Allen Hershkowitz, PhD, is a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council and author of Bronx Ecology: Blueprint for a New Environmentalism.

Monday, 15 Sep 2003


Having just returned last week from four days hiking in, driving through, and flying above the forests of eastern Tennessee, on the Cumberland Plateau, today I find myself flying down to Asheville, N.C. My Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) colleague Dan Saccardi and I will be meeting with half a dozen smart activists from the Dogwood Alliance, a pro-recycling, forest-protection organization based in Asheville. Besides our friends at Dogwood, Dan and I will be joined by two other NRDC colleagues — forestry experts Sami Yassa and Debbie Hammel — who are jetting in from San Francisco, as well as PhD’s from the Oregon-based Conservation Biology Institute, aviators from SouthWings, biology professors from the University of the South, and backwoods researchers from Tennessee ForestWatch.

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What are we up to? Well, the short answer is that we’re gathering to review months, and many tens of thousands of dollars worth, of original research that we’ve commissioned or generated ourselves to help figure out how we can stop one of the Earth’s most biologically outstanding eco-regions — the temperate broadleaf forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains that comprise the Cumberland Plateau — from being converted into toilet paper and other disposable paper products.

Yup, you read that right: Throughout North America and the world, natural, biologically diverse, and irreplaceable forests — in some cases old-growth, never-harvested forests that host some of the world’s most inspiring and important species and freshwater eco-regions — are being converted into toilet paper. We are literally flushing down the toilet some of the most biologically rich habitat on Earth. And, by the way, these same forests are also being cut down, or converted into biologically sterile tree plantations (which typically host 90 percent fewer species per acre than do the natural forests they replace), to supply the wood that makes the daily newspaper you casually read and discard, chic fashion and travel magazines, mail-order catalogues, copier paper, and advertising inserts.

Most North Americans equate biodiversity with exotic, faraway places like tropical rainforests, which contain perhaps as many as half of all known species. However, the other half of the Earth’s species live outside tropical rainforests in biologically unique ecosystems, of which the southeastern forests of North America are among the most globally outstanding. While our fight to halt the loss of primary rainforests in the tropics is well known, these southeastern forests are under equally heavy pressure from logging and conversion to tree plantations. Losing these rare ecosystems, as we are, is instigating a globally significant loss of biodiversity.

The temperate broadleaf forests of the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains, the Cumberland Plateau and its environs, host some of the most globally outstanding concentrations of terrestrial and freshwater habitat for an astoundingly diverse array of flora and fauna. The Plateau, which stretches from northern Alabama, through Tennessee and Kentucky, and into southwestern West Virginia, hosts literally hundreds of endemic forest and aquatic species, including 21 amphibians. It’s home to a wide range of snails and salamanders and is part of the central migration habitat route for neotropical songbirds. Among the rare, endangered, or threatened species that are native to the Plateau are the red wolf (Canis niger), the eastern cougar (felis concolor couguar), the red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), the Virginia big-eared bat (Plecotus townsendii virginianus), and the loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus).

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Sadly, much of the great forest that once cloaked the entire southeastern United States has been logged, replaced by degraded landscapes and biologically impoverished single-species tree plantations. The remaining endangered forests in the Plateau and its environs represent the last refuges in the southeast for Red wolf and the Easter cougar, and they represent as well one of the last great storehouses of biological diversity in North America. The Cumberland Plateau is nothing less than a biological gem.

Our meeting in Asheville during the next couple of days will help NRDC, the Dogwood Alliance, Tennessee ForestWatch, and our other grassroots partners in the southeast design the most effective strategy to communicate with large consumers of toilet paper, newsprint, and other types of papers, in order to put pressure on paper companies that obtain their raw materials from these outstanding southeastern forests. Our goal is to get these transnational corporations and absentee landowners to shift their raw material sourcing and production away from the biologically irreplaceable ecosystems found in the Cumberland Plateau and, instead, rely on post-consumer recycled paper fibers or ecologically superior agricultural residues for their raw materials.

In tomorrow’s diary I’ll tell you more than you’ll want to know about why my colleagues and I at NRDC have been working hard to change the paper industry, the principal industrial pressure destroying the Cumberland Plateau and indisputably one of the most ecologically destructive industries on Earth. (You can also learn about my views on the paper industry by reading my recent book, Bronx Ecology: Blueprint for a New Environmentalism, with a forward by Maya Lin, published by Island Press.)

