- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Miss Crow only wanted to do something in a modest way to save trees, proposing that everyone get only “four squares” of toilet paper per visit to “the ladies” (and presumably “the gents” as well). But now the greenies, determined to inflict on us lives that only serfs could endure, have something else afoot. The National Resources Defence Council, one of those laptop-and-a-fax machine think tanks that keep Senior Fellows, Assistant Deputy Scholars and Adjunct Professors more or less employed and off welfare, has studied the prospective causes of the end of civilization as we know it and found a villain more dreadful than “gas-guzzling cars, fast food or McMansions.”

The council’s learned scholars found that the fundamental cause of mischief and grief afflicting mankind is the delicate American buttock. The American insistence on extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply toilet paper is denuding virgin forests and making wimps, wussies and weaklings of all of us. Sheryl Crow warned us, stopping just short of singing an original ballad about the perils in the possibilities of “going to the bathroom.”

“This is a product that we use for less than three seconds and the ecological consequences of manufacturing it from trees is enormous,” says Allen Hershkowitz, a “senior scientist” at the London think tank, of the lowly roll of toilet paper. “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.”

If that were not grim and grimy enough, Greenpeace, the leading not-so-merry band of enviro-nutcakes, is about to open a conscienceness-raising campaign to tutor everybody in “toilet habits” to counter the aggressive push by toilet-paper manufacturers to market “luxury brands” of (we mustn’t call it toilet paper) “bathroom tissue.”

Kimberly-Clark, one of the leaders of the paper-product industry, says three-ply tissues infused with hand lotion is one of the fastest growing market shares. One television commercial depicts a young woman caressing a roll of toilet paper said to be infused with soothing lotion. Comfort and true love besides, who could object to that? The manufacturers have enlisted celebrities, who have no issues with tissues, to talk about how “quilting,” and putting pockets of air between the layers (or “plies”) of paper have enriched their lives. “For bath tissue [i.e., toilet paper] Americans in particular like the softness and strength that virgin fiber provides,” says a Kimberly-Clark spokesman. “It’s the quality and softness that consumers in America have come to expect.” Toilet paper made from recycled rags, cardboard and firewood is available, every bit as good as No. 3 grit sandpaper, but nobody will buy it.

The longer fibers in “virgin wood” are easier to manipulate in the manufacturing process, and this in turn lends the fibers to fluffing for a softer paper. That’s what makes facial tissue soft. Every man has a responsibility to protect virgins, of course, but “virgin wood” comes from sustainable forests, mostly in Canada, planted and grown as a row crop, like cotton, wheat, rice and beans. This virgin wood, mostly pine, grows faster than lumberjacks can cut it down. More than a third of the continent is forested, and despite the enormous population growth over the past century we have more trees now than we did when Columbus got here.

Some of our environmentalists seem more concerned with scatology than sociology, but so are the accountants in the executive suites, eager for “ancillary revenues” and intent on squeezing consumers from the wrong end. Ryanair, an Irish no-frills carrier, is considering installing a coin slot on its toilets. Relief will not be cheap. There will be no “spending a penny,” in the Anglo-Irish euphemism for “visiting the loo.” Such a visit will cost a passenger a pound sterling, or about $1.40 in American money. These “ancillary revenues,” says a Ryanair spokesman, “help to reduce the cost of flying and passengers using train and bus stations are already accustomed to paying to use the toilet, so why not on airplanes?”

If the airlines can squeeze “ancillary revenues” from the most pressing human needs, can governments be far behind? If it moves, the revenue man can find a way to tax it. We haven’t reached bottom yet.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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