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The green net: exploring environmental cyberspace with computer and modem.

Environmental cyberspace is a very busy place these days. New services are coming online practically every week as nonprofit groups and entrepreneurs stake out territory and try to develop services that will attract users and best serve their constituencies. This is great news for computer users and environmentalists, because there is something for everyone, from vast Internet-based environmental services with virtually infinite information and resources down to grassroots local bulletin board systems.

Expert computer users and novices alike will be able to find an online service that will match their needs, interests, budget and level of computer skill.

While there is no lack of environmental resources in cyberspace, there are decisions for users to make, especially for those on a budget. If you have a modem-equipped computer and want to try your hand at online environmental networking, plunge ahead and log on. You will need some patience and will probably run up some telephone or connect charges. And if you can get free Internet access through school or work, you're ahead of the game.

The Green Internet

The environmental resources of the Internet are readily available through several large information providers on the Internet, which also provide their users with the 'Net's basic tools for logging on to other computers, such as Telnet, Gopher, Web and e-mail.

Probably the closest thing to one-stop shopping for environmental information on the Internet is EcoNet, a large, well-organized Internet service that offers global environmental news and action alerts, access to numerous data bases, bibliographies and library catalogs, and online publications--including E Magazine! The nice thing about the EcoNet is that a lot of the global information that can be gathered through the Internet is already located in one place. You can venture out to other Internet sites on the EcoNet's Internet connection if you want, but a lot of the work is already done for you.

EcoNet, operated by the Institute for Global Communications (IGC), is also a particularly good choice for activists, with more than 4,000 grassroots groups holding memberships. Services under the IGC umbrella include specifically targeted networks like PeaceNet, LaborNet and ConflictNet, as well as INTERACT, which enables members to dispatch mail and FAXes to government officials and the media.

Access: EcoNet charges $10 per month plus an hourly fee that ranges from $3 to $7 depending on whether you access it through the Internet or through the local dialup numbers available in many areas. For information, make a voice call to (415-442-0220) or send e-mail to econet access Internet Gopher at gopher,econet.apc.org, and also a Web page at http://www.igc.apc.org.

A second large environmental information service on the Internet is EnviroLink, which shares some functions with EcoNet, with the added advantage that it is FREE. EnviroLink founder Josh Knauer describes the fast-growing service as a "Cinderella story of the Internet." In 1991, Knauer, then a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, started the service. In four years, EnviroLink has grown from an electronic mailing list of 20 college students to a huge Internet network with a claimed 550,000 users in 96 countries.

EnviroLink's extensive offerings include environmental news, databases, a large catalog of environmental publications, discussion groups, mail, online environmental action capabilities, and a chat mode that allows users to gather in electronic conference rooms and converse online. It even offers "EnviroProducts" online shopping.

Access: Toll-free local numbers for EnviroLink are currently available in only 40 cities nationwide, which limits inexpensive access for users who do not have Internet service. Voice: (412)268-7187; E-mail; admin

One of the most established gathering places on the Internet is The WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link), founded in 1985. The WELL is not strictly an environmental online service. It's more like the alternative culture's version of CompuServe, billing itself as a "virtual community" that emphasizes independent thinking and intellectual content.

The WELL's strength is its diversity--the environment is only one of more than 250 conferences on everything from social responsibility, virtual reality and the Grateful Dead to firearms, filmmaking and the First Amendment. The online publications list includes Wired, Details, bOING bOING, Mondo 2000, various fanzines and, of course, the Whole Earth Review.

Within the WELL's environmental conference, you will find several hundred ongoing discussion groups that tend to be a little more offbeat and intense than what you find on a dedicated environmental service. A few recent discussion group titles: "My Search for a Libertarian Biologist," "Three Solar Box Cookers," "Green Burnout," "Styrene Goodnight" and "Environmental Scams." The only downside of The WELL is that its richness is difficult to appreciate. The menu system is difficult and arcane, even by Internet standards, although regular users say they have come to love it over time.

