Alan's ethics

updated Feb16


I decided to take a look into the ethics of the way I live my life a while ago, here are the results so far:

I don't pretend for one moment to be living an ethical life, but I thought it something I should at least be working towards, or at least it should have some bearing on the decisions I make on the way I live my life.
BTW - I don't want to give the impression I am judging anyone else here - I am just taking a moment to judge myself, as I believe Socrates said "the life which is unexamined is not worth living".

As my main guide to this subject I have taken the opinions of Peter Singer who I have a great deal of respect for (and I tend to agree with pretty much all he says on this and other subjects)
In fact, I don't think anything Peter Singer has said/written has been news to me, it rather has just legitimised what I was already thinking myself but no one else seemed to agree with me and I therfore didn't have the confidence to follow where it was leading me.


I have for some time now had this increasing feeling that the privileged life I am living here in the developed world can not be morally justified when there are lots of people dying around the world due to extreme poverty.  The basic question which keeps coming back to me is;  how can morally justify spending £2.50 on a coffee when there are millions of people living in extreme poverty in the world (in fact many people have less than this a day to live on) .

I detail here my conclusions and actions on this question partly as a way of getting it clear in my own head but also in the hope that it may inspire others to seriously look at this question themselves........also, and probably most importantly if I post to the world my intentions here then I can't change my mind later on ;-)

I have periodically worried about this question (probably for several years now) but when I ask others for advice I am usually told not to worry about it, it is not my problem, there is nothing a single person can do it is the government who should take action, I am entitled to the life I have etc. etc. and I usually sort of accept this and forget about it again.  but, a lot like when I eventually decided to go vegan - the question just keeps coming back into my head and each time it was more difficult to shake off.
I used to give a small amount to charities but I became disillusioned as I was concerned that a lot of what I was giving would be going to pay large management salaries etc. and not actually getting to the people I intended the money for (this may have partly just been a convenient excuse?), so I stopped giving all together.

“If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.”
― Peter Singer

I recently discovered that Peter Singer has written a book on this very subject The life you can save so I ordered a copy asap in the hope this would put my mind at rest.
Sadly it just confirmed everything I had already suspected and basically the life I am leading is immoral as I am living in relative luxury with a house, no fear of starvation, a police force to protect me and top quality medical care and spending large sums of money on things I do not need whilst other people die for the want of the most basic of human needs :-(
- This proved to be a very expensive book purchase ;-)

See Peter Singer at Ted HERE.  Peter singer on poverty HERE.
Also see which is a similar scheme by Toby Ord (who can be seen at Tedx HERE)

I am by no means rich (by our standards), I only work part time and I can not even afford to run my central heating for most of the winter but even so I spend £2.50 several time a week on a drink of coffee, I recently spent £300 on a "new" bicycle just because I fancied a change, I go on holiday twice a year and I like most just ignore the fact that there are millions of people living in extreme poverty.  
If people living next door were starving I would not hesitate for a moment to help them and I would clearly be a bad person if I did, but for some reason because the starving are in another country I do nothing - It was time to really take a look at the way I am living........

What Peter Singer suggests is you give around 5% of your salary to charity (varying depending on how much you earn) and then if everyone did this the funds provided would be enough to make  real difference, this way you are at least doing your part.  Whilst I agree with this it still didn't feel for me that I would be doing enough, it still felt like I was just giving myself an excuse to try to forget about the problem again...   

I originally came up with a plan that I would give the same amount every time I spend on what I consider a luxury - I did this for a while but predictably this eventually just became a lot of paperwork which didn't really achieve anything practical, just made me feel better spending money on luxuries (as every time I did some money also went to a charity) and I ended up just avoiding luxuries.  So I have now just decided to give 10% of whatever I earn.  This results in about the same amount going to a charity but considerably less time spent administering it.

BTW - this is not as big a deal as it may first sound, it is not going to change my life in any significant way, in fact to be honest it is simply the least I fell I can do.

This is by no stretch of the imagination going to result in my living an ethical  life but there is a line towards the end of Peter Singers book which gave me some comfort:
"Instead of worrying about how much you would have to do in order to live a fully ethical life, do something that is significantly more than you have been doing so far - then see how that feels...."
So I will give this a try :-)

BTW - the concerns I originally had about any money I give to charities being wasted on salaries etc. can be resolved by checking out GiveWell:
They evaluate how well the money from charities is used and list the top rated charities.  THIS Ted talk is very interesting on this subject
When discussing this subject I am finding that this is the excuse many other people use for not giving (as I did), it is a very easy and convenient reason not to do anything, but it simple is not valid.  Of course some of what you give will go on admin, staff salaries, fund raising, checking they are actually producing good results etc. but these are things which have to be done.  Of course if this was really the reason we did not give then we could just spend a bit of time finding a way we can help rather than just wash our hands of any responsibility.
btw - see THIS for some really good info on charity admin/large salaries.

