Shifting to a Better World

Happy Friday! I’ve written some “new” content on LinkedIn.

I argue that other than donating effectively, practicing unabashed, hardline veganism is the most tractable, impactful good we can do. I claim this through the lens of the tipping point phenomenon and counterfactuals: We can measure our good by the area shift of the S-curve, which is massive. 

I hope the piece adds to your thinking and motivation for a better world!

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/shifting-better-world-karthik-sekar

What’s the financial gain of replacing animal agriculture? [Work in Progress]

I’m working on new content to roughly calculate the societal financial gain of replacing animal agriculture. Meat from microbial bioreactors solves not just ethical and environmental issues, but, as I argue in After Meat, also solves technological, biosecurity, and food security issues too.

Consider biosecurity. Most pandemics are of zoonotic origin because animals have similar physiology to humans. And the best evidence we have suggests the same for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 is estimated to have costed humanity on the order of ten trillion dollars. Replacing animal agriculture with microbial and plant-based food would drastically diminish the risk for pandemics–I would estimate more than 90%. Therefore, we’d get at least 9 trillion dollars in benefit (0.9*10 trillion) by averting the next Covid-19. And strikingly, this figure is only factoring a sole pandemic. Replacing animal agriculture affects all future pandemics. In other words, 9 trillion dollars is the floor.

Consider environment. Climate change is anticipated to cost the world tens of trillions of dollars per year if there’s no intervention. And replacing animal agriculture is one of the best interventions to stem climate change because we get dual benefits: a bathtub-sized bioreactor can replace nearly 10,000 cows, thereby diminishing the greenhouse gas emissions and freeing up troves of land for sequestration. One paper suggests that replacing animal agriculture and rewilding land may be mostly enough. Using a present value calculation, I estimate roughly 40 trillion dollars in benefit.

Conclusion and Next Steps

So just considering two problems, we see that replacing animal agriculture is worth around 50 trillion dollars in benefit, or more than half of the world’s GDP in 2020. There are other factors too–namely suffering, technological, and food security–that will add to the total. So if it costs mere billions to develop replacers, then it’s an absolutely fantastic return on investment for governments and non-profits.

I hope you’re piqued. I’m still working on these calculations. If you would like to collaborate, or you know someone who would, then please let me know!

The Tipping Point Case for Vegan Advocacy

Finally some new content! I’ve written a post arguing that vegan meal-choice and advocacy are highly beneficial and impactful. Avoiding a beef burger for one meal is not just saving 1/1600th of a cow, it’s potentially saving thousands more by shifting the curve. The post is on the Effective Altruism Forum linked below. Moving forward, I’ll upload all written content there, but I’ll indicate here when I do.

Abstract

Animal agriculture is the most exigent problem of our generation. Diminishing animal agriculture would have the primary benefit of reducing colossal suffering as well as adjacent benefits such as improving biosecurity and significantly mitigating climate change. The good news is that a transition away from animal products will occur, but we can compel a tipping point sooner. An S-curve transition model suggests an underappreciated, significant benefit in advocating for steadfast veganism in consumers and institutions. Modest intervention can lead to substantial good, vastly more than the superficial consequences would indicate. When considering the tipping point case, vegan advocacy should be a foremost thrust for Effective Altruism because it can shift up the timeline for the vegan transition.

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/aMFFWhiQX5DvaZSDp/the-tipping-point-case-for-vegan-advocacy

Media Roundup – 01/14/22

Happy New Year! Some noteworthy media since the last post:

  1. Reddit AMA – This was a lot of fun, and I’m honestly so gladdened by the reception, even after my veganism was outed. The Internet is generally unkind to vegans, but sensibilities were strong here. That tipping point seems tantalizingly close.
  2. Interview with Gary Anderson of Night Dreams Talk Radio – Gary and I discuss the health benefits of a plant-based diet, the splendid options cropping up at our grocery stores, and John Wayne’s ignominious autopsy. Note: I admit that I’m having a hard time separating fact from fiction regarding John Wayne and the supposed amount of undigested meat in his GI tract.
  3. Interview with Karina Inkster of The No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast – Karina and I discuss the technological argument against animal agriculture and how it’s important to instill the intuition into a wider audience. We then examine how the environmental and ethical issues follow from that. Further on, we touch on the inevitability of a world where plant-based foods exceed animal-based products completely.

Released!

After Meat is now released and available at most online retailers! Here are some links:

The audiobook version is coming along well, but it’s going to be at least a couple of weeks before it’s available publicly.