Tuesday, 16 Sep 2003


After an absolutely awful travel day yesterday, I’m down in Asheville, N.C., with NRDC colleagues and grassroots partners meeting to figure out how we can stop the biologically outstanding Cumberland Plateau in the southern Appalachian Mountains from being turned into toilet paper.

Last night we all sat down for a tapas dinner at Zambras, one of my favorite Asheville haunts, and recounted paper-industry forest-destruction horror stories and how non-sustainable logging is damaging animal life along with the spiritual and economic life of historic southeastern American cultures.

Ceilo Sands, the Dogwood Alliance‘s ForestWatch program director, said to me, “Allen, these impacts are the true cost of paper, but no one knows about them.”

“Read my Grist diary tomorrow and I’ll list them,” I told him.

So here are a few facts about the true costs of virgin timber paper production:

While virtually all industries harm the environment in one way or another, the pulp and paper industry may contribute to more global and local environmental problems than any other industry in the world. Perhaps no industry has forced more species into extinction, destroyed more habitats, and polluted as many streams, rivers, and lakes. When it comes to the ecological effects of the paper industry, the world simply cannot afford to experience another century like the one we have just lived through.

The paper industry is the single largest consumer of fresh water, responsible for 11 percent of the total volume of water used in industrial activities in OECD countries. Being a forest-products industry, it is directly responsible for accelerating global deforestation trends. When it destroys trees and uproots soil (the earth’s natural carbon “sinks”), the industry accelerates adverse climate change by causing enormous emissions of greenhouse gases. Indeed, the pulp and paper industry is the third greatest industrial greenhouse gas emitter (among stationary sources), after the chemical and steel industries. Its carbon dioxide emissions are projected to increase by roughly 100 percent by 2020.

The virgin pulp and paper industry is among the world’s largest generators of toxic air pollutants, surface water pollution, sludge, and solid wastes. Processing rigid stands of timber into flexible, printable, smooth, glossy, or absorbent paper requires an intensive chemical and mechanical effort after a tree is harvested. And to obtain the timber, forest habitat is fragmented by roads and logging. According to recent research in conservation biology, habitat fragmentation is even more ecologically devastating than we thought.

Of the wood harvested globally for industrial uses (everything but fuel wood), 42 percent goes to paper production, a proportion expected to grow by more than half in the next 50 years. If current trends continue, only 5 percent of all tropical forests will remain by mid-century. Currently less than 20 percent of the world’s original forest cover remains intact, and much of what does remain is threatened by commercial logging. Most of the world’s paper supply, about 71 percent, is not made from timber harvested at tree farms but from forest-harvested timber, from regions with ecologically valuable, biologically diverse habitat. Still, there is nothing to love about tree plantations, which host about 90 percent fewer species than the natural forests that preceded them.

Forests in the southeastern United States — among the most biologically important and species-rich on the planet — supply 25 percent of the world’s paper. In the past decade there has been a 500 percent increase in wood harvested by paper companies in the southeastern U.S.

Adding urgency to our need to reverse the deforestation problem caused by paper demand is the fact that increasing amounts of the wood harvested for industrial use are coming from some of the most biologically rich developing countries. In the past 20 years, 80 percent of global timber harvesting has taken place in developing countries hosting sub-tropical and tropical forests between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. This area, known to conservation biologists as the latitudinal diversity gradient, hosts the world’s densest concentrations of species per acre. For evolutionary reasons, the concentration and diversity of species increase the closer they are to the equator. Unfortunately, logging has been increasing rapidly within the latitudinal diversity gradient, with the result that ever-greater numbers of species per acre of logging are being displaced or destroyed.

What are the downstream effects of all this? A serious one is paper waste. It would be hard to overstate the burden on the budgets of municipal governments from waste management. During the past two decades, literally every OECD country and most developing nations have been struggling with the economic costs, logistical burdens, community squabbles, and dangerous health effects of having to manage billions of tons of municipal waste. Government advisory boards, regulatory reviews, research and legislative initiatives designed to encourage the safe and economical management of municipal wastes have been advanced in the private sector and at every level of government — local, provincial, national, and, even international. As the single largest product category found in household and commercial rubbish, paper is responsible for more economic and public health burdens than any other commodity in the municipal waste stream.

Thus, products manufactured by the pulp and paper industry generate adverse air pollution, hazardous and non-hazardous wastes, water pollution, soil contamination, and climate change effects at virtually every stage of their life cycle. This is because more than 90 percent of the printing and office paper manufactured in the U.S. and Canada, and 70 percent of all newsprint, is made completely from virgin content, with no environmentally sustainable attributes whatsoever.

