- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 22, 2009

Environmental do-gooders have an annoying habit of channeling the words of Burt Bacharach’s legendary songwriting partner, lyricist Hal David. As they fight to keep Americans from enjoying the spoils of this deservedly rich nation, they are, “wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’ ” to keep us from being able to do most everything from putting gas into our internal combustible engines to using nuclear fission to power laptops. But their intifada against the soft toilet paper they believe is occupying the holders in our country’s bathrooms is their most ridiculous pursuit.

Groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace that purport to know better than you say that the overwhelmingly popular soft stuff is a menace because it is made from older trees. The longer fibers from older trees are needed to produce smoother and more supple paper. They want you to use 100 percent recycled paper, despite the sandpaper-like downside.

This focus on Americans’ posteriors is more than a bit overwrought. Soft paper is typically made up of about 5 percent recycled content, and 25 percent to 50 percent of the paper used to make toilet paper in this country is culled from tree farms, not old-growth forests. And if you don’t like that, you can always buy the recycled brands. This is called freedom of choice. Remember the U.S. Constitution?

It is not like soft tissue is some major danger to the world. Facial tissue and toilet paper production account for only 5 percent of the U.S. forest-products industry. Paper and cardboard packaging is 26 percent; more than 13 percent of forest products are culled from new trees. Newspapers account for 3 percent. Given their focus on the small stuff, it is only a matter of time before environmentalists try to pry newspaper columns such as this right out of your hand.

The 75 percent recycled paper that permeates public restrooms is the real evil, an attack on what it means to be largely safe from physical harm in this free nation. It may be cheaper, but you definitely get what you pay for.

While all the claims of ultra-softness of the better stuff is often little more than marketing, traveling the globe and experiencing the recycled rough stuff that defines trips to the restroom in many countries easily demonstrates that people aren’t just being sold a pillowy bill of goods.

Advocates for the rough stuff say its dominance in Europe and the nation’s public bathrooms proves softness is not important. But it is not like you can always choose when and where to go to the powder room.

And American consumers clearly prefer to be more comfortable. Only 5 percent of consumer sales are for 100 percent recycled toilet paper. Those who use one-ply toilet paper also often use more of it, calling the claims of tree savings into question.

But the greenies are ruthless. After over four years of attacks on Kimberly-Clark Corp. for using old trees in its popular tissue products, Greenpeace convinced the firm to agree to make its products from 40 percent recycled paper, or “environmentally responsible” lumber practices, by 2011. They’ve given up for now but the zealots are sure to come back for more.

A “Why We Fight”-style film on the use of toilet paper aimed at America’s youth is probably not far off. Greenpeace has already issued guidelines rating brands on their supposed environmental soundness.

They even have iPhone and Android-based applications on the subject. So whichever side of that all-important cell-phone software debate geeky hipsters fall on, they won’t be left out of the indoctrination.

Maybe there is a stimulus package for the long-forgotten domestic bidet industry to replace toilet paper altogether? Surely Congress can be convinced of the need to create so-called “green jobs” by adding to the federal deficit in order to undercut the evil tissue manufacturers and lumber companies who don’t provide acceptable jobs.

Maybe more literate environmentalists will take heed from the 16th century French satirical writer Francois Rabelais and demand all to use the neck of a well-downed goose?

Anyone who has been stuck camping in the woods without toilet paper knows the similarly uncomfortable nature of tree leaves, not to mention the dermatitis dangers. Like the unfortunate soul who grabs a slab of wasabi the first time they have sushi, thinking it is avocado, everyone’s heard a story about those who have mistakenly grabbed some poison ivy. Nevertheless, I bet there are advocates out there for foraging for your own toilet paper replacement.

The antidotes for all this silliness are simple. Take a clue from old musicals. When the greenies accost you in front of your local grocery with petitions warning about going to the restroom comfortably, belt out George and Ira Gershwin’s words first immortalized by Fred Astaire as if you were waving a Gadsden flag: “No, no, they can’t take that away from me.” It is only a matter of time before they will try to.

Or, just buy whatever toilet paper you want. There’s nothing more American than voting with your pocketbook. Hopefully that remains effective for at least a little while longer.

Christian Bourge is a senior editorial writer at The Washington Times.

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