Petitions and Pledges

I have signed many petitions in my lifetime and the signing of pledges and petitions has been a common and easily carried out political activity. I have always had some doubt about the efficacy of petitions but they were probably far more effective when they were a done by pen and paper requiring name and address and a real signature. They were also probably more effective when they were about local and specific matters. The proliferation of online petitions on almost every conceivable subject has also meant that they can be generally ignored by the body or administration they are directed at. Consequently I only rarely sign them. At best they should be considered as only one action in a ‘bag of tools’ for the climate activist.

A petition can be loosely defined as a statement to a higher authority by the signatories requesting that some form of action be carried out – for example the changing or abolition of a law. Petitions carry a lot more weight when they are signed by prominent citizens and they usually attract a certain amount of publicity in the mainstream media when this occurs. When they have significant financial backing large advertisements with lists of the signatories are often place in newspapers. Frequently they are also published as letters to the editor in the same paper. Such actions are combined to maximise publicity for the cause. The only other time a petition attracts notice is when it is signed by an exceptionally large number of people. Having said all that I am a signatory, and strong supporter of, of the Climate Emergency Declaration Petition.

A pledge on the other hand is a different matter. It can be signed by a few, by many or even one. Rather than requiring action or changes from the higher authority it is a statement by the signatory declaring how he or she will alter, modify, or carry out their activities. By their nature pledges are few and far between whilst petitions are common. I have signed two pledges in the last twenty years or so. The first was a commitment to make a political campaign ‘carbon neutral’ where estimated carbon dioxide produced when campaigning was offset by tree plantings. Since I was the only person signing the ‘pledge’ I made it official in a statuary declaration.

The main pledge done recently was a science pledge drawn from a book by Shawn Otto which basically stated that the signatory would act on the best scientific advice and knowledge. I submitted the ‘science pledge’ to all 39 candidates in last year’s council elections. Six candidates signed the pledge including my own. None were initially elected but one of the signatories Jackson Roberts was later elected after a resignation.

It is clear that if all our elected representatives signed a science pledge then reason and logic would triumph over ‘fake’ news (read lies and distortions). If a large number of them signed the Climate Emergency Declaration we might then get some of the action on climate change that is urgently required.