Rob Wiblin of 80,000 hours did the following analysis, which doesn't take into account the secular trends detailed here:
Some people can't decide which is worse: the harm to animal welfare caused by eating chickens, or the harm from climate change caused by eating cows.
One kilogram of cow meat produces 35kg of CO2e compared with 5kg for chicken meat. Each broiler chicken produces some 1.5kg of meat and lives in a farm for ~2 months. So the trade-off is that sparing one year of chicken-life in a factory farm - and twelve chicken deaths - by instead eating cow meat instead will lead to an extra ~0.3 tonnes of CO2e.
For context, the global emissions of CO2e are ~8 tonnes per person - ~20 tonnes per person in the developed world - for a total of ~50 billion tonnes.
The World Health Organisation speculates that 5,000 tonnes of CO2e will cause the loss of one year of healthy life.
If this number is to be believed, avoiding the loss of 1 year of healthy human life from climate change would would come at the cost of 17,000 years of chickens living in factory farms (100,000 chicken lives in total).
Even if climate change is significantly worse than that number suggests, that seems like an enormous amount of animal misery.
Vincent Berraud, who runs One Step Australia, is talking with a few of the people who have changed what they eat. This is the first interview.
One Step For Animals: Hi Cat! Can I ask you what made you decide to stop eating chicken? What was your motivation?
Cat: The catalyst was looking after our school chooks and developing an understanding of how intelligent and lovely they can be. I then saw a segment of Gourmet Farmer - "For the Love of Meat" - where chickens were being force fed and kept in appalling conditions. Added to that was the realisation that so many more chickens are killed for human consumption than larger animals.
One Step: Since you stopped eating chicken, have you increased eating other meats / animal products?
Cat: No, in fact the opposite. For many years, I haven’t eaten much meat, which actually started because I could barely afford to eat at all. I do still eat beef and occasionally pork, but usually only once every week or two. I rarely eat fish. I foresee giving up meat altogether in the near future.
One Step: What other yummy foods/alternatives have you discovered since not eating chicken?
Cat: One Step introduced me to the Fry’s brand of foods and I think they’re delicious (although I’d like to see more variety in the range). Vincent also kindly let me try the Linda McCartney sausages which have finally become available at one of my local supermarkets which is great!
One Step: What have been the reactions from friends and family?
Cat: Most of my family and friends weren’t too surprised to learn I’d stopped eating chicken as I’d often spoken of my concern at the amount of meat consumed in our society (have you ever noticed that the meat section of the supermarket is around the same size as the fruit and veg section?). They know I look after our school chooks and that I love animals in general.
One Step: Thank you Cat! Would you like to add anything?
Cat: It’s great to see food production companies, restaurants, and even our work administration catering for people who make conscious decisions about what they eat. If there was a greater variety of meat alternatives that had a ‘meaty’ flavour, I think it would be easier for people to move away from eating all meats, not just chicken.
Many people express concern for the environment and believe Earth Day is a good opportunity to draw attention to various issues. Sadly, Earth Day has become largely a meaningless event, with just about everyone from the strictest vegan to the largest multinational corporation claiming to support “the Earth.”
But of course, the planet itself – the mass that circles the Sun – is in no danger. There is no way we can destroy a hunk of rock that weighs 13,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds. (That’s 13 septillion pounds.)
Let me emphasize this point again, as it has generated about as much angry feedback as anything I’ve ever written: “How can you say the Earth is in no danger?? What about fisheries’ collapse/ atmosphere pollution/ rainforest destruction/ topsoil erosion???”
But none of these are “the Earth.”
The oceans could empty and the atmosphere blow away, and the planet would still exist. Only the Earth’s razor-thin biosphere matters, because it is where we and our fellow feeling beings reside.
This indicates what really matters: The lives of sentient beings.
Unfortunately, few people make decisions based on making a real difference for other sentient individuals. Many people simply act as if any and every environmental problem were equally pressing and anything “green” equally commendable.
When you look at “environmentalism” in the U.S., the emphasis tends to be either on the feel-good-about-ourselves (“I recycled!” “I bought a hybrid!”), or on condemning the “other” (“British Petroleum is evil!” “The government must do something about global warming!”). The avoidance of an honest, meaningful analysis of the fundamental bottom line isn’t surprising. It is much simpler to parrot slogans, follow painless norms such as recycling, vilify faceless corporations, and demand that the government take action.
