Technology can connect us all in support of our planet, by Dermot O'Gorman

It is no surprise that a good idea has the power to spread quickly.

Just four years ago, we waited with expectation and hope for the first Earth Hour to begin. Understandably, anxiety was high. This was a big, potentially spectacular idea, but one that we had yet to prove was actually possible.

At 7.30pm on Saturday, March 31, the first lights went out around Sydney. Eventually, most of the CBD including the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge were plunged into darkness and joined by more than 2 million Sydneysiders.

We had shown that together, Australians are capable of making a big statement in support of our planet.

From that proof-of-concept stage onwards, WWF could not hold back people’s enthusiasm. By 2008 Earth Hour was happening on a national stage. By 2009, it was international.

Last year, hundreds of millions of people in 128 countries took the simple but powerful step of switching off the lights for one hour. The simple idea had spread like a virus.

Businesses in Mexico were joining in with families in Germany, communities in Fiji and schoolchildren in South Africa. Icons and landmarks as diverse as the Pyramids of Giza, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer and the Las Vegas strip were switching off the lights.

Millions upon millions of people in China were able to freely and peacefully voice their concern for the state of the planet and their hope for a better alternative.

I had the privilege of switching off the lights in front of Beijing’s Forbidden City – home to emperors and empresses and proof that Earth Hour can cut across cultural and language barriers.

The sheer scale of growth had surprised and excited us. After four years of incredible success, we were left with one big question – what do we do next?

Through the history of Earth Hour, there had always been naysayers who complained that we were engaged in symbolism; that we weren’t making a difference; or that we were pushing an “anti-human, anti-development” agenda.

The hundreds of millions of people who came together to join in the world’s largest environmental campaign gave the strongest possible answer to these cynics.

The naysayers missed the point – but all good ideas can be improved by being challenged.

We know that Earth Hour needed to become more than one hour of darkness. It couldn’t remain a one-dimensional campaign to reduce energy use. To inspire people to new heights, we had to up the challenge.

We only have one planet, so the challenge we face is to create a world where 6 billion people can live in balance with nature.

So this year, WWF is asking everyone to go beyond the hour.

Making small changes to our lifestyles may not seem to have a dramatic effect, but Earth Hour has shown that a good idea can spread, and if these small changes are copied by hundreds of millions of people around the world, we can start to make a real difference.

One person in Geelong or Albany deciding to install a solar hot water system, or a rain tank, may seem like a drop in the ocean. One family in Brisbane deciding to walk the kids to school may not seem like a revolution.

The digital age is changing the way we connect with people as well as the way we think about sustainability.

For the first time in human history, our ambition to connect with one another no matter our location may finally be matched by our ability to do so.

Through the power and reach of the social media, WWF is connecting these good ideas to a global audience. We have created a place for people to share these actions and be inspired by others.

Technology continues to become faster, cheaper, smaller and more accessible. Mobile phones are morphing into devices that can deliver global communication and connect distant peoples.

Across emerging and developing economies, the number of people connecting with mobile phones is growing by the day. Already almost half of the population of Africa has access to a mobile.

In regions that may often seem unconnected, we are using the power and potential of mobile technology so that a classroom in Swaziland can add its voice to the campaign along with schoolchildren in Sydney.

We are really just beginning to see the potential of social media to help us create a sustainable planet. Millions of people are joining with us, sharing their ideas, actions and inspiration.

This connectivity has the power to change the way we work together — inspiring generations of people to take action.

The writer, Dermot O’Gorman is the chief executive of WWF-Australia. This article has been reprinted with permission.

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