I really enjoyed this 80,000 Hours podcast interview with Yew-Kwang Ng. His views around utilitarianism and moral realism are very similar to mine. That is – suffering and wellbeing are the only two things that can intrinsically matter, everything else is instrumentally valuable as a means to achieving wellbeing or less suffering. He also is concerned about wild-animal suffering, which is how I first heard about him several years ago.
I did disagree with his views on how we can most effectively reduce farmed animal suffering. He believes that improving welfare standards would be better in the long run than reducing the number of animals farmed by various means. The best steelman for this would be that if we could get animals in farms net positive lives, then farming more animals would be good (utilitarianly speaking).
I find this view strange in the face of Kwang’s strong concern (strong even within the space of pro-climate policy, but in line with other existential risk researchers) of the risk of human extinction due to climate change. His view is that, even if extinction risk is very small, we must act far more than we are to reduce that risk. Given that the animal agriculture industry is such a major contributor to climate change (~15-50% depending on whether you arbitrarily use a 100 or 20 year timescale), why doesn’t he advocate for solving the farmed animal suffering problem and the climate change problem with the one solution? Surely this would be more efficient than improving farmed animal welfare and then working on energy policy separately? A strange oversight (in my opinion) in an otherwise enjoyable interview.