Wild-animal suffering is a problem of immense proportions. Unfortunately, we do not currently have viable large-scale solutions to it.
For many, the absence of clear solutions means we shouldn’t be investing time in working on the problem. A very common objection to wild-animal suffering as a cause area is that intervening in nature with net positive outcomes is impractical: since we don’t fully understand the complexity and fragility of ecosystems, interventions will have unexpected or unintended negative effects. I’m of the view that rather than suggesting that we can’t do anything about wild-animal suffering, this objection suggests that we just don’t know enough about the problem nor what possible solutions might look like.
Our lack of information keeps the cause area trapped in a vicious cycle where the absence of clear solutions leads people to focus on other causes, which means wild-animal suffering remains a neglected problem. Instead of remaining stuck in this cycle, we can figure out we don’t know and what we need to know to assess if there are cost-effective solutions.
Unfortunately, there is much we currently don’t know. A good starting point is to look at how human activities currently interfere with ecosystems. Then, consider what the effects of those activities are on wild animals. Hopefully, this will allow us to identify ways we can either adjust or replicate them to improve wild-animal well-being. This approach means we improve our comprehension of the problem, establish a strong link between the suffering of nonhuman animals in the wild and human actions, and (hopefully) lead the way to viable large-scale solutions.
My focus for the next two to three years is on understanding the intersection between human activities and wild-animal suffering.
We often forget that we indirectly affect the lives of wild animals in many ways. We convert natural vegetation into agricultural and urban land and this significantly changes ecosystems. There are ripple effects on the lives of wild animals as a result. For example:
- Overabundant or invasive species face population control measures such as culling, trapping, baiting, or the systemic release of disease.
- Lower net primary productivity might lead to an increase in resource competition, which leads to a greater incidence of starvation.
- Reduced habitats might lead to overcrowding, which increases incidence of disease and host transfer, potentially leading to epizootic outbreaks.
- Monocultural land with lower yields might lead to lower populations of r-strategists, particularly insects. If they live net negative lives, this may mean a reduction in aggregate wild-animal suffering.
With this research, I plan to focus on collecting data on how, where and to what extent human activities affect wild animals and exploring their implications for wild-animal suffering. Promising areas of exploration include:
- Human appropriation of net primary productivity
- Animal population control measures
- Poverty reduction and economic development
- Crop cultivation
This is a significant undertaking. I hope to complete a series of exploratory literature reviews and on the basis of my findings, prioritize in-depth research for those topics that are most actionable on a large scale.