Lately, my boyfriend and I have been planning our garden. How many beds we’re going to build, a potential geodesic dome for the winter, and the subject of aquaponics came up. Apparently, when you introduce fish into your garden you can use 95% less water by creating an eco system for the plants and the fish. We’ve been vegan now for the past 2 years and would obviously not eat the fish. We would build the biggest tank we can and keep them as pets.
We’ve been debating on this subject because while my initial thought was “hell no,” boyfriend insists that we glamorize the way fish live in the wild today. In the wild, fish are swimming in polluted waters, they scramble to find food, and die painful deaths. With us they would have fresh clean water, always be fed, and have access to medical care.
Then there’s also the whole pet ownership thought. How is this any different than having a pet dog or cat?
I’ve been reading some articles on the subject and this comment on Is Aquaponics Cruel made me reconsider my initial “hell no” statement to a “maybe, as long as they have huge tanks”:
Intelligence, Efficiency, and Suffering
I went vegan after I read a book about water usage and efficiency in factory farming. As a programmer I’ve spent a career striving to build efficient systems. Because we live in a system, our society, I feel drawn to make efficient use of resources and to minimize the amount of harmful side-effects that my actions might have for my neighbors.
You wouldn’t eat a robot, would you?
As a sci-fi fan and self-proclaimed futurist I spend a lot of time thinking about artificial intelligence.
The AI community just made headlines when a program developed by researchers at Google just beat one of the highest-ranking masters in a game called Go. This was significant because the depth of that game, as I understand it, branches significantly wider than Chess. So, the deep learning algorithm that was used in this feat is hugely different than the largely brute force method that Deep Blue used to beat Kasparov.
I could aim a rocket launcher at the supercomputer running those Go simulations and blow it into little tiny silicon chunks and still sleep fine afterwards.
I think we can pretty accurately model worms, their movements and behaviors. But I don’t believe even the top AI researchers yet have the capacity to accurately model the emotional capacity of a dog, a cow, or a pig.
That was one of the thoughts that made me start respecting certain animal intelligences more.
What will we do when we are able to build those models though? Will it be unethical to sit at a keyboard, write a program that constructs an intelligence capable of suffering, and then tell it you’re about to pull the plug on it?
Micro and Macro
Check out this awesome video where Eric Highfield, a researcher from Sante Fe Community College demonstrates the efficiencies of an aquaponics system developed over three decades:
I’m not convinced these fish are any worse off than fish in the wild, to be honest. If they are though, if we were able to quantify the suffering experienced by this group of fish, how do we compare it to the suffering generated by alternative means?
What kind of suffering is generated from other actions we take throughout the day, besides the decisions made at mealtime? What about the actions we take that might cause some small amount of suffering to thousands or millions of people? Or decisions we make today that negatively impact the lives of future generations?
When I look at the aquaponics system like the one in the video, I don’t see a tank full of suffering. Assuming the fish are left to enjoy the full length of their lives, I see an amazing system, engineered for efficiency and self-sufficiency. It’s the kind of system that could be the answer for some 800 million people without access to enough food in the world today, and we should be happy to explore it further.
Am I wrong to think so? Tell me why in the comments!
While all of this makes sense to me on an intellectual level, I just can’t get Miley’s Pablow the Blowfish song out of my head 🙁
What are your thoughts? Can veganism and aquaponics have a symbiotic relationship?