Another argument I hear about saving lives is that this will just increase the worlds population and cause more problems - If you wonder about this then please watch THIS video where Hans Rosling will change your world....

see Myths about Aid

I spent some time pondering which charity to give to but as Givewell is very U.S. biased I thought that the lack of being able to use Gift Aid and the fees the credit card company is likely to charge will result in a lot of what I give not getting to the charity.  So I now give 10% of my wages to Oxfam.

It is of course very easy to just give a bit of money, but what else am I doing?
This is a question I pondered and as I result I tried doing a sponsored event (details HERE).  It was an interesting experience but I just don't have the personality required to go round asking people for money etc.  I raised some money for Oxfam but it felt a bit like exploiting friends.  If I am to do something more, I think I need to find something else.

Christianity of course does have the true ethical answer  (I don't often find myself agreeing with religions) where Jusus clearly states that all your possessions should be given to the poor (Mark 10 13-25).

My phone related adventure (Aug13)
I recently decided it was really time I bought a new cellphone asm mine is now very out of date.....I eventually decided to buy a Google Nexus as they were on offer and so after much pondering I finally went for it and ordered one....  Well, this is not actually true, I did try but when I came to the final step and clicked on the "PAY" button it came back with an error saying my payment couldn't be taken and I should try again later.
Whilst waiting I started to ponder on the idea that I am just about to spend several hundred pounds to replace a perfectly serviceable and I know the new one will seem just as out of date in a matter of months and I will be looking at throwing it away and buy the latest model again.  The amount of money I was about to spend on upgrading my phone would be totally life changing for a lot of people....
So instead of buying this new phone I decided to keep my old phone and use the money to pay for a woman's life changing surgery via  so now whilst some people may look down on my old Windows v6 phone I am VERY proud of it and I plan to keep it for many years to come :-)
- Wouldn't this be a great trend to start.

Experience so far (May14)
One unexpected result of my deciding to give some of my wealth to the poor has been the loss of a very good friend.  I am not really clear on why but it seems he was so angered that I give to charity despite his continued assertions that all the money I give will be wasted that he has told me never to try and contact him again.
I guess this is partly my fault because I am so vocal about what I give but I made the decision to do this as I think it important as it may encourage others to do the same, if I just kept quiet about it then of course he would never have known and so could not get upset by it....Sill very sad that this has happened.

I am retiring in a couple of months and as I wil no longer have an income (not a traditional retirement) I will no longer be contributing any significant amount to Oxfam, but hopefully I will start getting some income in the not too distant future and will be able to start again.


With global warming and the ever increasing world population I really need to try and reduce my negative impact on the world.

One of the worst things you can do f


or the environment is have children, this is something I have managed to avoid so good start there.  A couple of years ago I sold my motorbikes and put my car into storage and went back to cycling.  A good part of the reasons for doing this was that it just seems to me that cars have just got totally out of hand, there are just too many of them.  i.e. The age of car ownership has passed.  It does seem to me that we are now living in a vast car park.  
I have a selection of trailers for my cycle (see HERE) and find I can live without a car no problem at all, in fact life is so much less stressful when you do not have a car 

I am already doing my bit of reducing my use of fossil fuels to heat my house simply by the fact I can not afford it - It does seem to me some times that most of the cause of global warming is simply the rich part of the world has too much money?   It is not that long ago that almost no one had a car and we did not heat the entire house all the time.........

I do tend to use a lot of electricity though.  Much of this is down to my home automation system which has a PC running 24hrs a day (costing around £6 a week).  
I also generate a surprising amount of rubbish (aka trash), so this is something which needs looking at.
So all in all, I am already doing a lot for this but still plenty of room for improvement I am sure.


I am vegan  (more info HERE)  so I think I am already doing a lot for this cause - still plenty more I could be doing though, especially with regard to blood sports.

I am still unsure about vivisection and I really need to spend some time learning more on the subject to come to a decision of where I stand.

The life you can save - Peter Singer's web site about the book
GiveWell - Charity evaluation site

You can contact me on -

Back to my homepage