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Vancouver Sun: March 4 2009

Don’t feel guilty: Use soft toilet paper for your derriere

By Patrick Moore
March 4, 2009

Greenpeace, with strong support from the Natural Resources Defense Council, has come out against the sale of soft toilet tissue made with ‘virgin’ fiber. Greenpeace claims that using trees to make toilet paper is worse for the environment than driving Hummers or building McMansions.

My old organization wants Canadians to use recycled paper for TP and it’s targeting Kimberly-Clark, Proctor and Gamble, and other large tissue producers. Apparently hair shirts aren’t sufficient, now we must wipe with scratchy paper in order to rid ourselves of eco-guilt.

It makes a good story and news outlets around the world have dutifully picked it up. But it is absolute nonsense, for a number of reasons.

Not only toilet paper, but also paper in general, is made from waste from sawmills that are providing lumber to build our homes and furniture. When North American forests are harvested, all the logs that are suitable for making lumber are sawn for that purpose. Lumber is worth more than paper so no lumber company would be foolish enough to chip logs that are suitable for making 2x4s.

Paper is made from the sawdust and chips left over from sawmilling, and from logs that are not suitable for making lumber. In environmental terms this is the beneficial use of what would otherwise be a waste product. Indeed, the parts of the log that are not suitable for paper, such as the bark and fine sawdust, are burned to make energy to run the sawmill and to dry the lumber.

In the end, 100 per cent of the tree is made useful. What is wrong with that?

Some pulp used to make paper is imported from South American plantation forests where the trees are grown specifically for that purpose. Veracel, the Brazilian company singled out by Greenpeace and the NRDC, is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as having sustainably managed forests.

Here is what the NRDC website says about the FSC, “FSC is the only certification system acknowledged by the world’s leading environmental groups, including NRDC, to provide adequate protection for the world’s forests.” Greenpeace also supports the FSC, as does the World Wildlife Fund, the National Wildlife Federation and scores of other environmental groups.

Greenpeace and the NRDC claim that cutting trees to make paper is causing deforestation and huge emissions of greenhouse gas. This is simply false.

Nearly all deforestation is caused by clearing forests for agriculture or for human settlement. Forestry causes reforestation, the opposite of deforestation. To verify this all one need do is read State of the World’s Forests by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

The International Panel on Climate Change and the Kyoto Climate Treaty specifically recognize that forest management plays a positive role in absorbing CO2 and preventing its release in the first place. It is stunning that Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist for the NRDC, seems to be unaware of this.

Anti-forestry activists are doing a great disservice to public understanding of the role of forests and forestry in the carbon cycle and in keeping landscapes forested rather than being converted to other uses. The beneficial role of forests and forestry is made clear by the fact that the countries that have stable or growing forest area are the ones that use the most wood. This is the case for North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. These activists have duped us into thinking that when we use wood we are destroying forests when in fact our purchase of wood products sends a signal to plant more trees and produce more wood.

Wood is far and away the most abundant renewable material on earth. It is disheartening that so many who call themselves environmentalists are campaigning against forestry when the alternative building materials are concrete, steel, plastic and more use of fossil fuels. Of course we should recycle paper that is suitable for recycling. We are already doing that to make newspapers, cardboard for packaging, and printing paper. But when it comes to my derriere, I prefer soft to sandpaper.

Visit greenspiritstrategies.com for more information on forestry and other sustainability matters.

Dr. Patrick Moore is a co-founder of Greenpeace. He is currently chief scientist for Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver.

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