Monday, 6 June 2016

Linking up debates with with the evidence base


One of the most useful ways I have found to be able to turn debates online is with the well timed fact. As someone once said, people have a right to their opinions, but they don't have a right to their own facts. If people are basing their argument on an incorrect factual claim then correcting this can often be much easier than debating with someone who refuses to be logically consistent in their opinions.

So on this blog I am just going to post some links to some of the evidence base to address some of the more common factually inaacurate claims people make. Its sort of a living blog so I'll update this as I go.....

Animals aren't conscious?

Animals have episodic like memories, they remember the what where and when of events . (Why is this important? binding is a key feature of conscious, binding together sensory modalities to form a unified representation of the world. If animals have episodic memory, that is sufficient evidence that they are conscious)

Animals have cognitive biases - they experience emotional trauma that affects their cognitive judgement just like it does in human depression

Animals don't suffer when they are killed?

Up to 15% of cows are still conscious even after captive bolt, which means they are still conscious at slaughter

Between 10 and 40% of chickens are still conscious after electric stunning

Most animals these days live good lives?

82% of chickens sold in super markets have hock burns, which are caused by the animal standing in bird droppings for so long the ammonia burns through their skin

Between between 47 and 65% of dairy cows experience painful pus filled udder infections every year

Environmental impact of meat and dairy?

A vegan diet could reduce dietary GHG emissions by 70%, which monetised would save around $600 billion a year in mitigated climate change costs

An omnivorous diet uses three times more total land than a vegan diet

A vegan diet uses half the crop land of an omnivorous diet, and effectively eliminates the need to clear more rainforest to feed a growing population in the future

Crop feeds contain significant amounts of human edible grains. In standard UK feeds, human edible crops constitute 36% of dairy cow feed and 75% of chicken feed

Only grass fed beef tho?

The GHG emissions of grass fed beef are 19.2 kg of CO2 per Kg live weight. The GHG emissions of feedlot beef is 14.8 kg of CO2 per Kg live weight. The GHG emissions of soya is 2 kg CO2 per Kg of soyabeans

Health impact of an omnivorous diet?

A vegan diet would be projected to be able to save 8.1 million lives annually from early death from things like heart disease. Monetised this would save around $1trillion in avoided healthcare costs

A vegan diet reduces cancer risk by 16%, reducing prostate cancer risk by 37% and female specific cancers by 34%

A Science Based Veganism

One of the questions I have recently been thinking about is the degree to which veganism is science based. Many people try to dismiss veganism because they think of humans as omnivores, that there is scientific evidence we have evolved to eat me. To me this argument is fundamentally mistaken, but to begin I think its important to ask in what ways is veganism science based.

Veganism is scientific in the sense that it is based on the idea that both we and animals are evolutionary cousins, and in contrast to the religious beliefs that we are made in the image of god, humans are in fact not inherently special, we have no more inherent worth than any other animal. Any favour towards humans over animals then has to be the result not just of species, but on ethically relevant characteristics, such as our capacity to suffer, or intelligence or capacity for language. Since we give rights to humans who are far more lacking in these areas than animals, eg when we give rights to infants or people with severe mental disabilities who don't have moral agency, to be consistent with this we should also give rights to animals.

If we look at the arguments against this though, I think there are good reasons to reject the types of arguments I mentioned some meat eaters make about the implications of humans evolved adaptations to a eat meat. This starts with the idea that just because we have evolved to be able to do something this does not mean we should. Evolution merely selects for characteristics that promote for reproductive success within certain environmental contexts. For us, we evolved in tribal societies, and we evolved the capacity for tribal violence. But this does not mean violence right. We were also selected to be able to have as many children as possible, but that does not mean we should, particularly given our over population crisis. Humans have also discriminated against those with disabilities, and indeed many animals do this too. Should we discriminate because is natural too?

Evolution is just this impartial process, it does not dictate what is or is not ethical behaviour. We should not copy lions behaviour when they kill infant lions in completion for mates. And also remember that one of the things that made us so successful as a species is our ability to reason. If we look at how the context has changed since we lived in tribes, we no longer need to eat meat to survive, but rather eating meat puts the environment at risk. A vegan diet could reduce dietary GHG emissions by 70%, and reduces the risk of further deforestation using just half the crop land(as so much crops are inefficiently fed to animals). So when we think of the harm it causes to animals, the harm it causes to the environment and to our health, the reasonable and science based thing to do is to go vegan.