Two pieces of noteworthy media developed since the last post:

  • The Kirkus Book Review – The reviewer summarizes the book and its appeal quite well. I love the penultimate line about how this transition is really another tech upgrade. That’s a beautiful and succinct way to couch the overall takeaway. This review is now the default link I send to explain After Meat to someone.

    The poor Multiverse chapter has yet another detractor. Even in the Appendix, he couldn’t escape the reviewer’s wrath.
  • Technical Outrage” – This is a post I wrote for Faunalytics to summarize some key points of After Meat. It’s a solid TL;DR for chapters 3-4, i.e. the heart of the technological argument against animal products.

After Meat will be released on November 16, 2021

It’s done.

The new title is After Meat–it’s more distinguishable, memorable, and powerful. It leans into the science fiction imagery that I’m unafraid to broach when discussing the future of food. I love it.

A variety of formats will be available:

  • Hardback
  • Paperback
  • Digital (EPUB/Kindle)
  • Audiobook (not yet started; subject to release on a later date)

I’ll be working on publicity, getting reviews, etc. until then. Let me know if you’re interested in helping out.

Sincerely,
Karthik

Avoiding Blighttown (a book update)

One of my favorite video games is 2011’s Dark Souls of the action, fantasy genre (think knights and wizards). Even though Dark Souls is regarded as one of the greatest, most influential video games of all time, it was and still is polarizing for its steep difficulty. Dark Souls demands both skill and attention. Your investment pays off in the form of intermittent dopamine rushes: you’ve cleared an area and found a new one after a long struggle. You’ve finally defeated that boss who slaughtered you for hours if not days. The combination of honing your skills, learning the enemies’ patterns, and perseverance have paid off. Now for the next area and next boss, who push your skill development even further.

I suspect that gamers that try but dislike Dark Souls tend to abandon the game early. They struggle with the first few areas/bosses, throw their hands up, and move on. In particular, they give up at the infamous Blighttown area, often described as the make or break point. In my first Dark Souls run, I got to Blighttown, put Dark Souls on hiatus, and only came back after a few months when my friend pleaded me to finish.

Welcome to Blighttown

Blighttown is inhospitable, difficult, and unforgiving. Make the wrong move and you’ll fall off a cliff to your death, be hit with a blowdart that intoxicates you, or a ghastly monster leaps out to devour you. It’s also dark and unsightly, lacking the grandeur of other Dark Souls areas. You precariously make your way down using creaky ladders and pulley systems only to be rewarded with a poisonous cenote that you must run through while boulders hurl toward you. It’s no wonder why Blighttown is regarded as one of the worst and most deterring areas in the game.

There is something of a Blighttown currently in The Future without Animal Products with Chapter 2. This chapter argues that we can’t predict the exact future, but we can predict certain trends. When I outlined The Future without Animal Products, I saw Chapter 2 as providing foundational information for the rest of the book and the main thesis (animals make for crummy technology and accordingly will be replaced). As I put pen to paper, Chapter 2 evolved and exploded, entering topics such as fluid mechanics and quantum mechanics. It’s clear now after discussing with beta readers: Chapter 2 is too long, the most difficult chapter, and a far digression from the central thesis.

In good news, beta readers, who have finished The Future without Animal Products, have complimented the total work. Ideas and arguments are viewed as provocative, surprising, and profound. Two separate readers remarked that “I’m learning something every page.” So, there is a future for The Future without Animal Products, and I’m working to revise it toward that point.

Chapter 2 will be moved to an appendix. Unfortunately, this is a big change. Furthermore, The Future without Animal Products is still too difficult; readers with college-level science backgrounds enjoy it; whereas, others remain mum. I’m simplifying the writing with the help of an editor, striving to meet the aptitude of a well-informed non-scientist. Think a typical reader of the New York Times or The New Yorker.

So unfortunately, the official publication is delayed; I see Spring 2021 as the earliest time for release. This for the best. The Blighttown experience is sometimes viewed as a necessary hazing to appreciating Dark Souls. I disagree with that notion, especially in regards to The Future without Animal Products. I want as many people to be able to access and enjoy the book as possible without sacrificing any of the key arguments/ideas. Therefore, let’s avoid any Blighttowns.

Sincerely,
Karthik

P.S. I don’t want the “publication date” to limit access to The Future without Animal Products. If you would like to read it now, send me an email. Both digital and paperback copies are available with the understanding that it is a preliminary version.