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Talk about below the belt…

February 27, 2009

Most people I know are Americans; I can’t help that. I have never lived outside the United States, though I have traveled in Europe, China, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Canada, and Mexico. And in my travels, I could not help noticing that toilet paper outside of the United States is…not all it could be. When I was in China, for instance, I could not help noticing that what was proffered as bathroom tissue was more like rolled recycled lunch sacks.

Now, Americans are not a likeminded lot. We don’t all share the same perspectives on a large number of values, issues, what constitutes a defining trait of something, &c. But it does seem that the rest of the world sees us as a collective of environmental assassins. We’re always wasting valuable resources. We use too much. We waste too much. We have too much. The inevitable destruction of the planet, which by all proportional rights belongs to non-Americans, is entirely the fault of Americans.

It’s because we’re soft. The newly identified reason for planetary destruction is specifically…delicate American buns.

Why, you might ask, is this interesting? Because it effects that non-specific class known as “future generations.” “Future generations” are like “our children.” We don’t know who they are because they are straw men.

In this Guardian article by Suzanne Goldenberg, Natural Resources Defence Council senior scientist Allen Hershkowitz provides an interesting view of what is going to interest future generations:

“Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution.”

I’d say, any public school that puts Toilet Paper Technology: The First 200 Years on its curriculum needs to be defunded, now. But it’s probably already in the Stimulus Bill.

According to Mr. Hershkowitz, “Making toilet paper has a significant impact because of chemicals used in pulp manufacture and cutting down forests.” A significant impact on what? What is significant about toilet paper manufacturing that is insignificant when manufacturing any other kind of paper? Where does recycled paper come from? It must have been paper at some point in its cycle. But in a loop of entrancing logic, Greenpeace would have us to know, “It’s easier on the Earth to make tissues from paper instead of trees.”

Mr. Hershkowitz avers that toilet paper is, after all, “a product that we use for less than three seconds and the ecological consequences of manufacturing it from trees is [sic] enormous.” And the consequences of not using that product for less than three seconds–cholera, for example–I suppose are negligible.

Ms. Goldenberg’s article equates “luxury” toilet paper with Hummers and McMansions in its ecological impact. Indeed, she appears to believe that all of these are readily capable of destroying planets.

I’m a little attenuated from the British demeanor that links McMansions, Hummers, and Target-brand toilet paper with pan-terrestrial cataclysm. In fact, I believe the Earth is a resilient planet. I’m also a little curious about the source of all the paper Greenpeace and The Guardian Weekly are using to raise planetary consciousness about layered toilet paper. Greenpeace publishes a quarterly newsletter, and The Guardian has a weekly print edition. Notwithstanding their content, neither would be very suited to hygienic prophylaxis, so their utility is limited at best.

Tender friends, we’re in an ambush. They’re coming at us from behind when we’re at our most helpless.

What the guardians of green guff demonstrate is a complete lack of market consciousness. Most of us softies buy the cheapest tissue that we find adequate. The luxury quilted squares believed by some to threaten imminent planetary ruin constitute a splinter of the toilet paper market. Recycled paper products also constitute a luxury niche; they are more expensive than regular soft tissue, and sometimes the most expensive of all. Maybe that’s why so many of us buy regular tissue instead of recycled-paper tissue! Price so often directs basic purchase decisions! But far be it that economics should pollute the pristine ideological algorithm.

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