What is to be done?

One of the strategies for reducing demand on forests has been to encourage consumers to minimize paper use and, if they must buy paper, to buy paper with environmentally sustainable characteristics in order to encourage the paper industry to shift to more sustainable production systems.

The U.S. — indeed the planet — cannot afford to lose the potential for converting the paper industry to environmentally sustainable processes. Environmental organizations’ focus and power is critical to leading that change and there is much that can be done to build market demand for environmentally preferable papers.

Based on our assessment of the many forest protection strategies previously employed in the southeast by NGOs and government, my colleagues and I at NRDC and at the Dogwood Alliance, working in collaboration with many other environmental and consumer groups throughout the world, believe that a multi-year, multi-stakeholder initiative designed to encourage a shift in paper consumption and production patterns away from endangered forests represents a new and viable solution to the growing problem of habitat depletion in that region. To that end, NRDC and our regional partners, including the Dogwood Alliance in the southeastern United States and Greenpeace in Canada, are focusing substantial resources on identifying the threats caused by large-scale consumers and the timber acquisition related to satisfying demand for paper.

Our objective is to shift large-scale consumption patterns in order to remedy many of the environmental problems caused by the paper industry. By communicating with large consumers of toilet paper, newsprint, and other types of papers, and by putting pressure on paper companies that obtain their raw materials from outstanding southeastern forests, as well as northern Canadian forests, NRDC’s advocacy work related to the paper industry is directed toward: 1) reducing the overwhelming reliance by consumers and paper-manufacturing companies on virgin-timber-based fibers obtained from biologically essential and irreplaceable ecosystems; 2) reversing the costly and ecologically ignorant practice of wasting valuable paper products in landfills and incinerators; and 3) reducing the many impacts of paper mills, whether they rely on virgin or recycled fibers.

Wednesday, 17 Sep 2003


Today, a dozen of us — PhDs, biologists, MBAs, industrial ecologists, and media experts — sat around a large Dogwood Alliance conference table (a converted ping-pong table to be precise) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., working through mealtimes and deferring all calls.

This unique meeting was the culmination of a year of work, during which NRDC and our southeastern grassroots partners who run the Dogwood Alliance and Tennessee ForestWatch have been working with the Conservation Biology Institute to assemble detailed, county-by-county information about which areas of the southeastern forests are most biologically outstanding, which areas remain intact and might possibly be saved from the ravages of the paper industry, and which paper companies — and which specific paper mills in particular — are causing the enormously widespread destruction of the area that one informed, high-profile journalist today referred to as “ecocide … nothing less than an ecological Bosnia.”

At today’s meeting, we zeroed in, more precisely as each hour passed, on the target regions worth saving, on the target regions still able to be saved, and on the target companies that the world will soon learn are destroying what might arguably be described as one of our nation’s greatest treasures: the southeastern forests.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that there is no such thing as history, only biography. And if ever there was verification of my favorite philosopher’s wise insights, it is revealed in the way efforts to protect this majestic temperate forest are being mobilized. Hardscrabble local activists, trudging through mountain hills, coves, and forested waterways; brilliant biogeographers, flying in from around North America, poring over obscure data and maps; volunteer aviators, borrowing planes to fly scientists over affected regions; and industrial ecologists, trudging through almost-impossible-to-decode corporate supply-chain euphemisms (an effort that feels to me like industrial espionage). All of us coming together at great personal sacrifice, patiently considering the details of each and every analytical effort, producing unprecedented maps, and, ultimately, designing strategic plans to reveal to the world what the North American paper industry wants to keep hidden: that a mythic region of unparalleled beauty, of unique biological richness and historic cultural importance, is being liquidated and grossly polluted to produce tissues and newsprint, toilet paper and advertising inserts, glossy paper for mail-order catalogues and chic fashion magazines — all single-use, throw-away paper products that can be made — should be made — from alternative, recycled wastes.

What is the alternative? you might ask. If we don’t make paper from trees, what can we make it from? NRDC’s answer: Recycled wastes. Recycled household and commercial wastepaper. Recycled agricultural residues produced by farms or sugaring processing. On a per ton basis, these wastes tend to contain more cellulose — the superabundant macromolecule in plant material from which paper is made — than a tree. And besides saving our endangered southeastern forests, there is an urgent need to focus on recycling.

