This ask report focuses on providing free or discounted contraceptives. Contraceptives are a well-known global poverty intervention, but in so far as they affect human population they also have major effects on the environment and animals. This report primarily considers the effect that a contraceptive charity could have on animals, although more extensive reports would consider the full range of benefits, including its effects on humans. The intervention ended up looking surprisingly impactful for animals, particularly if conducted in countries with high need for contraceptives and high fish and poultry consumption.
Charity Entrepreneurship's Ask Reports Our priority ask reports are focused on what are the particular improvements or changes that can be “asked” for from corporations, governments, or individuals. Going cage free, making dietary changes, regulating slaughter practices, and many other asks all serve as examples here. They are compared based on the strength of the idea (including the evidence base and estimated cost-effectiveness), limiting factors, execution difficulty, and externalities. All of these factors together could begin to suggest which asks might be the most effective when combined with a priority animal, country, and approach. However, these ask reports are short summaries of longer unpublished reports and, therefore, even if an ask looks promising this does not necessarily suggest that it will end up being a promising charity once paired with other elements and cross-compared to the other strongest possible charities. It just suggests that it is worth further and deeper investigation from our team. You can see our full planned research process here.
If you're going to select interventions specifically to reduce the human population and have downstream consequences, it seems absolutely essential to take a broader view of the empirical consequences than in the linked report. E.g. among others, effects on wild animals (not mentioned but most immediate animal effects of this change will be on wild animals), future technological advancement, and global catastrophic risks have good cases for being far larger and plausibly of opposite sign to the effects discussed in the report but are not mentioned even as areas for further investigation.
We are very skeptical about being able to make any progress on far future effects of population given the time cap [EA · GW] we put on this report and our general skepticism towards being able to make accurate far future predictions. We use something closest to a "weighted quantitative model" [EA · GW] but would only do a more explicit model of this for the top charity ideas we investigate deeper.
I think this is evidence that the time-cap model for research is problematic in at least some ways. I don’t think you can ignore long-term consequences just because you don’t have time to think them through, and if you find yourself running out of time before you really have to publish a report, the report should be very inconclusive.
Broadly we have not considered WAS due to separate reports/views on how to deal with that (coming out soon). In short, epistemically, we tend to take a cluster view, one of which would be a cluster concerned with flow through effects. We think wild animal suffering will often be the most important consideration within flow through effects and we expect flow through effects to carry between 1% and 25% of our endline evaluation of the intervention’s promisingness. Overall, we think the effects other interventions have on wild animal suffering should be considered as a non-trivial factor, but not a dominating one. We will analyze it thoroughly in the next stage of research if this intervention would make to top 3 after shallow research of all asks we consider.
Couldn't you say the same about GiveWell's evaluation of AMF, TLYCS's evaluation of PSI or the evaluation of any other charity or intervention that would predictably affect population sizes? ACE doesn't consider impacts on wild animals for most of the charities/interventions it looks into, either, despite the effects of agriculture on wild animals.
My impression is that Charity Science/Entrepreneurship prioritizes global health/poverty and animal welfare, so we shouldn't expect them to consider the effects on technological advancement or GCRs anymore than we should expect GiveWell, TLYCS or ACE to.
So, I'm instinctively creeped out by any attempt to reduce the number of humans, and my initial reaction to this idea was basically "yikes". Having taken time to reflect and read the report, I've come around a little, in that improving access to contraception seems hard to oppose even if you're broadly in favour of more humans rather than less (though note that it's often opposed by some religious groups).
That said, I still think there's greater potential for extreme negative reactions to this idea than you appreciate. In particular, white wealthy people targeting low-income countries with the explicit aim of reducing their population has a chance of tripping people's "eugenics sirens" and drawing comparisons with the long and racist history of compulsory sterilizations. I'm not saying I would agree with those comparisons – it seems very clear that your motivations are different, and the ethnicity of your target group is coincidental / irrelevant – but I don't think that everyone would believe in your good faith as much as I do; some compulsory or semi-coercive sterilization was done covertly and in the guise of helping the recipients, so some may feel obliged to be especially wary of anything superficially similar.
You briefly addressed reputational risk in this passage:
The intervention is middling in terms of reputational and field building effects, because there is no significant risk of turning people off animal advocacy or vegetarianism if the organization wouldn’t be promoted as a directly animal-focused charity.
Bluntly, this comes across as dishonest. Aren't you worried that people might discover your true motivations aren't the same as your apparent ones, and distrust animal advocates in future?
Thanks for the analysis. :) As Carl mentions, effects on wild animals are also important. From my perspective, it's plausible that family planning is unfortunately net bad with respect to wild-animal suffering, since humans may reduce global wild-animal populations, although this is far from obvious.
Is this only from the animal products the child would have eaten themself? Should the consumption from that child's descendants be included?
Yes, in our preliminary analysis we only include effects in the first generation, adjusted for the possible increase in consumption by other family members due to increased income. We will analyse the impact of prevented consumption in the next generation, but give it smaller weight than direct effect in the first birth averted.
FWIW, TLYCS recommends PSI and DMI, and DMI is one of GiveWell's standout charities, and both do family planning work.
We are aligned more with GiveWell’s methodology and consider their recommendations more representative. Family planning is one of many interventions DMI does with considerably less resources spent on it compare to other interventions.
What is even more important, DMI (and PSI) don’t work with impact on animal welfare in mind. That leads to choice of countries (Burkina Faso, DRC, Mozambique) that are one of the least promising form the perspective of their effect on animals (we have a report on priority countries coming out soon).