If you ordered all the world's diets from least harmful to most harmful with regard to animals, the vegetarian and vegan diets would be towards the less harmful end. But there are many cases where a diet involving animal products is going to involve less animal suffering than another diet that doesn't. For example, compare eating crops grown with saturation pollination to eating honey. Honey is an animal product, and the bees do suffer when you take the honey from them, but it looks to me like saturation pollination is much worse. With most kinds of honey the bees are mostly free to do whatever they want, eat wherever they please, and come back to the hive on their own. The beekeepers want to make sure there's enough nectar locally to support the bees so they avoid overcrowding. With saturation pollination, however, large numbers of bees are released in a small area to maximize pollination and crop yields. Yet because this doesn't involve eating animals or animal products it falls within the bounds of 'vegan'.
What would a diet that was designed to minimize animal suffering look like? Has anyone worked on this?
(I suspect this is a very hard problem. For example, let's say production of a certain food generally entails a large amount of rainforest destruction. This is clearly bad for the animals that live there, but its main effect is on animals that don't exist yet, the ones that won't be able to live there in the future because the land has been converted from fertile productive rainforest to much less productive crop land or even parking lots. If you think that animals in the wild generally have good lives then this is a bad thing, but if you think the typical life of a wild animal is mostly suffering then this habitat destruction is probably beneficial on balance and should be counted in the favor of the food in question.)
Update 2014-04-17: This post is a satire of Why I Can't Stand White Belly Dancers. I don't actually have a problem with Japanese people or anyone else square dancing. While the anger and argument below are imagined, the rest is accurate. I'm happy to have anyone square dance who would like to, and if they're having fun I'm happy.
Google スクエアダンス, and the first images the search engine offers are of Japanese women in frilly petticoats and Japanese men in western shirts and string ties, playing at a traditional American rurality. How did this become acceptable? more...
When people first learn how to customize their terminal prompt they tend to go overboard with colors and information.
Over time I've settled into something relatively simple, with color indicating which machine I'm currently on. I move between a small number of computers (laptop, desktop, a couple web servers) but with computers you don't have the normal ambient reminders of location. So, color:
If there's something we think people shouldn't be doing, one approach is to ban it. Perhaps people are buying swimming pools, which then require large amounts of water, enough that at current prices there's not enough to go around. Do we say "no filling your swimming pool during the drought" or do we charge enough more for the water that people start to use less? Or say we're trying to reduce our carbon emissions to limit climate change. Do we require cars to meet certain fuel efficiency standards or do we set a high tax on gasoline, large enough to outweigh the environmental cost of the carbon emission?
These approaches, "banning" and "taxing", are often available as alternatives, and in different situations we choose different ones. We tax cigarettes but ban marijuana. You can ration permission to drive by license plate number or use congestion pricing. In general the "tax" approaches seem much better to me: charge a high enough rate to balance out negative externalities, and then use that money to do good things.
Why don't price tags show the after-tax price? In most countries this is standard, and in the US we do require it for a few things like gasoline and airline tickets. It's much more convenient for consumers because you know what something's going to cost and can have your money ready. The only advantages I can think of are relatively small: more...
We pay for most things directly as we use them: to park at a meter you put in quarters; to rent an apartment you send a check each month. For some things, however, our usage is metered and we pay after the fact: electricity, gas, water. In these cases we're often not well calibrated for marginal cost, which means we're not in a good position to make tradeoffs. Can I leave the fan on all night? Should I worry about letting this frozen food thaw in the fridge before I put it in the oven? How much should I be trying to take shorter showers? Colder ones?
I thought it would be useful to compile some rough costs of these pay-later activities: more...
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