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Soft Toilet Paper: Mankind's Doom?

The kerfuffle over soft toilet paper has hit a new low. The NRDC's Allen Hershkowitz is now saying that "People just don't understand that softness equals ecological destruction." I had to chuckle after reading that last sentence (it is silly, is it not?). But then I decided to take Hershkowitz seriously. Hardcore environmentalists like the NRDC are sometimes loosey-goosey with the data; science and their religion rarely get along. Let's see how big the impact of softer toilet paper really is. Maybe, hyperbole aside, Hershkowitz has a point. Let's look at the data and find out. Despite the proliferation of tree-intensive soft toilet paper, forest area in the U.S. has remained almost unchanged over the last century. Right around 33% of total land area. Over that same time period, U.S. population more than tripled. That's a lot more bottoms, demanding ever softer toilet paper. And yet -- no net deforestation. That doesn't sound like ecological destruction. To use one of the New Religion's buzzwords, that sounds... sustainable. Deforestation is happening on a worldwide scale, according to a handy table from the Earth Policy Institute (data from the UN). They try to make it sound scary, but it isn't. I crunched the numbers. The decline amounts to roughly 0.2% per year. Not exactly a crisis. Even that slow rate appears to be in decline. I'm going to go ahead and say that Hershkowitz and the NRDC are promoting a baseless scare story. There is still a tremendous upside to all this hemming and hawing. If toilet paper is all that environmental activists have to get worked up over these days, it is a sign that, environmentally speaking, we live in good times.