Climate campaign issues 'wake-up call' to world leaders

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George Bush, Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac are in bed, fast asleep. All around them the evidence of climate change is clear and pressing but nothing can rouse the world leaders from their slumber.

"Global warming is here, but our leaders just won't wake up," says a voice. "Now you can sound the alarm. Go to avaaz.org to send your leader a wake-up call."

These adverts, broadcast this week in Paris, Berlin, Washington and Delhi, represent the opening salvo of a new movement of online activists that already claims to have almost 900,000 members in 198 countries.

Their rather modest aim is to change the world by forming a grassroots organisation with a global reach that can campaign on issues ranging from climate change to Aids in Africa.

"We have been inspired by watching those moments of global consciousness such as the aftermath of 9/11 and the run-up to the Iraq war," said Ricken Patel, one of the founders of Avaaz, which means "voice" in several Asian languages. "We are trying to build that sort of infrastructure online and to reduce the gap between the world people want and the world we have."

The adverts - timed to coincide with meetings being held in Germany to set the agenda for this summer's G8 meeting in Heiligendamm - are the start of an effort to build the sort of global activism that could genuinely wield influence

The organisers believe that email and letter writing campaigns on a global scale can push governments to act and that its activists can exchange information through the internet and by other instant means such as text messaging.

"Climate change is a pretty classic example of a global problem that requires a global solution," said David Madden, another of Avaaz's founders and an activist previously involved in the Australian group GetUp.org.au.

"We are asking people to send world leaders a wake-up call. The post-2012 stage of Kyoto is too important to be left to bureaucrats. World leaders need to get down to business."

Can such lofty aims succeed? The organisers of Avaaz were inspired by the success of the progressive US group MoveOn, which was formed during the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton. Its political action committee has raised funds for and supported scores of political candidates, most recently more than a dozen Democrats in the mid-term elections last November.

Among the successful candidates backed by MoveOn was Patrick Murphy, a former US soldier who won in Pennsylvania.

Eli Pariser, founder of MoveOn and one of the directors of Avaaz, told the Personal Democracy Forum website: "We think this model - which in the US has brought three million folks into the political process, developed a new small-donor base for Democratic candidates, and helped win a number of key elections, can have an exciting impact worldwide."

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