WEEKLY WEB WATCH: Green with guilt? Go to the Web to receive your eco-penance

Remember when planting trees used to mean getting outdoors and ending up with dirt under your nails and mud on your boots? You had to make an effort. Which is probably why tree planting, unless it was in your own garden, was left to people who got paid to do that sort of thing, or to Boy Scouts. Of course, there was always a band of particularly idealistic, green-minded souls who were always bemoaning the fact that the world was lucky if the rest of us managed to plant as many as two trees in our lives.

Remember when planting trees used to mean getting outdoors and ending up with dirt under your nails and mud on your boots? You had to make an effort. Which is probably why tree planting, unless it was in your own garden, was left to people who got paid to do that sort of thing, or to Boy Scouts. Of course, there was always a band of particularly idealistic, green-minded souls who were always bemoaning the fact that the world was lucky if the rest of us managed to plant as many as two trees in our lives.

Remember when planting trees used to mean getting outdoors and ending up with dirt under your nails and mud on your boots? You had to make an effort. Which is probably why tree planting, unless it was in your own garden, was left to people who got paid to do that sort of thing, or to Boy Scouts. Of course, there was always a band of particularly idealistic, green-minded souls who were always bemoaning the fact that the world was lucky if the rest of us managed to plant as many as two trees in our lives.

Except now they don't have to anymore. That's because a few of those green-minded souls have come up with a way to make it easy to plant trees.

Instead of having to get out in the cold and wet with a shovel in your hands, now all you have to do is click a mouse. 'Click here to plant trees now.' You can see it for yourself at www.americanforests.org, the Web site of the conservation organization American Forests. It has set a goal to plant '20 million trees for the new millennium' under its 'Global Releaf' program.

Currently the count is at something over 13 million. Of course, if just a fraction of Americans planted just one tree each, the goal would be easily reached. But things don't work like that in the real world, so other methods are called for, like 'Click here to plant trees now.' Of course, the catch is you have to fork out some money, but for most Americans that seems to be a lot easier than getting dirt under their nails.

As a fund-raising gimmick for a nonprofit organization, this is not bad.

It puts a new, Internet-age spin on an old idea. But the bit I really like, and that really uses the Web in a way that you could never do with print or other conventional media, is the Guilt Calculator. That's not what it's called on the site. It goes under the name 'Personal Climate Change Calculator.' But a Guilt Calculator is what it is. It allows you to select various options to fit your lifestyle and fill in figures for fuel use, annual airline trips taken and so on to calculate your personal contribution to global warming.

The average American generates around 10 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Planting 30 trees would produce enough oxygen to offset that over the course of 40 years. So there you have it. If each American planted 30 trees a year, it would be enough to offset the nation's contribution to global warming. Unfortunately, the site tells me I would need to plant 56.5 trees to offset the 18.8 tons of CO2 that my lifestyle generates per year. And right by the figure is that button again: 'Plant trees now!'

It's hard to resist. It's a great use of the interactivity and immediacy offered by the Web and should work nicely to generate word of mouth - and donations - for American Forests' Global Releaf project.

This is about the closest thing I have seen to a Web version of going to confession, or to the medieval purchasing of indulgences to buy your way into heaven. Just reach for the credit card and expiate your guilt, the modern way to deal with a very modern form of sin. Now if only it were as easy to deal with all that other guilt ...



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