Our concluding video discusses the importance of the future. Since most beings that we can help exist not now but in the future, the future is of great importance. The describes how what is most important is that we set things up so that in the future animals will be helped. It describes reasons for optimism about our ability to make progress on the questions in welfare biology in the future. Our course finishes with a call to action and describes the ways in which you can get involved with helping animals who live in the wild.
Also available as a chapter of our companion ebook to the video course Introduction to wild animal suffering: A guide to the issues
In previous chapters of this book, we have seen how serious the scale of wild animal suffering is. Moreover, we’ve seen that the majority of animals who come into existence die very young, often suffering a lot in the process. This is of particular importance given that the number of animals living in the wild is estimated to be many orders of magnitude larger than the number of humans and domesticated animals combined. Preliminary investigation on the population range of various animal groupings places wild mammals over 1011, amphibians and reptiles each between 1011 to 1014, different groups of fishes over 1013, and insects over 1018.1
The level of neglectedness of wild animal suffering is also very high. It has not been considered a serious issue until recently. Most members of the general public are unaware of the situation of these animals and that they might need our help. In academia, this issue has also received very little attention.
However, despite the neglectedness of wild animal suffering, we’ve seen great potential for a substantial increase in the tractability of this problem. We’ve seen numerous examples of how we can help wild animals, and the apparent lack of tractability in other cases is often due simply to the fact that there have been no serious attempts to make progress on them. Getting academic research on this issue started and boosted can therefore exponentially increase our progress. We shouldn’t be driven by pessimism to think this can’t happen because of the present record of neglectedness. A number of new fields of research have appeared in the 20th century, some in the past few decades, that were not considered relevant areas of study before they emerged, and they are now respected disciplines in academia (including the sciences of animal welfare and a number of subdisciplines in the field of ecology). To encourage work on welfare biology, we must approach scientists and policy makers in an informed way and with proposals they will find sound and fruitful.
At the same time, we can increase the awareness of the general public about this issue so that there will eventually be more public support for helping animals. In particular, we can reach influencers, and find opportunities to make discussion about this issue possible. People may not completely agree with what we say at first, or they might mistakenly think they already know about the issue because they confuse it with something else. For example, many people think that helping wild animals means conserving species, and don’t have in mind their wellbeing and suffering. Other people might think that wild animal suffering is just about the harms some animals inflict on others. Others might think that helping wild animals consists of keeping them in nature and refraining from interacting with them. At this point, we know that these are serious and widespread misunderstandings; this is not surprising considering how little information there is about wild animal suffering. There is therefore a lot of room for improving understanding and awareness about wild animal suffering by spreading more information about animals’ lives and the arguments for their moral consideration.
If we start to work on this issue now, then in the future it will be possible to help animals much more extensively. However, there is no guarantee that this will happen. We’ve seen many ways animals in the wild are currently being helped, but there are other feasible ways to help them for which there is no public support. This problem could become even bigger in the future if there is still little support when we have even greater means to help.
The prospect for helping on a large scale might seem precarious, in that there is still so much to do and so little awareness. However, there has been significant progress. Only 10 years before this book was written, there were very few people who thought this issue deserved attention. There is already a growing and diverse group of people interested in it, including natural science students, animal advocates, effective altruists, and people interested in general in achieving a better world with less suffering. This means there are reasons not just to hope, but to expect, that 10 years from now even greater progress will have been made.
Spreading concern about wild animal suffering is important not only because of what happens today, but also because it will allow us to make a difference to the situation of animals in the future. People tend to focus on what happens in the present, or on what will happen in the relatively near future. But many more changes, advancements, and problems will take place over the long term.2 This may seem like a trivially true statement, but the implications of it are rarely accepted, and they are very important. While there is currently a very large number of sentient animals in need of help, there will be many, many more in the future. In fact, it’s likely that the vast majority of sentient living beings that will ever exist are going to exist in the future. This makes concern for the future crucially important.3 Thinking about how our actions impact the future is then essential for people who are concerned about sentient beings.
Although the future is uncertain, we can make some informed guesses about the way some current courses of action could affect it. For example, it is reasonable to expect that spreading concern for nonhuman sentient beings in general, and for wild animals in particular, will make it more likely that the future will be better than it would otherwise be. In fact, if we’re considering how we can improve the future, actions like expanding society’s concern towards those who are currently disregarded — like wild animals — seems a promising course of action, because it does not depend on any specific predictions of what might happen. However the future is, it seems that having more concern for all sentient beings, and especially for those who are currently the most neglected, is likely to make it much better.
In other words, uncertainty about the future means that we don’t know what new problems and causes of suffering there may be in the future. Increasing concern in general for all beings who can feel and suffer would help prevent bad scenarios in the future that could result in immense suffering.
We have seen that there are various things that can be done to help to make a difference for animals. You can help animals directly if you have the opportunity. You can also help Animal Ethics and other organizations that are concerned about wild animal suffering. If you think this cause is important, you can let others know about it, and encourage them to get more information. If you are involved in the defense of animals, you can include concern for wild animal suffering in your work. And if you are a researcher in natural sciences, you’re in an excellent position to promote work on this issue. Students and scientists can play a crucial role in carrying out research on welfare biology in academia. If you want to know how to do this, or if you have an idea for a promising research project, let us know and we may be able to help you. Anyone else who is interested in getting involved can also let us know and we’ll help you get started.
There’s much more to learn and to do about the situation of wild animals. This book is just an introduction to the issue. We encourage you to join us in bringing about a better outcome for animals in the wild. They need us all to give them a hand. There is a lot that can be done, not only to affect what happens now, but also what will happen in the future, and you can make a difference.
1 Tomasik, B. (2015c ) “How many wild animals are there?”, Essays on Reducing Suffering, http://reducing-suffering.org/how-many-wild-animals-are-there [accessed on 12 October 2019].
2 This is especially the case with wild animal suffering as the possibility of expanding it beyond its traditional limits is increasing. See Oberhaus, D. (2019) “A crashed Israeli lunar lander spilled tardigrades on the Moon”, Wired, 5 August, http://www.wired.com/story/a-crashed-israeli-lunar-lander-spilled-tardigrades-on-the-moon [accessed on 12 October 2019]; Perry, G.; Curzer, H.; Farmer, M.; Gore, M. L. & Simberloff, D. (2020) “Historical, ethical, and (extra) legal perspectives on culpability in accidental species introductions”, BioScience, 70, pp. 60-70.
3 See Eckerström Liedholm S. (2019) “Persistence and reversibility: long-term design considerations for wild animal welfare interventions”, Wild Animal Initiative, https://www.wildanimalinitiative.org/blog/persistenceandreversibility [accessed on 11 January 2020]. This work presents the case for the importance of considering the future, although it doesn’t consider the situation of nonhuman beings as relevant: Beckstead, N. (2013) On the overwhelming importance of shaping the far future, PhD thesis, New Brunswick: Rutgers University. On longtermism, see Greaves, H. & MacAskill, W. (2019) “The case for strong longtermism”, Global Priorities Institute, https://globalprioritiesinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/Greaves_MacAskill_strong_longtermism.pdf [accessed 7 Oct 2019]. On different strategies to influence the future see Reese, J. (2018) “Comparing the cause areas of moral circle expansion and artificial intelligence alignment”, Sentience Institute, https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/blog/mce-v-aia [accessed on 16 November 2019]. On the risks of future bad scenario see Baumann, T. (2017) “S-risks: An introduction”, Reducing Risks of Future Suffering, https://s-risks.org/intro/ [accessed on 30 December 2019].