Sunday, March 13, 2011

Animal Millionaires

Hello to all my loyal blog readers. First of all, I would like to apologize for the long hiatus between posts. I started working at a new job in mid-December, and while this has been able to meet many of my needs, it has kept me away from updating this blog for the past couple months. This blog is certainly a project I wish to continue however, and I hope to get back into fairly regular updates as I settle into my new position.

Recently, as I was getting to bed at my new early bedtime, I decided I should put together a list of goals for myself. I wrote down all of one item on this list before I got distracted and eventually fell asleep. The one item I put down on my list was, “Become an animal millionaire”.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term it is one that Erik Marcus brings up fairly regularly on his blog. An animal millionaire is someone who, through their actions, has led to a million animals' lives being saved.

What would it take to become an animal millionaire?

Some people choose to foster animals to help save them from certain deaths in shelters. I imagine I could probably foster roughly 15 cats or dogs at a time, over their roughly 15 year life spans. Given that I likely have roughly 60 years left to live myself, I could probably save 60-ish lives by fostering animals. This would also come at a cost of tens, possibly even the low hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Another technique many have chosen to take for the animals is illegal direct action. Supposing I chose to put my direct action directly towards saving animals (as opposed to causing property damage), my most optimistic projection would be that I could rescue a few thousand animals before earning an extended sentence in my own cage.

This is at least far better than the marginally legal direct action group Sea Shepherd, which manages to get Japan to miss their whaling quota by a few hundred in a good year (out of a quota of roughly 1000 whales). This comes at a cost of millions of dollars to the animal rights movement, and a crew of what appears to be dozens of people. Sea Shepherd's activism comes at a cost of roughly $10,000 per whale saved and saves a mere 10 animals per person-year of work by the crew.

Legislative challenges vary greatly depending on the piece of legislation. California's proposition 2 will likely impact the lives of billions of animals once it goes into effect; although, it is unclear how many, if any, lives will ultimately be spared by this piece of legislation. This came at a cost of roughly $10 million from the YES side, and required perhaps a couple thousand person-years of work. Missouri's proposition B on the other hand will influence the lives of no more than a couple hundred thousand animals per year. It came at a cost of $1.7 million in support to the YES side and likely several hundred person-years of work.

What if we spent our time trying to get as many people as possible to go vegan? If we really put our energy into it, we could talk to several hundred, perhaps even a couple thousand people per week. Obviously the vast majority of people would not make a large lifestyle change from their brief conversation with us, but out of speaking with a few thousand people, it is not unreasonable to think we could get at least one to make a change (along with hopefully pushing many others in the right direction). In a wealthy nation like the United States, getting just one young person to go vegan will typically save the lives of roughly 2000 animals over the remainder of that person's life. Vegan Outreach makes conversing with this many people on a regular basis entirely possible. They print out booklets that, in addition to presenting information to people in a clear and effective manner, also serve as excellent conversation starters with interested people.

Using Vegan Outreach materials, one of their leafleters, Vic Sjodin, managed to pass out booklets to over 100,000 people in a single semester. You may not be the veritable leafleting god that Vic is, but any person donating a full year of their labor to the cause, could most likely get out 100,000 booklets over the course of that year. Depending on how effective of communicators we are on behalf of the animals, it is entirely reasonable that we could get 50-100 people to go vegan over this time period, at a cost of no more than $12,000 to print those booklets (plus perhaps a few thousand more in gas costs). Getting a mere 50 young Americans to go vegan would amount to a million lives saved.

All of the figures in the above table are admittedly very rough estimates. Reasonable error bars on these would be as much as a factor of ten in either direction. Yet even admitting that much uncertainty, there is a clear winner if we are interested in doing what is best for the animals, and that difference is so much so, that using this method, any one of us could easily become an animal millionaire multiple times over within our lives.

Imagine yourself taking just one day every other week to leaflet at a college campus or a concert that young people will be attending. Similarly, imagine yourself setting aside just a couple hours worth of work from every paycheck to donate to Vegan Outreach. Taking these two small steps will set you up to easily reach the goal of becoming an animal millionaire within a decade. I challenge all of you to see which of us can accomplish this simple task the most times over.


  1. While searching for vegan blogs I saw yours and was curious (I haven't look at the rest of your blog yet, but so far you don't seem like a skeptic!)

    I just wanted to add that there are other ways of reaching out to people rather than leafletting. I think that sometimes it's even more effective to just engage in a conversation with someone rather than hoping people will take the time to look at their new pamphlet.

    Something that I've found that works a lot is simply asking where a vegan/vegetarian restaurant might be. Usually they have a good idea, and if they don't then maybe they'll look it up.

    OR cook a vegan dinner for friends! I think that putting a little more effort goes a longer way.

  2. A skeptic isn't the opposite of an optimist! Just saying.

  3. Are you responding to my post? I don't think skeptics and optimists can be compared, they're two separate things. When I saw "skeptic vegan" I thought this blog was going to be about questioning the vegan diet, seeing if it valid, etc. A skeptic is just someone who never believes just what they see and they want to search for the real truth, while an optimist is someone who has a positive outlook. I'm not sure how they compare! You can be skeptical of a vegan diet but be optimistic that it is valid maybe? I'm a little confused.