All of this makes it easy to continue the status quo and still feel smugly green and good.
Personal “environmentalism” is often nothing more than an expression of self-interest, just another laundry list of “we want.” We want to feel good about ourselves for doing relatively easy things. We want charismatic megafauna to entertain us. We want natural spaces for our use.
But ethics aren’t a question of what “we want.” We can be truly thoughtful individuals and go beyond personal preferences, feel-good campaigns, and the vilification of faceless others. We can each recognize that sayings and slogans are superficial, intentions and ideology irrelevant.
What matters isn’t this rock we call Earth. What matters are the sentient beings who call this rock home. We can’t care about “the environment” as though it is somehow an ethically relevant entity in and of itself. Rather, what matters are the impacts our choices have for our fellow feeling beings.
In the end, all that matters are the consequences our actions have for all animals.
All creatures – not just wild or endangered animals – desire to live free from suffering and exploitation.
Cruelty is wrong, whether the victim is an eagle or a chicken.
Once we recognize this, we can see that the point of Earth Day - and every day - is to help our fellow sentient beings as much as possible. Considering the facts in the real world and acting accordingly is the way to have the most significant impact for those most in need.
One Step no longer talks about what percentage of the population is vegetarian because so many people choose to believe whatever number they want. Animals are what matter to us, not how many people are on our “team.”
On this measure, the data are clear and unequivocal: per-capita consumption of animals and meat are both at all-time highs. Meat consumption is surging around the globe. Even the average person in Israel – “the first vegan country” – eats more factory farmed animals than anywhere else in the world.
Animals have never been worse off, yet many people continue to rationalize “advocacy” that makes them feel good by promoting their personal views. One of the excuses we hear is that even if the average person is eating more animals now, if we have more vegetarians, we have more advocates.
Given that the vast majority of people who go vegetarian eventually goes back to eating animals (becoming an advocate against compassionate eating), this is a dubious claim at best. Furthermore, what good are advocates if society as a whole continues to cause more and more suffering?
Still, some people might have a good faith question about what percentage of people in the US are vegetarian, and if that has changed at all during our time of advocacy.
When trying to track the percentage of the population for anything, it is important to make sure we are measuring the same thing and doing so consistently over time. There have been many polls claiming to be about vegetarianism and veganism, and they often fall apart under close examination. For example, several decades ago, the magazine Vegetarian Times once found that a lot of people who labeled themselves “vegetarian” actually ate not only fish and chicken, but even beef.
If you want to look at the trend of vegetarianism in the US, the polls from the Vegetarian Resource Group are worth considering. They don’t ask people if they are “vegetarian.” Rather, they asked people what they eat. The results of their polls:
If you simply look at the raw numbers and ignore the small sample sizes and very large margins of error – as well as changes in who did the surveys for VRG and how thee surveys were done – you would think that the percentage of people who are vegetarian doubled from 2006 to 2011 and has been in steady decline ever since.
Dr. Harish Sethu of The Humane League Labs thinks the most thorough and trustworthy poll about vegetarianism in the US was Faunalytics 2014 survey. This survey had a vastly larger sample size (11,399, about ten times larger than a VRG poll, giving a much smaller margin of error). The Faunalytics poll also had a significant better sampling method.
That survey found 1.94% of the population is vegetarian, with a 95% upper bound at 2.21%.
Yet while the percentage of people who are vegetarian doesn’t change, people are eating more and more chickens, causing vastly more suffering.
Any honest look at the data is compelling – we need to rethink our advocacy. If you agree, please click and be a part of this work. Thank you!
At One Step for Animals, we would love to say that we’re winning. It is how you get members excited. It is how you get donors to give.
But we can’t tell you that. You deserve honesty. It’s predicted that 2018 will be a year of record per capita meat consumption in the U.S. 2018 will certainly set yet another record for animals killed per person.
Of course, this is demoralizing. It would be easier to jump on the “we’re winning” bandwagon.
But we can’t make a real difference for animals if we aren’t honest about the state of the world.
Facing facts, you know we need to increase our reality-based outreach more than ever. We need to continue our honest work in the world as it is to be able to move toward the world we want.
