On Position Flexibility; And A Correction

The Considerates' Pledge is what formalizes the principles that make our community different from the normal political fray. 

Sometimes we get great opportunities to show some of them in action. Today we're going to focus on two principles in particular:

5. I will have the courage to change my views as I learn, and praise others for doing similarly.

9. I will have the courage to compassionately help other Considerates to improve their ability to promote these principles and their Pledge. I will gratefully embrace feedback from my fellow Considerates on improving mine.


In yesterday's post about Carbon Emissions and Personal Decisions, we cited a study that claimed that owning a dog takes up a larger carbon footprint than owning an SUV.

A few of the Considerates, including Ned, Seph, Ryan, and Chris, quickly went to check the math on the study and found that it makes a lot of assumptions that don't hold up to scrutiny.

Some examples:

  • Ned points out that 1.67 square miles of resources needed for 2.2 lbs of chicken seems very high. That translates to approximately 1000 acres. Intuition says that much land can feed much more than a chicken.
  • To compare, Ned also cites the personal reporting of some voluntary subsistence farmers, who suggest a family of 3 could be fed on less than an acre
  • Chris points out a quick number-check by a researcher at the Sightline Institute, who says the numbers in the study would require dogs to eat about twice as much as humans to be right. 
  • Chris also points out that a lot of dog food is made of animal byproducts that aren't sold to humans, suggesting that the marginal carbon impact of that meat is very low (assuming it would be thrown out otherwise).
  • Seph points out that doing a quick Googling of the book finds a few folks that do their own math to challenge the conclusions of the study, including this one that suggests the study might be off by a factor of 20.

I think the thing I'm most proud of is that the Consideartes community quickly and decisively not only brought a skeptical mindset (which is one of the skills we value) but also went and quickly got the data (which we also value) to draw their own conclusions, when many major news outlets (CBC, ABC news, BBC, the Telegraph, the Guardian, etc--worth nothing that the book was first published in the UK, which is probably why) published the study without a second thought. That's really cool. 

So how does this relate to the Pledge principles above?

First, it's a great example of the Considerates embracing giving feedback--I quickly got a lot of people who chimed in and did work to help the blog be accurate and fair, which is awesome.

Second, it's an example of changing our minds. I believed the study, but the new data seems to show a preponderance of evidence for the opposite conclusion -- that SUVs indeed have a greater carbon footprint than pets (though "by how much" would require more math than we've yet done), so my mind is changed on the matter. And I know that nobody in the community will say "gotcha," but instead continue to encourage this from all of us.

That's also really cool.

Position flexibility can be really hard: we often stake our pride and believe we stake our reputation on never being wrong -- or at least never admitting to being wrong. But there's far more data out there than we can ever consume. We do need to take positions after research and consideration, and at the same time acknowledge we only have part of the picture. When they see more of the picture, the true Considerate quickly alters their position based on their new understanding, rather than staying emotionally attached to what they previously believed.

We don't need to be right all the time, and we never will be. What we need to do is be the kind of people who want to always strive to be more correct and accurate than we were previously.

Finally: thanks again to the Considerates for all the help this last day!



Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.