  4. OK, I understand now. I hadn't thought to parse "vegan skeptic" in that way, but I see what you're saying. The reason I am glad to find blogs like this one is because I am a vegan and a skeptic, two categories that don't seem to overlap very often. It seems like the majority of other vegans I encounter have anti-science biases and are partial to New Age-type beliefs, of which I am skeptical. So when I see the combination of the words "vegan" and "skeptic," my heart skips a beat because my first instinct is to recognize myself in those words.

  5. Ah, so maybe instead of saying skeptics and optimists are opposite, skeptics and vegans aren't opposite? I was really confused!

    I completely agree. A lot of the vegans you find aren't as interested in the facts, they just inherently trust it (like the newest account of vegan parents starving their baby by feeding him soy milk instead of breast milk...). Good point to bring up!

  6. As a new vegan and general skeptic I've been trawling blogs and such and was glad to find this.

    I just wanted to comment on this post though.
    What do you define as saving an animal's life? I would say that realistically a vegan's goal is not to save lives, though arguably it does that too. But I would say the primary effect is to stop animals being bred to be abused and killed for our benefit in farms. Those animals lives aren't saved ... they are instead saved from a life of almost certain horrendous pain, unpleasantness and early death at our hands.

    I personally think it's important to remember that distinction.

  7. Skepticism and optimism are in no way incompatible. A skeptic is merely someone who asks for independently-verifiable evidence before judging a claim either true or false. An optimist is someone who has a generally positive view of the world and is usually happy. There are plenty of optimistic skeptics, and skeptical optimists.

    Unfortunately, there aren't many skeptical vegans, which is why I love this blog. I wish I could count the number of vegans I know who, for instance, fall for "ionized/alkaline/de-ionized/oxygenated" water scams, who then ask me things like, "why would I ever need chemistry anyway?"

    That's just one example, and it doesn't even directly touch on animal-rights related issues.

    Keep up the good work, Vegan Skeptic!

  8. Excellent post! Thank you.

  9. You make some great points. I'm a Leafleter and I'm convinced that it's by far the most valuable animal advocacy I can do. I believe that because of my experiences and the experiences of others. However, as a skeptic myself, I must point out that there's not yet any reliable data that proves that leafleting is the most effective or even the most cost-effective animal activism.

  10. With all the debate over semantics, the commenters seem to have missed the glaring arithmetic error. Two thousand animals times fifty vegans equals one hundred thousand, not one million, animals. Saving one million animals would require creating 500 vegans at a cost of $200,000 and 10 person-years--a bit more work, but still doable.

  11. Barring the error mentioned above and the call for better data on leafleting effectiveness, this is still an interesting start. Crunching the numbers, even roughly, is relevant to effective action.

    But there are more factors in play. For each action there can be side-effects: people merely reading about the actions can go vegan och vegetarian. Some might become more negative. Such postive/negative indirect effects must be researched and included.

    Another factor worsens the direct action alternative: it may rescue some animals but the animals are then likely replaced by other animals. So if the goal is to decrease the total number of animals suffering in slavery then it is unclear if direct action has any direct effects at all in that regard. It might have indirect effects by imposing economic costs on the oppressors.

    1. Also, some rescued and spared animals eat more animals even after they are resuced themselves. Think of all the cows and chickens killed to feed dogs and cats. Think of all the krill (tiny crustacean animals) killed by baleen whales and all the fish and seals killed by toothed whales.

  12. With the relatively low fees and high number of people reached via leafleting with quality citationed booklets, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely to be one of the best interventions we have at this time. And that is why I do it each and every week.
    Joe Espinosa

  13. 2000 * 50 = 100,000 not 1,000,000 as claimed!

  14. Please tell me you did not actually lump all vegans into the anti-science category. That is utterly absurd. We are no more alike than all meat-eaters. Just because you've met a few vegans who happen to also buy into the woo woo has nothing to do with being vegan itself. Please apologize for your gross generalization.

  15. Anonymous July 13, 2011, were you referring to my comment in which I said "It seems like the majority of other vegans I encounter have anti-science biases and are partial to New Age-type beliefs, of which I am skeptical"? If you read that again you will see that I did no lumping or generalizing, but qualified my statement with "it seems" and "vegans I encounter." I was very clearly talking about my anecdotal experiences and impressions, and very clearly not making a statement about all vegans. I'm smart enough to know the difference between anecdotes and data, and said nothing that merits an apology.

  16. I think as far as animal rescue goes, you should distinguish between wild animals and tame animals. For example, would it be kind to release animals born and bred in captivity? Or domesticated animals such as dogs and cats? Answer: no. Why? Because tame animals can't defend themselves in nature and would die horrible deaths when abandoned by their human owners. Dogs and cats set free, on the other hand, would wreck havoc on the ecosystem (birds, reptiles, small mammals). Vegan or not, we have to be honest and admit that not all human interaction with animals is cruel/bad and many animals (domesticated, and those born in captivity) are better off where they are. It's sheer romanticism (absurd naivety?) to pretend that animals live magical, happy, peace-filled lives in the wild. No, animals aren't joyous in the wild. Wild animals usually end up being the lunch of some other wild animal.

  17. For the skeptic, AND the confused, AND the intellectual.


    scientifically-credible vegan information:

  18. Article on estimated success of leaflets:

    Lots of uncertainty.

  19. Can anyone talk seriously about being an animal millionaire when meat production results in 25 times LESS death than arable farming once you factor in pest control?

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