How your morning coffee kills

*guilt trip alert* 

If you have recently treated yourself to a cup of coffee, or a meal out, you probably don’t view that as murder. That’s perhaps a good thing, or everybody would be super depressed. It costs likely less than £3.50 per month of life you save – these acts of self-indulgence cost more than you think.

We don’t view buying a cup of coffee as equivalent to cutting a month from someone’s life – even if we do know what that money could do – because the effect is indirect and distant. If it were someone next to us who would drop dead the instant we bought that new sofa, we wouldn’t. 

Also, murder has a different set of associations: maybe scheming and plotting with malice before a brutal act of vengeance. Indulging in a bag of chocolate truffles seems malign in comparison.

Action and inaction

The first important distinction is to look at what we do as different sets of actions and (likely) outcomes we make, rather than the normal distinction between action and inaction. For example, if – just be raising my pinky – I saved your child’s/mother’s/father’s life, and I didn’t, you might justly think I had (to moral equivalence, maybe not legally) murdered your loved one. Why? Because I had a set of options, one of which was ‘inaction’, which I knew (to a reasonable degree) the consequences of. What is so special about telling your body to do nothing or continue as normal, as opposed to changing course? In both cases you have option A and B, and choose one of them. All that is different is any locomotive costs entailed!

So – your morning coffee. Say you splurge a whole £3.50 on it. You chose to continue with your ordinary habits when you could have donated it and saved a month of life. Yet… Living like this is not possible. If we never celebrated, didn’t give Christmas presents (to maximise donations), and basically acted like thoroughbred utilitarians, we would probably be miserable and our social life would crumble into ashes. Instead, be aware of what your money can do and then change your behaviour accordingly. To begin with donate a small % of your income and then adjust slowly upwards. You can probably cope with 3% of your income to begin with (This might simply equate to buying less fancy brands perhaps, or taking the time not to be ripped off on your bank account)

Don’t use your need for some self-extravagance as an excuse to lie to yourself about what you need and what really is just an unnecessary indulgence. Caviar? Nope. Presents for family members? Yes.


End note: where did I get my figures from? I have done quite a bit of reading of Givewell’s methodology and charity research. Their top-rated charity, The Against Malaria Foundation, approximately saves a life per £2,100. As most these lives are under 4, using a conservative estimate of an average future life expectancy of 50 years, it comes out at £3.50 a month. Links below. Note that how much you donate can be less important than where you donate it to. Most charities have nowhere near the impact of the recommended charities by Givewell who sort through 1000s of charities

For a more interactive look at what your donations can achieve, try The Life You Can Save

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