Earth Hour's Online Revolution

Hour's Global Spread Illuminates the Power of the Individual

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Andy   Ridley
Andy Ridley
"All the forces in the world are not quite so powerful as an idea whose time has come.

-- Victor Hugo

This timeless quote from 19th-century French author Victor Hugo has never been more relevant than in this revolutionary age of personal communication. The time of citizen journalism has truly come with social media, and there would seem to be no end to its reach and influence.

From the leaked videos of atrocities in Myanmar to the political uprising of Iranian citizens on Twitter, recent international events have shown the world that the potential of social media goes far beyond organizing coffee dates and sharing baby photos. Social media is a civil publishing platform that circumvents editorial agendas and even oppressive regimes, allowing individuals to reach mass global audiences.

The rapid emergence of Earth Hour as a platform for individuals to express their concern for the health of the planet typifies the power of the borderless communications era in which we live.

The combination of citizen journalism and a borderless forum has created the ultimate hybrid vehicle for driving the message of hope and proactivness that is needed on the road to a global climate solution. This message was delivered not only by people turning out their lights for an hour but also by an ever-growing online network during the 25¾ hours in which Earth Hour rolled out around the globe on March 27. On that night:

  • Earth Hour held the No. 1 worldwide trending position on Twitter, peaking at 2.2% of all tweets.
  • More than 1.5 million unique visitors from 205 countries and territories visited (3 million the week before).
  • There were 170,000 views of Earth Hour photos on the official Earth Hour Flickr pool and 200,000 views of the official Earth Hour 2010 video on youtube.
  • 75,000 new fans joined, which had more than 500,000 impressions.

In total, Earth Hour's social media network of friends, fans and followers is currently over 5 million strong and growing, while the number of people who have engaged with one of Earth Hour's social media channels is into the tens of millions.

Earth Hour is more than a climate campaign to collect sign-ups and petition signatures. It is a barometer of where the world is positioned on the journey to a climate resolution. Participation across 128 countries and territories is a clear indication of the global concern for what is unequivocally the greatest challenge facing the planet today. It is often said that the first step to solving any problem is recognizing the problem exists. So while we may only be at the beginning of the most important global journey of our generation, the journey has at least begun.

Likewise, Earth Hour is only at the beginning of its journey in realizing its role as a channel for idea generation. Whether with professors from rival universities or kids from different continents, Earth Hour will become a forum through which the minds of the world can engage, inspiring cognition that leads to real environmental solutions.

Earth Hour has now become so much more than an annual symbolic climate action to turn off lights for one hour. It is an ongoing global conversation driven by the citizens of the planet, by people from all walks of life who have made a conscious decision to be the change they want to see in the world; a conversation to encourage positive actions, limited only by the inherent will of mankind to want to protect the planet that gives us life.

Similarly, the world is only really beginning to recognize the incredible possibilities this new age of personal communication presents. As we stand at its dawn, Earth Hour has enabled hundreds of millions of people to initiate a conversation on how we address this most complex of issues; a conversation to inspire innovative solutions, in an age of innovation bounded only by the unbridled creativity of billions of minds.

In the burgeoning world of communication without borders, only one question remains; How far, wide and high can this revolutionary path of discourse go?

Earth Hour has enthusiastically swept the globe. It has tapped into the inherent self-preserving instincts of human nature to want to protect our life-supporting habitat. It has reconnected mainstream society, disenfranchised by "protests" and "activism," with the idea of environmental conservation through personal accountability, positive action and celebration.

This year, using Earth Hour as their platform, hundreds of millions of people across every continent united in the face of the greatest global challenge of our generation and showed their willingness to be a part of the solution.

Adding to Victor Hugo's words, it could also be said that "many ideas are better than one."

However compelling an idea Earth Hour has been shown to be, its rapid emergence could not have occurred 10 years ago, regardless of the level of concern for climate change. Even in 2007, when the inaugural Earth Hour took place in one city -- Sydney, Australia -- we did not dream that it would spawn a global phenomenon that, in the space of three years, would see citizens of 128 countries and territories across all the continents participating in what is now a global initiative to tackle climate change.

To use a climate conceit, Earth Hour has been part of a perfect storm of innovative thinking that has occurred over the past four or five years. The online revolution and the advent of social media have augmented individual expression in an unforeseeable way, resulting in boundless creative ideas and a global platform on which to exhibit them. It's this level of reach and influence stemming from the new age of personal communication that lies at the heart of Earth Hour's organic growth.

Earth Hour would not have been embraced to such an extent were it not for its open-source nature. It is a campaign that defies all conventions of traditional campaigns. It is essentially a platform to facilitate the individual expression of people who are committed to being part of a global solution to climate change, with no limits on what they can or can't do to encourage behavioral change in others. It allows everyday people to take ownership of a campaign and gives them the freedom to be highly creative in the way they drive the message forward.

On its own, Earth Hour does not hold the solutions to global warming, nor does it purport to. What it has done is empower hundreds of millions of people from all walks of life and corners of the globe with the unshakable knowledge that they are part of a global community with an acute awareness and concern for what is at stake, a community that is growing and strengthening by the day. It has shown how powerful an individual can be in the age of social media and, more important, as the age of new media matures, how formidable one can be as part of global collective.

Earth Hour will continue to provide a forum that stimulates conversation for climate solutions, moving beyond "the hour" and even beyond the issue of climate change to create a channel where all ideas for a better healthier world can be shared and realized.

Across the globe bloggers, podcasters, online video makers, mobile users and online social networkers are already using Earth Hour as their social media platform to rally the international community behind a resolution to global warming.

Citizen journalists all over the world have an acute understanding of the reality of climate change. They realize this issue is not going away and, as their medium becomes more influential, they will be catalysts in bringing the global community together to resolve it.

Through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and future incarnations of these channels, Earth Hour will strive to build an interconnected global community that knows no geographic, cultural, religious, racial or socio-demographic borders, harnessing the inherent nature of humans to want to live in less polluted communities. This innate resolve is evident in polling figures recently conducted across Chinese cities indicating a 70% participation rate in Earth Hour by city dwellers in the world's most-populous country.

It's about giving due consideration to everything you do that affects the planet, with hundreds of millions of people across every continent showing their resolve during Earth Hour to lead a global environmental renaissance. It's about bringing together a population without borders; people, businesses, governments and entire communities across the globe uniting in a single moment to celebrate one thing every man, woman and child around the world has in common: our planet.

Andy Ridley is executive director and founder of Earth Hour. Earth Hour, a WWF initiative in partnership with Leo Burnett and Fairfax Media, encourages people to turn off their lights for one hour on a specific day in March to raise awareness of what individuals can do to help the environment.