And that means being honest. That means offering a reasonable way to reduce the most suffering. That means taking One Step for Animals.
Thank you for your vital support of this honest and compassionate work. Please share our video with those in your circle of influence and urge them to take chickens off their plate in 2018. Together, we can make a real difference.
A One Step member passes along this from Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature:
If someone were to count up every animal that has lived on earth in the past fifty years and tally the harmful acts done to them, he or she might argue that no progress has been made in the treatment of animals. The reason is that the Animal Rights Revolution has been partly canceled out by another development, the Broiler Chicken Revolution.
The 1928 campaign slogan "A chicken in every pot" reminds us that chicken was once thought of as a luxury. The market responded by breeding meatier chickens and raising them more efficiently, if less humanely: factory-farmed chickens have spindly legs, live in cramped cages, breathe foul air, and are handled roughly when transported and slaughtered. In the 1970s consumers became convinced that white meat was healthier than red (a trend exploited by the National Pork Board when it came up with the slogan "The Other White Meat").
The result was a massive increase in the demand for chicken, surpassing, by the early 1990s, the demand beef. The unintended consequence was that billions more unhappy lives had to be brought into being and snuffed out to meet the demand, because it takes two hundred chickens to provide the same amount of meat as a single cow.
Now, factory farming and cruel treatment of poultry and livestock go back centuries, so the baneful trend was not a backsliding of moral sensibilities or an increase in callousness. It was a steadily creeping up of the numbers, driven by changes in economics and taste, which had gone undetected because a majority of people had always been incurious about the lives of chickens.
Please be a part of our efforts to stand up for chickens and reverse this trend!
If you’ve read A Meaningful Life, you know that a chronic disease led me to make reducing suffering my life’s work. My brush with death in 2014, and again this year, helped me stay focused on what is really important.
This seven-minute introduction to a Sam Harris podcast is another prompt to ask ourselves the most important questions. In this case:
What will be your legacy?
If you’re reading this, you are also dedicated to reducing the suffering of others as much as possible, regardless of the visibility or familiarity of the individual who is suffering.
Have you seen this Vox Voices video with One Step co-founder Matt Ball:
This video has more than 1.1 million views on Vox’s YouTube Channel and over 500,000 on Vox’s Facebook page!
Also, please note what Matt actually says vs. what Vox chose for the title and B-roll.
You will also like this audio interview ARZone did with Matt as a follow-up to the discussion surrounding the Vox video and CBC interview.
Since these interviews, One Step has received a lot of insightful feedback, such as:
“Just wanted to say I enjoyed the ARZone interview. Specifically, the way you handled the fish question, pointing out the relative lack of consumption of fish by the young, and the increased receptivity, in general, by the young. It shows how much thought you and others at One Step have put into these issues.”
If you agree that record levels of animal suffering require us to rethink, please share this email with other thoughtful people.
Also, please keep One Step’s work in your end-of-year donation planning, so we can reach even more people in 2018 with our actionable and sustainable message. As always, your tax-deductible donation will be truly doubled dollar-for-dollar, helping twice as many animals!
All long-time supporters know that One Step is continually striving to make sure our outreach is as cost-efficient as possible. Experiment, Evaluate, Repeat. All to give you the biggest bang for your buck, to allow you to save a chicken’s life for mere pennies.
We wanted to update you on two fronts.
Based on a wide variety of feedback, our amazing design Mandy created two booklets. George, our tech wizard, A/B tested these booklets over the course of several weeks. One of the booklets stood out, with only 2% of readers saying they would eat more chicken (vs 15%), and 24% said they’d eat “a lot more” plant-based meals (vs 10%).
Also, we found that even with Facebook’s increasing costs, our continual testing and optimization is paying off. For example, our campaigns this November were 33% more cost-effective than last November!
What would it look like if all that mattered was reducing suffering?
That is the entirety of our motivation at One Step.
We looked for where there was the most suffering. Then we honestly analyzed the results of decades of advocacy. We found these five harsh but undeniable facts, which drove our two guiding principles:
You are sure to receive many requests for support over the next days and weeks. There are many incredible groups doing amazing work out there.
Please consider supporting One Step’s work today. Your donation – which will be truly doubled and accomplish twice as much – will go to efforts continually tested and optimized to reduce suffering as much as possible.