The Life You Can Save: Peter Singer suggests we change the culture of giving

Imagine you see a little girl drowning in a lake. You can save her, but you will ruin an expensive pair of shoes. Who cares about the shoes? you say. Human life is far more important than shoes. But what if that little girl is drowning in Africa? You can’t see her, but you know she is there. And you can still save her life for the price of your shoes. Will you do it?

Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher most well known for his book Animal Liberation (1975) outlines the above hypothetical on his website The Life You Can Save. Singer suggests on the website, and in his most recent book of the same name, that we are just as obligated to save a child we know is dying in a faraway place as we are to save one dying a few feet from us. According to UNICEF about 19,000 children die every day from poverty related conditions. Conditions that we could prevent, Singer argues, for the cost of an expensive pair of shoes.

For those of us living relatively comfortable lives with money to spare, this is not a huge sacrifice. To cut world poverty in half, The Life You Can Save website argues, would take about $125 billion per year: not a lot when you consider the fact that Americans spend $116 billion annually just on alcohol. On the website Singer suggests how much people should be donating according to their annual income: if you make less than US$105,000 per year you should donate as little as 1 percent. The website even allows you to calculate exactly how much that means for you: if you make US$30,000 per year, for example, you should donate $300.

So why don’t more people donate? Singer suggests that we need to change the culture of giving. The Life You Can Save encourages people who decide to donate to pledge on the website. As of October 2013, 16,530 people had taken the pledge. That is, they had agreed to donate part of their income to an organisation committed to fighting extreme poverty. By pledging, Singer argues, you increase the chances that you will actually give the money, and you also encourage others to donate. According to Singer, research shows that people are more likely to help if they know that others are doing so.

The Life You Can Save also offers a list of trusted organizations to give to. The list is compiled by GiveWell, a group that reviews charities. Their top two recommendations are the Against Malaria Foundation and the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative.

Visit the website and take the pledge: www.thelifeyoucansave.org

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