Millions of people express concern for the welfare of animals. In fact, a Gallup poll indicated “96% of Americans say animals deserve at least some protection from harm and exploitation” and a surprising “25% of Americans say that animals deserve the exact same rights as people to be free from harm and exploitation.” While most Americans’ actions don’t yet reflect these sentiments, these statistics provide evidence the soil is fertile for progress.
Given the opportunities to save animals’ lives, animal advocates should think critically about how to reach this sympathetic audience to maximize their impact. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned animal proponents may simply do what feels best for them, an approach that may be incongruous with effective activism. This article aims to inspire advocates to consider how they can do the most good for animals, even if it’s less exciting or elicits a more tempered response among the faithful. It explores the number of animals killed every year and begins a discussion on where your time may be best spent.
How do Most Animals Die?
Activists may begin by asking, Where do most animals die? While saving animals from seaquariums, circuses, rodeos, and zoos are worthy endeavors, in terms of numbers, animal agriculture is in a league of its own. The data below, presented in total number of animals killed per year, provides perspective on the scope of the problem.
Seaquariums: No data; thousands abused, confined, and exploited
Circuses: No data; thousands abused, confined, and exploited
Rodeos: No data; thousands abused, confined, and exploited
Zoos: No data; thousands abused, confined, and exploited
Dogs and cats (euthanized in shelters): 2.7 million
Lab animals (includes experiments): 115 million
Sport hunting: 200 million
Fur farms: 1 billion
Animal agriculture: 56 billion (land) and 2 trillion (water)
How Should Animal Advocates Allocate Time?
The next logical question is, Where can I make the biggest impact? Only 3% of the U.S. population doesn’t eat animals yet killing animals for food comprises the overwhelming majority of the killing of animals worldwide. Simply because the most animals are killed for food, however, doesn’t necessarily mean activists should spend the most time encouraging people to eat plant-based food. If we agree that the most effective advocacy saves the most animals, no area appears more deserving of exploration than how activists can accomplish that goal.
Different forms of advocacy may yield vastly different results. For example, if you spend years protesting SeaWorld and successfully close it, it’s unknown exactly how many animals you will save. Although dozens of animals die at SeaWorld, most animals are kept alive in confinement, exploited for profit, and suffer from injuries and boredom. Any figure, albeit small, discounts how the impact of closing SeaWorld may cause a domino effect that leads to other victories for animals. The concept is unproven but widely heralded.
How does a focus on animal agriculture compare? Inspiring one person to stop eating animals saves approximately 466 lives every year, or 4,666 animals in 10 years — more impactful and easier to accomplish. If all animals’ lives matter equally, does it follow that we should spend the most amount of our time trying to save the most amount of animals? If we agree on that premise, and given that approximately 98% of all animals confined, exploited, transported, abused, and killed exist in factory farms and commercial fishing, and that the impact can be so great and immediate, it may follow that advocates can be most effective for animals by promoting plant-based food.
Animal agriculture kills the most animals and advocating for plant-based food appears to be the type of advocacy that saves the most animals. The topic, however, warrants further research. Specifically, it may be worth exploring if we can advocate more effectively focusing exclusively on one cause such as animal agriculture and how advocating for multiple causes simultaneously works in comparison. The numbers matter and they should prompt us to think critically about how and where we can save the most lives. The disparity in your impact may shock you as much as the numbers themselves.
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