Why people are still unlikely to act after IPCC warnings on climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said last week that we have 12 years to limit climate change. I’m not a fan of such language (what does that even mean – if we cease emissions in 11 years we’ll be fine but if we do it in 13 years we all suffer?), but it’s certainly gotten a lot of attention. It has undoubtedly renewed the sense of urgency among those already concerned about climate change. Yet people don’t really seem to be doing anything different, besides getting angry at governments and companies on social media.

Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions

If you’re paying attention to the space, you likely will have seen something like this quote. I think it’s the worst thing to come out of this entire media cycle and may have actually increased emissions in expectation. Here is why:

For a short few days after the IPCC announcement, mainstream media was starting to talk about something that some of us have known for some time (ahem, the UN said it in 2006 but few cared) – one of the most impactful things you can do as an individual to limit greenhouse gas emissions is to not eat animal products (or eat less, as they worded it). Finally, this weirdly neglected topic was being taken seriously by the media and public (and who knows, maybe even governments at some point).

Then, the above quote began to circulate. This lead many people who don’t understand expected value and marginal individual impact to shift the blame entirely to these large companies, or to governments, or to capitalism. I predict this stopped a lot of people from actually taking effective action (e.g. avoiding animal products) and made them feel comfortable with just blaming others. I take serious issue with the use of the word ‘responsible’ in the quote. A more accurate word might be ‘take part in’.

Marginal impact is an important concept. It is all well and good to argue that companies and governments and the system should change, and that may well be true. However, we are individual actors, and when considering what we can do to maximise or even just increase our impact, we have to think about it in individual terms. What can I do that would have the biggest impact? One might argue that we could maximise our impact by working together, but we can just capture that under the above definition. For example: As an individual, by working with others I can maximise my impact. And the reality is – as an individual, probably the most impactful thing we can do to mitigate climate change is to just not buy animal products.

Let me pose a hypothetical. Suppose you discover that there is a product you buy which turns out to contribute to a lot of suffering. In fact, over the course of your life it turns out that purchasing this product will cause several thousand lives to suffer and be ended. Strictly speaking, the company providing these goods is ‘responsible’ (to use the above and incorrect definition of the word), but you have the choice to just buy an alternative product. In this scenario, you are equally responsible (maybe more so, since the company wouldn’t create the product without your demand). By not changing your purchasing habits, you are causing these deaths.

If you agreed with this hypothetical, then I’m afraid that in order to be logically consistent you should stop eating animal products. Thousands of animals suffer and die to feed an average person in a developed nation who eats animal products, but even if you discriminate against farmed non-humans due to their species, the environmental damage of animal agriculture remains – and I haven’t even touched on its role in global antibiotic resistance.

This is not to say that I don’t think governments and companies have a role to play as well, there are many things I’d love to see them do including government targets to reduce animal product consumption. But we can’t shirk the enormous opportunity and obligation we have to reduce suffering and environmental damage just because some other entity has a role to play.

As an additional note, if you are thinking to yourself right now I don’t eat many animal products anyway, here is something to consider. I’ve copied these tweets below because they are bloody brilliant and you need to see them (I hope Christopher will forgive me), but here is the link to the originals.

Why non-utilitarians are wrong (unless you’re a moral nihilist)

Moral realism is the idea that there is such a thing as a moral fact. It is often used to refer to the existence of a single true or best code of ethics, and if anyone disagrees with this code, they are wrong. I have previously subscribed to this idea, though while I wish this were true, I do not believe it to be the case. However, I would like to propose an intermediate version of moral realism which I think is accurate.

Let us examine the two broad schools of ethical thought; deontology and consequentialism (or utilitarianism). These each have many sub-categories, but for now I will just consider them in general.

Deontology suggests that there are some actions that are always wrong, regardless of the outcome. Examples include lying, killing (usually only referring to humans or some subset of all sentient minds), and stealing. Deontology often, but not always, draws on the principles of a particular religion.

Consequentialism is somewhat the opposite of deontology. An action is defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on its outcome. For example, lying or killing someone might be good if it saved 100 people from dying. From a purely theoretical standpoint, there is no action that couldn’t be justified if the outcome was sufficiently positive.

I would like to propose that a consequentialist code of ethics that seeks to maximise the amount of wellbeing and/or minimise the amount of suffering of sentient minds in the universe (or some slight variation of this), is the best possible code of ethics, if any could be considered ‘best’ (I’m not the first one to say something like this). This is sometimes known as total classical utilitarianism. I argue that this is the case because it is the only code of ethics that actually includes the felt experiences that sentient minds care about (again, this could instead be some slight variation of total classical utilitarianism). To make my case, I will use several examples.

Many actions are only seen as ‘bad’ because they have historically been largely associated with causing suffering, and having them as social norms cause suffering. Lying is bad because being lied to feels bad, and it creates societal norms that result in bad consequences (suffering). Killing humans is bad because a societal norm of killing people for no reason causes suffering. At the end of the day, people only care about suffering and wellbeing – they are the only felt experiences. Everything else is a means to that end whether they accept it or not.

