During 2014, I got into a movement called Effective Altruism, thanks to my roommate John. This movement, among other things, advocates for doing good via donating money, improving charities’ impact through evidence-based research and comparing charities’ efficiency through the data they publish.
It is a nascent movement, so detailed research and conclusions on many fields are still lacking. There is good data for things like global health and extreme poverty, but not much on improving human rights, education, internet freedom, prison reform and other areas that are of interest to me.
I decided to donate 5% of my income this year, up from $200 last year.
The charities I will be donating to are:
I wanted to distribute my charity between different areas, while keeping in mind there are many other causes I support, that I will get to in future years. This is a bit more info on why I chose these ones:
Mercy for Animals
They are responsible for most undercover videos taken at factory farms. It is incredibly cool that I can legally donate money for people to do that. That is no accident – MFA has successfully fought every single state law prohibiting the filming in factory farms. Check out this badass video of their 2013 year in review.
BRAC focuses on education efforts for girls in third world countries, including sexual and reproductive health education, vocational training and general life skills. They also took the trouble to figure out if their programs have any positive effects, and published fairly impressive results
Future of Humanity Institute
While the previous two charities are working on improving the world right now, FHI is focusing on figuring out problems that will affect humanity in the future, hopefully making progress on them before they become an immediate emergency. Their recent publication of a book about the dangers of superintelligent AI actually managed to get all kinds of people and companies to stop and consider the effects of technologies they’re working on. More generally, they’re working on killing Moloch dead.
Both Planned Parenthood and ACLU receive vast amounts of donations compared to the above charities. I don’t think that my donation would have a large marginal effect on the amount of good these two organizations do. Instead, I donated to them so that they can have one more name in their list of donors. My friend Elizabeth told me that since these two organizations do lobbying, it is useful to them to be able to say “x many people in your constituency donated to this cause this year”.
“Ya esta en el aire girando mi moneda…y que sea lo que sea”
I recently ran an Animal Suffering Documentary Night, that led me and many of my friends want to reduce how much meat we consume, in order to reduce animal suffering. If you’re not familiar with the tremendous amount of suffering that animals undergo in order for us to eat them, please watch this 12m short film, called Farm to Fridge
This post is not about that, however. After the documentary, I got together with my roommate Quinn and we decided to actually plan out a bug eating night, which is an idea we’d been talking about for a while, but had never actually acted on.
Let me give you some bug-related facts first.
1. Bugs are nutritious. Cricket meat has a higher percentage of protein than regular meat. Additionally, bugs have higher amounts of zinc, iron and other nutrients.
2. Bugs are efficient and environmentally friendly. Raising one pound of cow meat requires 200 sq. meters of land, whereas one pound of cricket meat requires only 15 sq. meters of land. That’s 170 times more efficient. Raising one pound of cow meat requires 2000 liters of water, whereas one pound of cricket meat requires only 1 liter of water. Finally, one pound of cow meat requires 22 bags of feed, whereas a pound of cricket meat takes only 2 bags of feed.
So as I was looking at these facts online, it became clear to me that the main reason we don’t eat bugs is because we think they’re gross. The ‘ewww’ factor. But actually, plenty of cultures around the world do eat bugs. There are 3000 ethnic groups documented that eat bugs, and over 1000 species known to be eaten by humans. The average household in Congo, for example, eats 300g of caterpillar a week. That’s a significant part of their meals.
In fact, my own culture, Judaism, considers 4 species of locust to be kosher. My first experience eating bugs was as a very religious teenager in Israel, during a [kosher] locust plague. Even then the main resistance I saw from other people was that it was gross (and some people tried to argue that it wasn’t actually kosher, despite what the talmud says)
So we decided to have a bug-night where we would get together as friends, and try out some bugs together and see if they really are as gross as we thought. At the very least we’d have a good time with friends. What it turned out was that we all managed to get over the initial fear of eating bugs and we found they actually tasted pretty good! Other than the amount of work it took to prepare (cooking for 14 people is pretty stressful), I think I could eat bugs pretty regularly. And many of the people present said the same.
Some quotes from my friends:
“This is a million times better than I thought eating bugs would be.”
“My control group is not eating bugs right now.”
Finally, although many of my friends came (we had 10 people come and 4 more that were unable to make it) I wasn’t sure whether I should post about this event on Facebook and talk about it openly with other people. Something I’ve been working on lately is deciding how much of myself and my weird interests (such as bug eating) to show to the world at large. I was mostly concerned that people would be more interested in telling me their opinion of what I’m doing than in actually listening to me about why this interests me as a topic. So I’m trying out writing it all out in a blog post, and then pointing people to this page as an experiment. I have never blogged before, so I’ll see how this goes and may post more things in the future, based on interest.