A recent video has accused vegan activist James Aspey of hypocrisy. From what I can gather from the video, Aspey has taken part in a cruise with a number of vegans, where he gave talks which the video accuses of ‘preaching to the choir’. The video argues that Aspey contributed to environmental damage by taking part in the cruise, and is therefore hypocritical.
It seems like the main objection here is not that Aspey spent money and time on the cruise. If they were criticising the money he spent on the travel, arguing that what he is spending it on is ineffective at reducing suffering and that there were more effective things he could be doing with it, I’d be inclined to agree. But a) that doesn’t seem to be the argument, and b) we all spend money on things we don’t need when we could be further reducing suffering.
I don’t like cruise ships either, but most people don’t donate all of the money they would spend on leisure activities on donations to the worlds most effective environmental or vegan charities (as much as I do wish people would donate more). Are we not all doing the same every time we spend money on ourselves instead of reducing environmental damage or suffering?
I didn’t see a figure for the volume of emissions per person as a result of going on the cruise, but I’d be very surprised if it were more than a few tonnes. This amount can be offset via a donation of several dollars to Cool Earth. If we ignore the money being spent on the cruise that’s could otherwise be donated (that doesn’t seem to be the objection here?), anyone spending $10 on a meal when they could spend $5 and donate $5 is causing roughly the same degree of damage, unless you don’t think that an inaction can be as morally culpable as an action. I think you probably already believe this, since many people would agree that walking past someone dying and not saving them when you could for no cost is as bad as killing them yourself.
Of course, I still think spending too much money on leisure activities is bad (I still do it more than I’m happy with) and encourage people to consider donating more to effective charities (for ones own happiness, as well as for the greater good), but if we are upset with Aspey for taking part in the cruise, we should be upset with some 90% of vegans who spend money on leisure activities.
I could steelman the video by expanding the argument to saying that Aspey would have been better off giving the money to an effective cause and doing some advocacy locally. I don’t know the content of Aspeys’ talk, and in fact the video makes no effort to address it (the creator of the video, KARen Savior, is a well known critic of Aspeys’ work), but let me also steelman his involvement. If he was using the talk to get the other vegans to become more effective advocates for animals, that may well have been a decent (still not the best) use of money.
We don’t like to think about it, but every time we spend money on ourselves, there is an opportunity cost.