If someone thinks they they fundamentally/intrinsically care about something else, I argue that they are wrong or misguided. Intellectual pursuits are desirable because it brings one pleasure. Freedom is desirable because it is almost always associated with positive felt experience and a lack of suffering.

In a non-human animals context, some argue that rights are what are most important, intrinsically so. However, if animals care about anything at all (and I think they do), it’s avoiding suffering and having pleasurable experiences. It doesn’t make sense for humans to impose our construct of rights or deontology on them. Again, rights for animals are useful because it will probably mean we can’t exploit some 80 billion land animals each year for food, causing much suffering in the mean time.

But – the rights aren’t intrinsically valuable themselves, and it is easy to construct realistic scenarios where not having certain rights like freedom from exploitation are in the best interests of the animals. Just like a parent will sometimes stop a child from doing something that is not their best interest (even though it might be freedom), we should feel comfortable stopping an animal from doing something that is not in their best interest.

In conclusion, if someone thinks that they or others don’t care about wellbeing or suffering, they are wrong (I argue). If they think they or others only care about rights or rules for their own sake, they are wrong. I can’t make you care about ethics or ‘doing good’ (though I can certainly try), but if you do, I argue you should be utilitarian, otherwise you are applying values that no sentient mind actually cares about intrinsically, and that’s selfish at best.

Rebooting my Youtube channel

Hi all, this is just a quick announcement to say that I’m rebooting my Youtube channel, and will be putting more content on there in the near future. In the short term, I’ll be converting some of my existing posts into video format.

For now, you can enjoy two of my animal rights themed short stories which I’ve narrated (I live in Nazi Germany and Salvation and Salivation – also available on iTunes and Soundcloud), and timeless classics like You probably don’t support all persecuted groups and Surprising my brother after being away from home.

Make sure to subscribe to the channel if you want to follow future videos. Enjoy!

Insanity over plant-based food labeling in Australia

Here we go again…

Today, the Regional Services Minister Bridget McKenzie of the National Party willask a food regulation forum to back her bid to have Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) review terminology and crack down on imitation and so-called fake foods“. Fake foods as opposed to, what, real foods?

Laws are taking hold in France and Missouri, USA, which restrict the use of labels such as ‘meat’ and ‘milk’ to describe plant-based foods, even when they are clearly labelled as plant-based. For example, no more ‘plant-based meat’ or ‘soy milk’.

I’ve written about this before, and I’m frustrated that I need to write about it again. Apparently Australian Federal Government ministers don’t read my blog, because if they did, they’d surely see how their argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Let me go through a few key points in response.

[Senator McKenzie] said farmers feared their businesses were at risk because shoppers often did not realise they were buying plant-based products, rather than products from animals.

The products are very clearly labelled as plant-based. Below is a picture of the plant-based mince available in Australia that kicked up a fuss earlier in the year. For Senator McKenzie or farmers to suggest that a consumer might get confused and accidentally buy this instead of meat from an animal is an insult to their intelligence.

Senator McKenzie is also missing the point. People are buying these products not because they are confused, but because they are concerned about their health, the environment, and the suffering of innocent non-humans.

[Senator McKenzie] said as an increasing number of consumers were not eating animal products because of allergies or philosophical beliefs, “that’s their decision but we need to be careful [we] don’t confuse the marketplace and we still protect the reputation, hard earned by our clean, green farmers”.

Somewhere along the way we seem to have romanticised animal farmers – they can do no wrong. What exactly do you mean by clean and green, Senator McKenzie? Clean as in lack of disease and animal suffering? To dissuade you of this notion which I am sure you have zero risk of being biased in, please watch this recently released documentary which shows exactly how animals are being farmed in Australia.

Green, as in animal agriculture being one of the leading causes of anthropogenic global warming? This UN report is over a decade old but has gone largely unnoticed by governments and traditional environmental charities.

Federal National Party politicians have been vocal critics of plant-based protein products being labelled as mince.

This is the most ridiculous claim out of them all. The word ‘mince’ refers to the production process, not what the product is made from. To mince means ‘to cut up into very small pieces’. One can mince plants just as they can mince animal products. The fact that the National Party has been comfortable with the existence of fruit mince pies for years and have made no comment on them recently reveals their true motive.

Please sign the petition here to demand that such a law is never passed in Australia.

I live in Nazi Germany – A short story

An audio reading of this short story is available here.

Adabelle awoke on the cold concrete floor and struggled to her feet. She was young, barely 3 years old, and without a scrap of education was unable to express her thoughts in what we would call words. But she felt.

The room was damp and cold, and her bones ached like one many times her age. The white slabs of her bed were caked with the dried blood of yesterday. There were no toilets, and the room smelled accordingly. She shivered and huddled in the corner. She had no clothes to speak of. Around her she could hear the others beginning to stir.

She had been torn from her mother at a monstrously young age, and truth be told she did not remember her, only the dim recollection of a scent and a kiss. Her tormentors had taken her to a government experimentation complex hundreds of miles from where she was born, and it was all she knew.

