Friday, February 27, 2009

Trade-Offs, TP, and Green Politics

I have been putting off writing a longer post about green politics generally because frankly I'm afraid the thing might turn out to be about 6578 pages. But slowly it's becoming more difficult to avoid. First we get the "Tax and Trade" plan from yesterday. Then today the Times tells us we have to use sandpaper on our asses or we hate trees.

It seems that the manufacture of softer toilet paper requires the use of older trees rather than recycled material. This is not a new issue for the National Resources Defense Council, which first published this report in 2005 on the topic. What's changed is that Obama's call for Cap and Trade has sent the major papers scrambling to find stories like this one.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that the NRDC's main point person on this stuff has a Ph.D. in an unknown field that 10 minutes of Googleing cannot determine, I again return to the trade-off's theme I've been harping on lately. Check out this quote from an interview with him in 2003:
Looking for the "post-consumer" label helps support and reward the billions of dollars in infrastructure investments made by local governments to collect the paper that has been used by consumers and that would otherwise be sent to costly and dangerous landfills or incinerators. That's not the case with paper that's not marked "post-consumer." It takes a little more effort to look for that label, but the environment deserves as much.
The key part for me is the bit about "billions of dollars in infrastructure investments." As if simply paying for the "billions of dollars in investments" is not enough, this guy wants us to "reward" those investments? What the hell does that mean?

Roughly translated "investments" for these folks means about what it means when the agriculture industry talks about farm subsidies or the GM talks about bailouts. It means "billions of dollars in YOUR tax money to support MY GOALS AND INTERESTS that might be used more productively elsewhere in society." The idea that the goal of recycling should be compared to other goals, say sending money to eliminate malaria in Africa or buying everyone 143 hands of "Death's Icy Grip" shaped out of popcorn, is what needs to be discussed.

Billions of dollars in "investments" means billions diverted away from something else. It's not like it's a free lunch. And using coarser toilet paper versus softer is also a trade-off. Anyone who's traveled a lot knows that on long flights home in airline seats.

Even for the Times, this story is so unfair it's silly. Everyone, EVERY-FRIGGIN-ONE makes decisions about how to reconcile the broad goals they support and the lifestyles they lead. I know very few people who want to give us everything that has adverse environmental impact in order to save the planet, but apparently the folks at the NRDC would like us to think that this "sacrifice" is not a big deal:
All toilet paper should be made from recovered, second generation fibers. No forest of any kind should be used to make toilet paper. Toilet paper made from trees should be phased out in the same way we're phasing out the use of incandescent light bulbs starting with our schools, theaters, auditoriums, office buildings, and of course our homes. A little "sacrifice" on the "need" for three seconds of softness vs. a whole lot of healthy forests left standing, providing habitat, inspiration, clean water, and soaking up carbon would be a very good change for this New Year. Let's stop flushing our forests down the toilet.
What exactly are acceptable uses of forests? Can I hunt in them? Should we just "let them be" and not try to conserve them? Can we even hope to achieve that?

Tell me what it costs, provide me with alternatives, and explain to me your real agenda - full stop. If it's simply, "Hey, this is stupid; the trees are pretty, and the toilet paper won't chafe your butt too much" I might consider it. If it's more like "You should become a vegan, join PETA, live in a recycled packing peanut house and give up your car to walk to work through forests of old growth trees and pay through the noses in taxes to achieve all of these goals through `investment'" You can count me skeptical and count me out.

1 comment:

  1. The champions of the "forests of old growth trees" should rest easy--once Comrades Obama and Pelosi are finished having their way with us, we'll be lucky if the great minds of their appointed U.S. Council for Economic Development and Distribution will manage to produce and distribute toilet paper at all--sand paper or not.