Let’s take 30 seconds to think about innovators. What do they look like? Where do they work? What do they do? You might imagine labs, research centres, NASA, spacesuits and white coats.

Some years ago, I would probably have agreed with you. Then - ironically enough, in a moment of “lights out” - I saw the light. The truth is each of us is an innovator. It has nothing to do with what you wear or where you work. Technology isn't innovation - the ability to transform lives is.

On March 30, the world will witness 24 of the most inspiring hours for the environment, as people around the world come together for WWF’s Earth Hour. From Singapore to Santiago and Nairobi to New York, millions will unite, switch off their lights and speak up on why nature matters. For me, each of them is an innovator.

Not because switching off a light takes much innovation, but because they share the vision that together, we can show the world we care about climate change and nature loss. These two threats are our planet’s biggest environmental challenge yet. It is easy to put your hands up and say the stakes are stacked against us, or they are too high to try. But each of the individuals who participate in Earth Hour has decided their ambition is higher, and I believe this changes the game entirely. Together, they are participating in creating a new future that will change the world we live in, not just for our generation but for our children, their children and so on.

In the past decade, Earth Hour has inspired millions to support and participate in critical climate and environmental initiatives, helping drive climate policy, awareness and action worldwide. Among its highlights, the movement has helped create a 3.5 million-hectare marine-protected area in Argentina and a 2,700-hectare Earth Hour forest in Uganda; ban all plastics in the Galapagos; plant 17 million trees in Kazakhstan; light up homes with solar power in India and the Philippines; and push new legislation for the protection of seas and forests in Russia. In 2018, French Polynesia moved to protect five million square kilometres of its seas to preserve ocean ecosystems. This was made possible because ordinary individuals like you and me decided that it was time for change.

Lamps representing the 60 minutes for Earth Hour during which lights are switched off, in the Philippines
Lights go out for 60 minutes across the world during Earth Hour
Image: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

The truth is that when it comes to climate change and the loss of nature, sometimes the numbers and facts just seem too big. Every year seems to be the hottest year on record. Each new disaster leaves a new reality for hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, in its wake. WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report shows an average decline of 60% in the population size of some species in less than 50 years.

We feel daunted and dwarfed. But it's exactly at times like these that we need to remember each one of us can innovate. Using the power of digital and social media to spur your friends, family and colleagues to take action will transform lives, across generations. If that isn’t innovation, I don't know what is.

When we started Earth Hour in Sydney 2007, we wanted a voice that could speak to those who were completely ambivalent about climate change. Five percent of people cared and 5% thought it was a hoax, leaving 90% who were a potential tipping point. We never imagined that today, Earth Hour would be the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, spanning more than 7,000 cities in more than 180 countries and territories. To think it all started with one symbolic gesture, one light switch.

The power of symbols to generate real change is amazing. In today’s social media-driven world, where 140 characters are too much to take in, the reach that symbolic gestures have is incredible. Indeed, if society really is at a tipping point, these gestures are what build intrigue and tip people over into taking concrete action.

The UN's first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 was a conference attended by diplomats, representatives from companies and a few civil society organizations. Fast forward to 2015's COP21 summit in Paris, and people were very much present and vocal both online and offline, with technology connecting them to policy in an unprecedented way.

We need the same swell of activity in the build-up to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in 2020. We need to inspire the world to push nature up the global agenda. 2020 sees a historic moment when world leaders will take key decisions on the future direction on the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals and the CBD itself.

These decisions will set the agenda for the next decade. We need governments, businesses, financial institutions, civil society and ordinary people to commit to halting and starting to reverse the loss of nature. A New Deal for Nature and People will unite a movement to restore our planet.

Twelve years after the first Earth Hour, this is a new beginning. As we raised awareness for climate change then, we need to raise awareness for nature loss now. We can write a future which is visionary and fearless. We can decide today the kind of world that generations to come will live in. Let’s make it one filled with hope and transformation.

Join Earth Hour 2019. It’s time to step up and be the innovator you can be.