“Let us stand together to make of our world a sustainable source for our future as humanity on this planet”
This was the tweet that the great humanitarian Nelson Mandela sent out to his followers regarding Saturday’s Earth Hour 2012—a record-breaking event involving 150 countries and territories across 6,494 towns and cities.
Why was Earth Hour so successful this year? The World Wildlife Federation, which organizes this annual massive global environmental campaign, points to social media as the catalyst that is making everything possible. “Social media is not just connecting the world but is becoming the primary organizing tool for citizens to take action,” said Andy Ridley, Executive Director and Cofounder of Earth Hour. “People from over 150 countries across the globe are harnessing the power of online platforms to physically care for the future of the planet.”
Here in the US, many of us may not yet realize, from our own experience, just how powerful social media can be as a unifying force for the common good. Yes, we’ve seen viral campaigns sweep across the nation, rallying people to get involved in causes in other countries (genocide, war, and lack of clean water in developing nations are some of the important causes that have spurred us into action), or we may have observed the ways that social media played a role in supporting political candidates or in the “Occupy” movement. But how many of us really value social media as a genuine vehicle for social change?
In places like Singapore, Russia, Serbia, Croatia, and Greece, the power of social media leading up to Earth Hour ignited a new awareness and activism about environmentalism. And since last spring, we’ve been seeing revolutionary changes driven by social media happening in many countries once stuck in political oppression. In these cases, the effectiveness of social media has been obvious. But again, here in the US the power of social media is a little harder to pin down, and I think this must be, in part, because the United States was founded on freedom of speech, and it’s an integral component of the American sense of expression. This freedom is something so close to us that we often take it for granted, and therefore don’t appreciate, for ourselves, the latent power hiding in social media. Unlike countless less fortunate souls around the world, we Americans just haven’t needed to latch onto social media as the only way to have our voices heard. We manage to find plenty of other uses for social media, though. We see countless streams of entertainment, news stories, and an easy way to stay connected with our family, friends, colleagues, and the rest of the world. We’ve also harnessed this new media for our businesses, allowing much-needed flexibility and prosperity in our creative and career pursuits.
I know, for me, that it took years of ambivalence (and even some downright refusal to participate) before I began to understand how social media can be a force for the common good right here in my own country—particularly when it comes to raising awareness about the state of our global ecosystem. Before that shift happened, my main “cause” also happened to be an environmental one, and my first college degree and career were in that field. At that time, ten-plus years ago, the large majority of the environmental movement was still anti-technology and anti-progress. We thought that the only way to protect the environment was to get people out of the technological stream as much as possible, and to go back to a more simple way of life, one that ideally left no dent on the natural world. I spent years living “off the grid,” growing my own food (still love that!), and boycotting globalization and corporate greed. Now, if you take this sentiment far enough, you end up being anti-human. And I knew many smart and educated environmentalists who weren’t so sure humans were a good thing at all. Sounds depressing, right? It was, but like many people who are forced to reconsider life and its meaning and purpose, that time was an important period of reckoning for me. Slowly, I began to drop what I thought I knew about everything that was wrong with the world, and from that emerged a new vision for the possible and, even more importantly, a deep conviction in the human spirit.
This conviction, and all that I have learned and am continuing to learn since that time from the many brilliant souls I’ve encountered in different areas of life, is what I’d like to share here on Smarter Life, Better Planet. And I hope to create a vibrant community dedicated the use of social media for the common good!