That may be changing within the year, however, because the WELL, started by Whole Earth founder Stewart Brand, has a new owner, Bruce Katz, founder of the Rockport shoe company. One of his goals for The Well is a mouse-driven "graphical user interface" with icons and pictures. That, however, is a point of considerable controversy; some WELL members want it while others are adamantly opposed (and air their grievances online).

Access: WELL membership is $15 per month plus $2 per hour if you connect through the Internet. Dial-in access is available virtually anywhere in the nation for additional charges averaging $4 per hour. Information about joining The WELL is available from voice (415-332-4335); Modem (415-332-6106); or e-mail (support

Bulletin Board Systems

For modem users on a budget, or those who do not have or want Internet service, bulletin board systems (BBS) are an economical alternative. There are thousands of BBS's located in communities across the nation, and perhaps 100 dedicated to environmentalism.

Bulletin boards are online systems that can run on a single PC or Macintosh. For that reason, they are economical to operate, and many grassroots organizations and amateurs have them. Membership fees ranging from free to $50 per year. Bulletin boards tend to be much easier to use than the Internet, and most well-run local BBS's include basic Internet mail services for members. While you won't be able to "surf" the Net, you will be able to exchange free letters with people all over the planet.

You can get a list of environmental bulletin boards across North America and Europe--"The Green BBS List"--by down-loading it from the Earth Art BBS at (803) 552-4389, where the list originates. Also keep an eye peeled for it on any other boards you log onto. The Green BBS List provides modem numbers for dozens of environmentally oriented boards, everything from The Abalone Alliance and Body Dharma Online to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Library and the American Hydrogen Association.

Of particular note among green BBS's is Greenpeace's Environet (modem: 415-512-9108). It's a free, full-service bulletin board that's well worth the toll call, and you can download the Green BBS List from there, too. Daily postings include Greenpeace news releases and locations of the organization's ships.

Another terrific environmental BBS, particularly for environmental educators and students, is Classroom Earth (modem: 517-797-2737).

Graphic Interfaces

Everyone wants easy-to-use, mouse-driven online services with icons, pictures and color. They were once available only from big, commercial services like Compuserve, but this is changing.

A number of networks have begun to employ a software package called First Class, which provides both Macintosh and Windows users with a full-color graphic environment. But you first have to obtain special software from the network and load it into your computer. TogetherNet is an example of a hybrid service that provides a graphic interface for users who want it. It uses a specially adapted version of the First Class software to access databases, provide Internet conferencing and key into textual archives.

TogetherNet, which focuses on the environment and sustainable development, is particularly strong on United Nations information. It is accessible through a full Internet account, through SprintNet X.25 or direct dial through its worldwide hosts. There is an Internet gopher at gopher.together.org. and a Web Page at http://www. together.org. For further information on TogetherNet, place a voice call to (802)862-2030 or send e-mail to todd_tyrell

Another example of an environmental bulletin board with the First Class graphic interface is Earth Spirit in Santa Monica, California. This BBS has an educational bent, providing an online curriculum, environmental news, databases and events. You can make an initial connection to Earth Spirit, register, and download the graphic interface by dialing into (310)264-4785 with any communications software package. You can also make a voice call to (310)582-8228 to get membership information or order the software on a floppy.

Commercial Services

The big commercial online services such as Compuserve, America Online, Prodigy, Delphi and Genie all offer environmental information and Internet resources in one form or another, with Compuserve's being especially extensive. New this fall is Prodigy's Green Connection forum, which focuses on "the business of the environment." The idea behind this joint venture of the Environmental Product Information Center and Prodigy is to help people and companies find environmentally sound products, network, and advertise to one another. It's all part of the increasingly green scenery on the new data highway.

MICKEY MERCIER is associate editor of Connecticut Town & City magazine, and a specialist in computer communications.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Earth Action Network, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Mercier, Mickey
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Date:Feb 1, 1995
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