Green wires - saving the planet in cyberspace
© Copyright 1994-2002, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. All rights reserved.
Electric Dreams #28

Environmentalists don't seem to mind polluting the atmosphere flying to conferences to keep it clean. Well, at least some of them have discovered that there are better ways of meeting to save the planet - in cyberspace.

When economies depend more on information than physical movement of goods, communication becomes more important than transportation. Communication technologies - fibre optic cables, switching equipment, computers and satellites - augment, and often replace means of transport - cars, trucks and aeroplanes. It's quite clear that communication technologies are greener - unlike trucks belching poison and planes screaming at the clouds, the Internet relies mainly on pulses of light and electricity, though much less of the latter than ordinary home lighting.

It is not surprising, then, that many of the 'knowledge workers' in cyberspace, not terribly dependent on transportation themselves, are concerned about the environment. On the Net, concern shows itself in the number of mailing lists, newsgroups and other resources generated by its citizens. As far as conservation and the environment goes, these resources are huge. This is encouraged largely by non-computer users who found that the information highway is a great place for activism of any sort, and liked the idea of holding conferences at an hours notice without air traffic.

Environment related resources on the Internet come in a number of categories. There are, firstly, the forums for environmentalist discussions. EcoNet, a fee based network with a large worldwide membership, is not strictly speaking an Internet resource, but one that can be accessed through the Net as also through X.25 services such as SprintNet, or GPSS in India. EcoNet offers a number of discussion areas, reports and other documents, and it partially archived for retrieval through FTP. Other organizations provide archives of resources that can be accessed through Internet services such as the World Wide Web or Gopher. One such site is managed by the Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CAISSON), and includes policies, the full text of environment-related treaties and indexed, search able databases.

There are far too many sources to mention. There are mailing lists for those interested in acid rain, the ozone layer, recycling and wetland management. Databanks on alternative energy and forestry, genetic engineering, biodiversity and endangered species. World Wide Web areas devoted to fisheries and sustainable agriculture, and of course much more just on the bio-sciences themselves. Green in cyberspace is not just about saving whales.

Clearly that the information age must be far more environmentally friendly then the industry, simply by virtue of the technologies required to make it happen. When modems begin to replace cars as the most popular form of transport, and strands of transparent fibre supercede tar-and-metal roads as the most convenient channels of movement, the information age would have truly arrived.

  • Electric Dreams Index
  • Homepage