Our society generates almost incomprehensible volumes of wastes. In the United States alone, about 14 billion to 16 billion tons of solid wastes are generated every year. Globally, humanity is generating between 35 and 40 billion tons of wastes annually, which means that in the next 10 years Earth’s inhabitants will have to figure our how to manage 350 billion to 400 billion tons of wastes. An EPA Technical Advisory Board recently described this enormous waste generation burden as “environmentally disastrous.”

Two billion tons of agricultural wastes alone are generated each year. Investing to turn these wastes — which are so often openly burned on the field at great ecological cost — into useful paper products can relieve pressure on the forests as well as recover a material that now costs farmers precious dollars to dispose of.

An added benefit of building new factories to recycle wastes into paper products is that it also offers us the opportunity to help alleviate economic as well as ecological problems. After all, every vision of a sustainable society includes livable-wage employment as a fundamental attribute. Thus, it is doubly imperative — for economic and ecological reasons — to start developing the type of factories needed to save our planet. Investments into new, ecologically modern factories are much more likely to have a meaningful effect on stimulating the economy than the Bush administration’s recent tax reduction on the dividends a very few people get from their investments into ecologically destructive industries. Eighty-eight percent of all Americans will receive less than $100 from the recent federal tax cuts.

So, to me, one obvious place to begin stimulating our economy on behalf of ecological progress is the development of waste recycling mills. Unfortunately, based on my eight-year effort to develop a world-scale paper-recycling mill in New York City (chronicled in my book Bronx Ecology), I learned that as environmentalists go forth to try and stimulate the development of new industrial-ecology mills, we will discover that the most substantial investment barriers plague those projects that will do the most ecological and economic good. These barriers to new, ecologically sound recycled paper mill investments — which include lengthy site-contamination assessments, contentious cleanup plans, long permitting timeframes, and high water, energy, and construction-labor rates — drive consideration of new recycling investments off the table, causing us to suffer through paper production that relies on trees from endangered southeastern forests.

But future generations demand that we crack that nut and figure out how to overcome those barriers, because until that unlikely time arrives when humans learn to be happier by renouncing consumption, the most practical way to husband resources and protect ecosystems and wildlife is to find ecologically better ways to produce the goods and services we demand. To save the southeastern forests, and indeed to save forests from the paper industry’s ravages throughout the world, environmentally superior manufacturing plants must be built that are cost-competitive with the virgin timber-based production processes that now engender irreparable ecological damage.

Thursday, 18 Sep 2003


Today I’m back home. With Hurricane Isabel bearing down on the North Carolina shore, and evacuations aplenty forcing people away from the coasts — west toward Asheville and its convenient little airport — I feel lucky to have gotten out without too much of a hitch. Except, that is, for having to wake up at 4:15 in the morning, meet my colleagues in a dim hotel lobby before 5 a.m., and catch a 6:15 flight back to New York.

Regardless of the credentials you might have, your wealth or the professional station you might hold, there is something about waking up at 4:15 a.m. or thereabouts to catch a plane that unavoidably makes you feel diminished, almost victimized. You just know that waking up that early to get in a car to go to an airport is fundamentally not a proper way to live. Then, little by little, as you suck down your morning water and juice and the sun begins to rise and the plane gets closer to home, your emotional stature recovers bit by tiny bit, and despite being enormously tired you at least begin to feel whole again and, indeed, when the sun is up and the plane lands and the bustle of New York is all around, you forget how compromised you felt at 4:00 that morning and instead feel like you’ve got a bright and early jump on the day.

Now, besides reviewing and beginning to act on the research and institutional coordination tasks that the past few days of paper industry-related meetings left me with, I’ve got to sit down and prepare for three upcoming speeches: Next Wednesday night, I lecture on the ravages of and the alternatives to sprawl in my hometown, a quiet little tree-saturated hamlet 60 miles north of New York City, where I was born and raised. Then, on the following Sunday, I will deliver a lecture right after mass at All Souls Church in Manhattan, at 53rd and Lexington Avenue, about the “Role and Responsibilities of the Corporation in 21st Century America.” And just a few days after that, I head down to West Virginia with my NRDC colleague Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to lecture to the Doris Duke Charitable Trusts’ Fellows Program, where I will be speaking about the needs for, and the barriers to, sustainable industrial development, which is what my recent book, Bronx Ecology, is about.

