Earth’s Finest Hour
SIDDARTH DAS, executive director of WWF’s Earth Hour, shares how the global environmental movement has harnessed social media to connect the world community to support climate change.
BY SIDDARTH DAS
PHOTOS GLOBAL WARMING IMAGES/WWF, WWF-PHILIPPINES/GREGG YAN
t was a usual Saturday evening in March 2007 in Sydney. At exactly 7.30pm, the city’s famous skyline dimmed as over two million Sydneysiders and 2,000 businesses voluntarily switched off their non-essential lights for one hour. They sent a resounding message to the entire world that climate change could not be left in the dark any more.
That was the world’s first Earth Hour, organised by one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organisations, WWF. Since then, every year, millions worldwide take part in the movement to #ChangeClimateChange and celebrate this commitment to the planet by observing Earth Hour one Saturday evening in March at 8.30pm.
Over the past decade, the Earth Hour movement has reached over 175 countries and territories. It continues to inspire and mobilise millions to fight climate change, becoming the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment.
Earth Hour moved its headquarters from Sydney to Singapore in 2012 to be better connected to the opportunities the campaign needs to move forward. It is the first global campaign to base its operations in Singapore. From this base, Earth Hour works with WWF offices and local Earth Hour teams worldwide to power numerous environmental outcomes, protecting forests, oceans, biodiversity and communities from the impacts of climate change.
To take on the global issue of climate change, it is important that our efforts transcend physical boundaries, languages and cultures. This is where social media has played a key role. In the past 10 years, social media usage has grown exponentially.
WWF and Earth Hour’s online community, which numbers close to 25 million followers, has supported initiatives such as getting people to change their profile pictures on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to shine a light on climate action. The community has also contributed to WWF’s crowdfunding initiatives for conservation projects.
“To take on the global issue of climate change, it is important that our efforts transcend physical boundaries, languages and cultures. This is where social media has played a key role. ”
As Earth Hour turns 10 in 2017, our mission has never been more urgent. Each month seems to bring with it news of a climate record being broken or of people being affected by extreme weather events. In May, we saw devastating images of colourless corals in the Great Barrier Reef caused by mass bleaching due to rising sea temperatures. At times, it feels like not a day goes by without some kind of grim reminder of the planet’s biggest environmental challenge yet.
Those are the times I think about Earth Hour and what we have achieved. What started as a lights-out event has spurred people around the world to take more concrete actions to save the environment beyond the hour. For instance, it was only a few years ago that Uganda was losing thousands of hectares of forest to deforestation every month. Today, it is home to the world’s first Earth Hour forest after WWF-Uganda identified 2,700 hectares of degraded land and pledged to plant at least 500,000 indigenous trees as part of its Earth Hour 2013 campaign.
For Earth Hour 2015, we provided families in off-grid communities in India and the Philippines with access to solar power through crowdfunding. Funds were raised to set up a solar grid for Indian communities in the Sundarbans in West Bengal. In the Philippines, people donated money to buy solar-powered lamps for families in the remote island community of Beton.
All these were made possible by the sheer determination of individuals worldwide, who, with help from social media and digital campaigns organised by WWF and Earth Hour teams, learnt more about climate change and how people are at the heart of climate change and climate solutions.
The actions we take as individuals, communities and countries will decide what the future will look like for generations to come. As climate change accelerates and scientists attempt to determine if the Earth has entered a new geological era – the Anthropocene epoch marked by the impact of human activities on Earth’s geology and ecosystems – our planet needs an unprecedented momentum on climate action. This starts with each of us, right here, right now.
This is our time to #ChangeClimateChange.