A shrill whistle sounded as the doors opened, and the occupants of the room cried out in terror. A man in uniform strode confidently towards Adabelle’s cell and stopped before it. “This one.” The man’s smaller assistant rattled with a pair of keys and opened the stiff, aging door. He grabbed Adabelle roughly by the neck and threw her out, where she fell awkwardly and scraped her knees. “Move!” Adabelle did as she was told, and hobbled towards the main door. She had quickly learnt not to express her pain through sound. The men loved it, and would kick her again and again to hear her despair.

The day usually began with Adabelle being restrained on a metal bench and given a sedative before other substances were injected; all while a man stood taking notes and a camera recorded the scene. Adabelle couldn’t know, but they were testing a new drug with potential for accelerating brain functionality in their own race. Today though, the sedative wasn’t applied, and Adabelle immediately knew something was different. She was terrified, but kept silent, lest they hear her beating heart.

The uniformed men swapped stories and jokes as they tied her down. “Can you believe Franz passed out when I was showing him how to perform artificial insemination yesterday? What a baby.” Satisfying themselves that the restraints were taut, they turned to a spectacled man in a white coat. “What are we doing with this one today, sir?”

The man looked up from his clipboard and squinted at Adabelle. “New combat gear just came in from HQ, state of the art. This helmet is supposed to defend against supersonic projectiles, even fired at point blank range.”

The larger guard, already sweating a little in anticipation, gave a smirk. It was usually his job to carry out the experiment while the other man stood by as back up. “Think it’ll win us the war, sir?” He said.

“If it’s as good as they say it is. Which I guess we’ll find out by the end of the day, courtesy of our friend here.” The men roared with laughter, and the big guard landed a punch in Adabelle’s ribs for good measure. It was only her head they needed today. As she regained her breath, Adabelle was dimly aware of something being strapped to her head. The men put on ear protection, and one of them grabbed what looked like a long metal rod.

“Clear!” Before Adabelle could react, a deafening sound erupted through the room as a pneumatic metal slug collided with her head. She couldn’t think, and she let out a weak grunt. “Clear!” Again the slug hit her head. This time she felt it less, and the edges of her vision started to cloud and darken. If she knew numbers, she would have lost count of how many times she heard that cacophony.

Hours later, she felt herself stirring, ears still ringing.

“Aw shit sir, I think we went a little too hard. She’s toast.” A bright light filled her vision as the spectacled man looked down at her, torch in hand. The helmet was removed, and she felt rough hands touching her bruised head. Forgetting herself in the moment, she let out a short squeal of pain and was rewarded with a swift punch.

“Success. But I guess not even a German helmet can protect a soft, weak head like this.” A thumb pressed down on Adabelle’s skull, and the men laughed. “I think she’s done. Take her outside with the others.”

Adabelle passed in and out of consciousness as she was dragged outside by her legs. The guards grabbed and threw her into the back of a truck. With a start, Adabelle noticed she was in a cage with more of her people of different ages, all bruised and defeated in their own way, and that she had lost sight in her right eye. The truck shook to life and began moving. A short time later, it pulled up at another facility, where everyone in the truck was thrown out and forced up a ramp into a building. The building was full of machinery and technology reminiscent of where she had spent her life, yet somehow different. It smelled of… death.

“By damn I love technology!” The driver cried out as he drove his prisoners up the ramp. “Who would have thought we could kill a thousand in an hour? Unthinkable!”

“The gas chamber isn’t working today.” Said another man in uniform. “Take them to the killing floor.” The driver’s face fell.


As Adabelle entered the building, she looked up with her good eye and could see dozens of people observing the procession from a gantry. Many were in uniform, some were in white, and a few were in civilian clothes. There was a range of expressions from amusement, to hatred, to indifference. Only one man looked as though he might be outright sad. A single tear rolled down his cheek. His lips began to move, and if Adabelle could speak, perhaps she might have been able to make out what the man was mouthing.

“You poor souls. We have learned nothing. To you and all the others, we are Hitler.”

The guards in the room had whipped themselves into a frenzy and were kicking, punching and prodding the prisoners along with whatever they could lay their hands on. They were rounded into a small, long pen in the middle of the room where they couldn’t turn around. A man came along with the same metal rod and began firing slugs into the unprotected heads of the cows in front of him, whistling as he walked. “I’m gonna get you, I’m gonna get yoouuu.” Thunk thunk thunk. Adabelle’s turn came, and in a panic she angled her head away. The slug only glanced her skull, and the man walked on, still singing his tune. Adabelle felt the slug still stuck in her skull, and the warm rush of fluid down her face. She knew in that moment the meaning of hell.

The sound had ended, and the floor tipped to her right as the bodies slid down the slick floor to a lower level. One by one they were strung up and raised off the ground. Many were paralysed but completely aware when the final blow was dealt and their life left them in pulses. In that moment, Adabelle wished death on her tormentors, just as they wished death on her and all of her kind. And they gave her just that.

You can see my previous animal rights focused short story here, Salvation and Salivation.