Although research is my passion and among my greatest privileges, I love lecturing and I look forward to my upcoming speeches because writing speeches offers me the best excuse for converting a wide range of experiences into conscious thought. I agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson that lecturing properly, true eloquence, is indeed an art, and that only with the emergence of free and thoughtful lectures did civilization arrive. The art of giving a good lecture, said Emerson, “is eminently the one [art] that flourishes in democracies, since it calls out the highest resources of character.” “True eloquence” he said, is “the serious and hearty love of truth.”

Today’s entry, you might notice, is more a diary-like entry than my submissions of the previous three days, where I focused not only on where I was, but also, and mostly, on outlining the technical work I was doing and why. There are two reasons for my change in tone in today’s diary.

First, I am tired. It’s been a long three days of travel, with late nights of work in offices and back in my hotel room, without the warm, joyous comfort of my family, and suffering through early morning meetings and plane travel to boot. So, alas, being tired as I am, it is hard to muster up the truths of ecology that my research reveals to me and that I love to share, albeit perhaps a little too much for most people’s tastes.

Second, soon after I returned home, I spoke with a professional in the PR/communications world who, I found out, happens to be a Grist reader, and shall remain nameless. He had been reading my diary entries, he told me, and he then chided me for not writing in the proper diary style: “You’re not right for that kind of writing,” he said. “You like to lecture, to teach. It was a mistake to have you do the Grist diary. You put in too many facts. That’s not what a Grist diary should be,” he told me. After hanging up politely and trying to recover, I turned to Emerson, my counsel, as I so often do: “Little people pull down and overcrow,” I read. “The least people do most entirely demolish me … a snippersnapper eats me whole.” Thanks, Waldo — as usual, that was just what I needed to hear (or read).

Thankfully, I then got back to my desk to view some of the emails sent to me while I was away, and there were more than a few from other people who had been reading these diaries, even one forwarded on to me from the Grist editor, and these people thanked me for what I was doing and, my professional “snippersnapper” PR friend notwithstanding, there were more than a few emails expressing admiration for and interest in what I was writing about. Although I try to be, like Emerson, “too great for enmity & fault-finding,” reading the emails made me feel revived and, once again, free and confident: “Free should the scholar be, — free and brave,” wrote Emerson. “The world is his who can see through its pretension.”

I like facts because there is no pretension in them. And when I write about facts, as I have these past few days in my Grist diaries, there is no pretension in me.

“We speak for Nature.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, 19 Sep 2003


Because today’s Grist diary entry is my last, I’d like begin by thanking all the committed and supportive people who work at Grist, and who’ve made the magazine into the valuable, widely read environmental information source that it is. Thank you sincerely for asking me to write a diary entry each day this week. It was an honor.

All week I’ve been writing about my day-to-day work trying to help stop one of the Earth’s most biologically outstanding eco-regions — the forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains — from being ravaged, polluted, and converted into toilet paper, newsprint, mail-order catalogues, magazines, and other disposable paper products.

But southeastern forests, ecologically unique and at-risk as they are, are obviously only one spectacular part of the world’s mosaic of forests that sustain virtually all species, by keeping our air and water clean, our atmosphere chemically stable, and our spirits and culture strong. Of course, and sadly, all of the world’s forests are under enormous pressure from logging and human settlements. If current trends continue, in 40 years less than 5 percent of the world’s tropical forests will remain and the southeast forests will be one giant, biologically sterile, and polluted pine plantation.

In North America, besides the great southeastern forests in the United States, we are also blessed with the great northern forests of Canada, known to environmental cognoscenti as the “boreal” forest. I bring this discussion of the northern, boreal forest to my diary today because a) my NRDC colleagues and I are working in collaboration with Greenpeace Canada and others to stop the paper industry from ravaging that globally outstanding region, which comprises the largest intact ecosystem on Earth, and b) earlier today two of my D.C.-based NRDC colleagues with whom I am working on boreal matters, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz and Liz Barrett-Brown, who forwarded to me an email note from a fellow forestry activist that read, in part: “Saw this [Grist diary] today [on the southeast forests] … Can you get him to say the word ‘boreal'”?

Boreal. Pronounce it: bore-eel. It is a wide expanse of unique, ancient, and intact forest and freshwater habitat that crowns the entire northern circumference of the Earth, below the Arctic Circle. Home to grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, wolverines, black bears, songbirds, and 80 percent of Canada’s indigenous First Nations population, the boreal forest hosts rare and fast-disappearing predator-prey relationships and large mammalian migrations. It also hosts some of the most outstanding freshwater ecoregions on Earth. (If you go to the NRDC website, you’ll see photos of some typically outstanding boreal scenes.)

