Furthest Right

Green reality

Illusion: someday, humanity will wake up, drop everything else and focus on being green.

Reality: the green solutions that will win will be gradually adopted because they are both green and superior to the way we’re doing things now.

The national obsession with soft paper has driven the growth of brands like Cottonelle Ultra, Quilted Northern Ultra and Charmin Ultra — which in 2008 alone increased its sales by 40 percent in some markets, according to Information Resources, Inc., a marketing research firm.

But fluffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada. Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel, and most large manufacturers rely on them.


Surely with all of our technology we can find a way to use a faster-replenishing plant, like woody hemp, to grow in place of these trees. We need to re-order our priorities and throw more R&D money into a solution.

People, if given a choice between two tissues, will probably always pick the softer one, even if marginally softer. So we must be realists and address the need.

A prominent Canadian academic in the tech-policy field has said that “Green IT” initiatives don’t work.

“Most of the negative environmental impacts [of IT] occur in the form of completely unintended, second and third order effects,” says Professor Richard Hawkins of Calgary Uni. “These ‘rebound’ effects may not be mitigated by inventing ‘greener’ IT products and, indeed, may be intensified by such changes.”

University of Calgary

He’s right — the real green impact is our infrastructure, which directly relates to the number of people we have.

Each person requires at minimum a liter of water, two pounds of food, a half-mile of road, 30 minutes of government agency attention, 40 square feet of consumer space, etc. per day. Even if we halve those numbers, our population when it doubles will erode those gains — and it’s unlikely we can halve them.

Green products are generally made with the convenient idea that if we make more efficient gadgets, we have solved the problem. Nope, we’ve shaved off a little bit, but even that is dubious, considering how much more energy goes into green products and their notorious decreased reliability — meaning they need to be replaced sooner.

It’s better to target green where it’s needed: population control and infrastructure reform.

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