A social networking site for the eco-savvy takes off

By Joshua Bernstein

Illustration by Neil Swaab

You won’t find Ted Casselman on Facebook. Or MySpace. Even though he has more than 200 social-networking sites to choose from, Casselman, 44, a resident of Cornwall, Ontario, hangs his personal profile on a corner of the Internet more concerned with acid rain than with indie-rockers.

Casselman is a yoga-loving hiker and occasional winemaker who worries about animal rights and rain forest destruction. So it makes sense that he joined Care2 (care2.com), a 6.7-million-member site linking eco-activists around the globe. “I come from a small town where there’s no support system for people like me,” Casselman says. “Care2 makes me feel like I belong.”

But what does “belonging” mean? Are bonds forged on Care2 and other eco-networking sites really effecting change? Or are they only encouraging armchair slacktivism, the lazy man’s way to “make a difference” without breaking a sweat? Sign this petition to save the forests, dude. Don’t buy anything today and capitalism will tumble, making all the world’s ills, like, vanish.

In Internet years, Care2 is a wizened grandpa. Randy Paynter, a boyish, 40-year-old dad of two who spits out words as fast as an auctioneer, founded the site during the late-’90s dot-com boom as an environmental portal for green commerce. When it became clear that selling Seventh Generation–brand dish soap was a doomed business plan, Care2 evolved into a “one-stop shop for people who want to make a difference and influence society,” Paynter says. Care2 concentrates on connecting users to nonprofits and providing them with what he considers environmentalists’ greatest weapons: knowledge and opportunities to take action.

“If it wasn’t for Care2, many people—including myself—wouldn’t know about the issues that concern our animal-welfare and environmental movements,” says Care2 member Cindy Minde, 49, an endangered-wolf supporter in Apache Junction, Arizona. Care2’s mostly female members—homemaking moms, office workers, and young single gals alike—peruse reader-submitted and  -ranked stories about endangered falcons, grab tips on veggie vittles, donate to nonprofits, discuss endangered Canadian forests and sign petitions to prevent Arctic oil drilling.

Oh, do they ever sign petitions.

With a click, members John Hancock petitions ranging from the serious (making Starbucks honor commitments to coffee farmers) to the silly (begging the Country Music Awards to rectify its oversight and give Rascal Flatts the Album of the Year award, which has zilch to do with the environment). These petitions may seem toothless, but Paynter points to direct results: Last September, the Bureau of Land Management nixed plans to drill near Alaska’s Teshekpuk Lake, perhaps swayed by Care2 members’ 20,000 petition signatures.

I, too, want to make a difference, so I enroll in Care2. I sign a petition or two, then head to the forums. In one called Race for the Rainforest, I learn about Indonesia’s rain forest fires. Every year, rampant fires create one billion pounds of carbon emissions—more than five times the amount that the Kyoto Protocol hopes to eliminate annually. When I’ve learned my fill, I enter Care2’s Daily Action area. Today’s computer-enabled difference-maker is downloading a picture of a smiling frog standing superimposed on an American flag and the words, “I Voted!” Change has never seemed so painless. That’s Care2’s intention. “We call it the ladder of engagement: Making it easy for people to make a difference is empowering,” Paynter says.

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Issue 25

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