Sheryl’s toilet paper declaration is just environmental sheet-stirring

US singer Sheryl Crow’s call for us to save toilet paper is another example of the effect of global warming – Green campaigners are full of hot air

03/05/2007%20CartoonJust as in the dark days of the Blitz, the shadow of global warming shows us humans shining in adversity. However humble, each of us has a part to play, not so much in reducing the threat by, say, turning the standby off on our TV sets or composting our nappies, as in urging others to do so. Like wartime air-raid wardens who barked “Turn out that light!”, we can all experience the thrill of acting censoriously.

This is a game anyone can play. To join in you don’t have to be a scientist on the payroll of a quango whose livelihood depends upon adducing ever-more chilling facts, you need only be an Ordinary Joe, a follower of ideological fashion with a lively imagination and a voice that demands to be heard.

A couple of weeks ago, for instance, we noted with admiration the contribution of Ken Pease, a criminologist at University College London who predicted that milder winters will lead to a surge in street crime. “More people on the streets, larger crowds and alcohol consumption are all linked to increases in crime,” he says. “It stands to reason that warmer weather encourages all three.”

Ken offered no remedy, merely a frightening observation. But they also serve who stand and scare. The Church, which in an earlier age was unrivalled in its ability to frighten us into being good – burning in hellfire and all that – is today a more caring institution, a change reflected in its contribution to planet-saving ideas.

In a 64-page booklet wittily entitled How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change a Christian?, the Church of England offers some helpful hints and tips on environmental consciousness. For example, instead of using the grill when making breakfast, pop bread into the toaster. More helpfully still, the Church urges that it is not part of Christian duty to flush the lavatory on all occasions. Co-author of the pamphlet Claire Foster says the thinking behind the non-flushing edict is, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” To which we should add, if it’s green, scream.

American singer Sheryl Crow treats a closely related topic in an admirably direct way. In dealing with our bodily effluvia, she says, we could be less wasteful by using “only one square of tissue per bathroom visit”. Perhaps sensing a potential weakness in the plan, she adds, “except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required”. Now, I don’t want to go too deeply into this, but it is part of the mystery of creation that we are each made differently. I mean, Sheryl Crow may be a one-tissue girl but some people, perhaps because of their diet and physical size or the efficiency of their digestive system, might naturally be three, four or even five tissue persons. For them, a pesky occasion would entail the use of not two sheets but as many as ten. And, after a curry the night before, 20 or more.

As with many environmentally well-intentioned ideas, this proposal has possibly unseen ramifications. I am told, for example, that the energy used to manufacture a wind turbine is so great that it takes many years to repay the cost in terms of renewable electricity generated. Similarly, the batteries used in low-energy vehicles are extremely expensive to dispose of. What, I wonder, will it cost in terms of detergents and hot water to clean the soiled underwear of those who follow Ms Crow’s advice too diligently?

Anyway, so convinced is she that economy in the bathroom can play its part in saving the polar bear that she recently embarked on a crusading tour of 11 US university campuses where the full force of her ideas was expressed. “I propose,” she said, “a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting.”

A limitation, eh? Would that be a statutory limitation? In which case, how might it be enforced? We in this country might be able to help on that one. We have taken electronic surveillance further than any other nation on earth. The UK has 1% of the world’s population, but 20% of its CCTV cameras, so by applying to lavatory bowls the same technology already attached to wheeled refuse bins it would be simple to monitor the squares used per sitting by each and every one of us. Who knows, perhaps satellite navigation could track our bowel movements.

Of course, some would see the spy in the loo as an invasion of privacy, not to mention a mite pornographic, but what’s privacy and prudery when we have a planet to save?

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