Note: This application was originally written for an ACX grant application in December 2023, but regardless of whether we receive that grant, we will have room for additional funding. Anyone interested should get in touch via the email below.

Name: Second Hand Cartography


1-sentence description: A Novel Intervention to Improve Subjective Well-Being Among Animals

Longer Description:

In the past year, it has been persuasively argued that charities should focus on improving the subjective well being of individuals, rather than solely focusing on material conditions. With this lens, interventions aimed at improving the mental health of individuals can be more cost effective than more traditional charities aimed at improving physical well being. While we are glad to see this important advancement in charitable philosophy recognized, its acceptance has been limited to human-focused charities. This leaves a massive blind spot in the effective altruism community, one that we intend to fill with our charity focused on the subjective well-being of wild animals.

While animal well-being is our primary motivation, we should not neglect the broader societal benefits our intervention would provide to our human neighbors and to ourselves. In an epidemic, it is crucial to treat and vaccinate not just our immediate neighbors, but people and animals on the other side of the globe, to slow the spread of diseases and prevent the emergence of new variants. Well, in May of 2023, the Surgeon General announced that the United States was in the midst of a “Loneliness Epidemic”. Despite this, no one has yet proposed tackling loneliness in wild animals that serve as natural reservoirs for loneliness in humans.

That all changes with our charity designed to tackle loneliness in animals: Podcasts for Birds. It has been well-established that listening to a podcast feels like eating ice cream with your friends, and in fact, it’s been scientifically proven that listening to podcasts makes you less lonely1. When you go out for a run, it’s nice to revel in the world around you and the feel of your body, but that feeling only really lasts thirteen minutes before the ennui sets in and you need something, anything, to distract you from the horrible emptiness inside. We think that these effects will be magnified in animals. Solitary birds will migrate for hundreds or thousands of miles, with no other birds for company. This is exactly the situation that Elijah Whistlebottom invented podcasts for in 1827.

If funded, our charity will first engage in exploratory research to identify the type of podcast most likely to appeal to birds. We expect this research to involve a review of the existing academic literature as well as interviews with experts in the field. While our charity is the first to create podcasts for birds, others have created audio material for animals that we expect will form the foundation of our research. Our searches to date have identified multiple approaches that have been successfully deployed, including Acid Jazz for Elephants and translating Romeo & Juliet into birdish. While we remain open-minded, our initial prior is that birds will prefer True Crime and Actual Play podcasts over all other genres.

Once we develop content for our podcasts, deploying the intervention will be straightforward. We plan to initially target our intervention to large sea birds (specifically the Wandering Albatross, Diomedea exulans), due to their long solitary migrations and large wing spans. There is already a large history of playing noises for animals, including seals and birds:

We will need to account for the inability of birds to recharge their headphones or podcast players, but this can be trivially solved either by attaching solar panels to their wings or (our preferred option) genetically engineering birds to have arms. Based on already-conducted interviews with energy efficiency experts as well as extensive produce research, a single 30mm x 30mm solar panel could provide enough power to sustain audio playback indefinitely. Updating the audio players with new podcasts will be done by volunteers disguised as eggs during mating season.

Our preliminary BOTEC shows that Podcasts for Birds is likely to provide 72.322 WELLBYs per $1000, 9.04x as cost effective as GiveDirectly. This includes adjustments for both the relative moral weights of animals from Rethink Priorities’s pioneering work and the increased cost-effectiveness of animal-focused charities. For this second calculation, we use results from e.g., SlateStarCodex’s Vegetarianism for Meat Eaters2, which indicates animal-focused charities are 10.977x as cost-effective as people-focused charities. Given that recent work has suggested that animal-focus charities could be 1710x as cost-effective as people-focused charities, we think our cost-effectiveness estimate is conservative.

Why we’re qualified: Podcasts for Birds is supported by a world-class team of experts in podcasts, animal welfare, and audio engineering. Members of our team listen to hours of podcasts every week, and are familiar with all the best podcasts, including Rationally Speaking, 80,000 Hours, and Future Perfect. We have years of experience working with headphones and earbuds. We know exactly how to connect wireless earbuds to new devices and have repaired our own headphones multiple times3. We have personally seen over 1,000 birds. We also have previous experience in engaging with birds, including:

  • Making honking noises at Geese
  • Shouting at Geese
  • Swerving wildly on a bicycle trying not to hit Geese
  • Being annoyed at Geese
  • Running away from a flock of Turkeys.

These qualifications make us the ideal team to implement Podcasts for Birds.

How much money do you need: $91,098.37, to fund Podcasts for Birds for 1 year. We expect this would be sufficient to produce 100 new podcast episodes, translate an additional 265 episodes, and equipment 1667 birds with listening equipment. These cost estimates assume that half of the benefit in cost-effectiveness for animal-focused charities comes from reductions in costs. View our CEE spreadsheet for more details, section “Estimated operating costs for 1 year”.

Probability of succeeding: 91.4%. We have identified the following failure modes for this intervention:

  1. P(doom) of 4.37% within the next 2 years, in a way that means the end of our organization, the destruction of all birds, or both.
  2. A probability of 2.31% that further experiments will reveal that bird anatomy is somehow unsuitable for ear buds.
  3. A probability of 2.16% that we won’t be able to identify podcast genres that appeal to birds.

Other ways I can learn about you: We believe our intervention should stand on its own merits, rather than our pre-existing reputation. We therefore won’t be providing any additional information about ourselves.

  1. According to this summary of this article that actually found that listening to more podcasts was associated with more podcast-related social engagement based on a non-representative survey of 300 people online.↩︎

  2. It has been pointed out to us that Scott thinks there are “SERIOUS PROBLEMS” with that part of his article (, #9). While we take any errors seriously, accounting for the mistake in these calculations would not change the substantive conclusions of our analysis.↩︎

  3. By cleaning lint out of the 3.5mm headphone jack.↩︎