The latest email from the campaign group 38 Degrees hit my inbox earlier this week and shows signs of the organisation responding to previous criticisms made of it – but not all of them.
One criticism made by others (including many people active in other pressure groups) in the past has been about 38 Degrees talking up its own role, with very little if any mention of other organisations campaigning on the same topic. That’s not the case in the latest email, which starts with a quote from Greenpeace and goes on to explicitly name a range of other groups.
Another has been over the accuracy of claims made in its emails – especially the row of its NHS reforms legal advice (where reading the full advice 38 Degrees received certainly leaves a very different impression from the quotes included in the emails I received from them). However, the latest email not only documents many of its statements, it almost goes overboard in doing so.
But on probably the biggest criticism made of 38 Degrees – that it encourages mass, superficial activism which confuses getting a big headline number of petition signers with effective campaigning – the email is unrepentant, eagerly talking up a plan to “flood” the target of the campaign with emails.
Mass despatch of identikit emails in this form is such a controversial subject because the evidence that it works is very mixed, at best and it can be extremely counter-productive (witness the flooding of Liberal Democrat HQ with pro-electoral reform emails in May 2010 which simply served to antagonise people who should have been sympathetic to the campaign).
The 38 Degrees system does gently encourage people to customise their email, but only with a much softer push than systems used by many other organisations. Moreover, a real concern to avoid being seen as a crude mass-clictivism organisation would have seen the word “flood” avoided like the plague.
So not bad, but could be better…
Here’s the full text of the email:
“It’s crucial that the UK fights for progress at the climate change talks. And that’s much more likely to happen if Chris Huhne is feeling under pressure from us before he leaves”
Ruth Davis, Senior Policy Adviser, Greenpeace
Key international climate change talks start in South Africa next week – the future of our planet could depend on how they go. Right now, climate minister Chris Huhne is deciding what to do.  He could help the fight against climate change by promising the UK will stick to international carbon rules. Or he could rip up the rulebook by saying the UK won’t cooperate. 
If enough of us flood Chris Huhne with emails, he’ll know what the public expect of him. At the next Cabinet meeting, he’ll tell the other ministers: “if we don’t back these rules, there’ll be a public outcry”. He’ll go to the talks knowing he has to fight hard for international climate action.
Send Chris Huhne an email, telling him to do the right thing and back a proper climate deal – it only takes 2 minutes:
The government are worried about their popularity at the moment.  They won’t want to add climate change to the list of issues where they’re coming under fire. We need to make it crystal clear that if they don’t step up at the global talks, that’s exactly what will happen.
38 Degrees members have a strong history of pushing for real action on climate change. This week many other important organisations are joining in – including Greenpeace, RSPB and the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition.  If we all work together, we can send a powerful message that we want the UK to push hard for international action on climate change.
Send a quick email to Chris Huhne here:
Thanks for being involved,
Hannah, David, Johnny, Marie, Becky, Cian and the 38 Degrees team
PS: The next few weeks could be make or break for the UK’s international reputation on climate change. Send a message to Chris Huhne here: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/email-chris-huhne
 Some of Huhne’s fellow ministers have been saying some rather worrying things about the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change recently, see for example: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2011/oct/03/george-osborne-carbon-emissions-conservatives