to drop your head into your hands, overwhelmed by all the opportunities. Effective altruism tries to help people like you make these tough decisions through evidence-based, thoughtful analysis.

Animal Charity Evaluators researches animal charities to estimate their impact on the lives of animals. They publish an annual list of Top Charities based on what the evidence says about their cost-effectiveness. Currently the top three recommendations are the Good Food Institute, Mercy for Animals, and the Humane League. The Good Food Institute helps develop plant-based and cultured meat alternatives to animal agriculture by providing strategic and technical support to food tech companies. Mercy for Animals and the Humane League conduct outreach and campaigning — including undercover investigations in the case of MFA — to inspire diet and policy change.

As an example of the kind of impact these charities have, ACE estimates that a $1,000 USD donation to Mercy for Animals will result in sparing -10,000 to 80,000 animals from a life in industrial agriculture. Of course there is much uncertainty in any such estimate, but even such rough calculations suggest we can do a huge amount of good with modest donations.

ACE also researches specific interventions to help animals including leafleting, online ads and corporate outreach. Their results can be useful for organisations and individuals deciding how best to use their time.

Another effective altruist organization working to help animals is Sentience Politics, an antispeciesist political think tank. Their activities include writing policy papers to share with politicians on animal issues, running ballot initiatives to implement animal-friendly policies, and hosting conferences to bring effective altruists together.

80,000 Hours exists to help people choose careers that bring them the most satisfaction and make the biggest difference. They offer a range of services to assist with choosing and achieving the best careers such as written and video guides, and one-on-one coaching. You can find their review on what to do about factory farming here.

However you decide to help animals, whether it’s by working for an effective organisation, donating to evidence-based causes, or working at a grassroots level, we can all agree that their suffering is too great not to think critically about the best ways to help them. We must also remain open to the possibility that our current approach needs to shift direction. We have a remarkable opportunity to make such a huge difference, and the animals deserve nothing less.

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PBN Contributor:

Michael Dello-Iacovo is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales studying asteroids and their impact risk, and is the Acting CEO of Effective Altruism Australia. He has taken a lifetime pledge to give everything he earns over $45,000 AUD each year to effective causes.

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