When we consider problems solved, replacing animal agriculture will be one of the most triumphant milestones in history. It’s water desalination, dozens of vaccines, electric cars, drought-resistant crops, the elimination of widespread misery, carbon capture technology, and more rolled into one. I hope this article changes how you think about the importance of the alternative food effort and the sheer good that it can do.
I submit that replacing animal agriculture does more good than renewable energy or curing cancer. Let me know if you agree or not.
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!
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.
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.