Sheikha Al Maskari

Every year, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) organises Earth Hour on the last Saturday of March. The idea is to dedicate an hour to the earth by turning off non-essential lights and conserving electricity to increase awareness about climate change and the negative effects it has on the planet. But how did it all begin?

In 2004, the WWF reviewed data about climate change that brought to the surface issues of endless probabilities of the negative impact humans are causing to natural resources. WWF then decided to form a taskforce that ultimately became the core team behind Earth Hour. The team at the time decided to take a more positive approach in dealing with the issue. It knew from the beginning that it would take imagination and engagement of the masses.

Engagement meant involving everyone from the government, large organisations, interested entities and the average citizen. It was about creating hope, not despair. It was about celebrating the world, not protesting against it. Many bought the idea because the core Earth Hour team sold the climate change issue with positivity that became their key success factor. For instance, in 2007, 2.2 million residents in Sydney decided that they wanted to take charge of saving the planet and by doing that they showcased the biggest voluntary act the world has ever witnessed. The event since 2007 has had a viral effect and many cities around the world followed by adopting the cause. One time zone after another started dimming and turning off non-essential lights, turning this into the universal phenomenon that we witness today. Enthusiasm rolled like a snowball across the world; it became a global event.

It is a great symbolic gesture from participants, but sceptics will simply say that it is a waste of time, and an empty promise of being Earth saviours. They think of global warming and climate change as topics that have been blown out of proportion and that are extremely exaggerated. They also believe that all the candles lit in the world on Earth Day are actually increasing emissions instead of reducing them.

Sceptics can make as many allegations as they desire; nevertheless, the objective is to spread awareness about the earth and to share a universal celebration. It is the closest thing that we have today to remotely reach the goal of a perfect earth tomorrow. It is an hour for inspiration and spirituality. People should stop thinking about what the earth can give, but instead think of what they can give it.

We need to start learning, teaching and sharing information on what we can do for this planet. Switching off electrical appliances for an hour on one day of the year is just not sufficient. Actions need to take place before and after the hour ends. Awareness campaigns on the proper consumption of water and electricity, improving recycling efforts and increasing the usage of eco-friendly products are needed. We need to start the awareness campaigns from home; with our children because the future lies in their hands and they need to learn how to shape it. They need to be equipped with knowledge, skills and habits to create a sustainable earth.

The best way to teach children is through leading by example. We can take simple steps to aid their learning and it will be a good bonding experience. We can start off by not littering, not wasting water, turning off lights that are not needed, unplugging electricity cords when not in use, and using recyclable material.  Also, good examples of activities to share with them can include taking walks, instead of using the car, planting a tree, cleaning up community parks or beaches, reading about the earth and how we can protect it, and volunteering in activities involving the environment.

So, the Earth Hour then is not just about the hour; it is about what we continue to do beyond the hour and how we commit to preserve the earth. It is a continuous effort and we must take it seriously. By taking one step after another, we can protect our children's future.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Abu Dhabi. The article has been reproduced from the Gulf News.