When I received today’s email, asking if I might be able to “say the word boreal,” I immediately thought back to a few short weeks ago, when I was way up north in the Canadian province of Alberta, watching with my mouth agape as some of this boreal forest was converted into toilet paper pulp at a mill owned by Asian transnational corporations. I took a small slab of the pulp, bleached with chlorine dioxide, back to my office as evidence. Or, perhaps more accurately, I took it back home as a sad personal reminder of how low some industries can go. Every day thousands of boreal acres, globally rare intact hardwood boreal forests, one of mother nature’s most outstanding biological phenomena, a large piece of God Almighty’s only tangible communication to us, are cut down, not replanted — why bother, it would take a lifetime to re-grow — and degrated into toilet paper and throwaway newspapers.

Can humanity get more callous than that? Do we really need to produce what might reasonably be called our least inspiring consumer product by destroying the universe’s most inspiring places? We actually use toilet paper for all of five seconds before flushing it into sewage. Use of a newspaper lasts 240 times longer, but still only 20 minutes. Despite the availability of ecologically superior alternatives, industrial captains insist on making these disposables by cutting down and polluting some of the world’s most spectacular forested ecoregions in the southeast, as well as boreal and tropical forests — forests that take a lifetime to recover, if they ever recover at all. Anti-environmentalist apologists for the paper industry publicly claim that most paper is made “from trees specifically grown to make paper.” Not only is that a lie, but tree plantations are themselves ecologically awful, hosting 90 percent fewer species than natural forests. (For more on the problems with tree plantations, see my book Bronx Ecology: Blueprint for a New Environmentalism.)

Nor are paper industry impacts the only pressure on the boreal. Oil and gas industry destruction is so indiscriminate and widespread that an official at the toilet paper pulp mill I was visiting asked me if I could help his company fight the ravages of the oil and gas interests, who were wiping out the forest timber supply as fast as he was.

Earlier today I had to pick up some toilet paper for my family. None, not one brand on this store’s shelves, was made from recycled fibers, though many recycled toilet papers exist. I asked the store manager, “Any toilet paper from recycled paper?” “Nope.” “Gonna get any in soon?” I asked. “Nope.”

Not if I can help it. I coordinate NRDC’s paper industry advocacy work, and last Friday, just before taking off for my work in the southeastern forests, I hosted a meeting at NRDC’s New York City office with Greenpeace Canada to talk about paper production issues. There were a dozen of us from NRDC, including Linda Lopez, the quiet but powerful director of NRDC’s membership outreach, Rita Barol, our influential web manager, and Max Metrick, NRDC’s communications czar. Liz Barrett-Brown and Susan Casey-Lefkowitz were up from D.C. We were joined by Greenpeacers Tamara Stark, who flew in from Vancouver, and Richard Brooks, who flew in from Toronto. Our agenda: getting the word out on the urgent need to stop the destruction and denigration of the Canadian boreal and the southeastern forests in the United States for use as disposable tissue products.

Yesterday, that meeting bore a small fruit. At the World Forestry Congress in Quebec City, NRDC and Greenpeace, joined by a small and pleasantly scrappy group called ForestEthics, announced our intention to change the paper market that relies on boreal timber. Susan, an NRDC senior attorney, threw down our gauntlet: “U.S. and Canadian consumers care where their paper and wood come from. Our over 1 million members and supporters do not want to see a global treasure like the boreal lost so that companies can make toilet paper from old-growth trees,” she said.

I know we’re right about NRDC members and supporters not wanting to see natural forests converted into toilet paper or throwaway newspapers. How long and how much work it will take us to spread that concern to hundreds of millions of North American consumers remains to be seen. I suspect that describing that work would fill quite a few more Grist diaries.

Whatever you do, don’t buy toilet paper unless it’s made from 100 percent recycled fibers (at least 80 percent post-consumer) or from agricultural residues. And tell your local newspaper and magazine publisher that you want him or her to stop buying newsprint or magazine paper from wood harvested from endangered southeastern and boreal forests. Now that my diary writing is over, checking NRDC’s website will help keep you up to date on our efforts to change the way paper products are produced.

And finally, to the outspent, against-the-odds environmental activists who’ve been reading these diaries, remember: Don’t despair, but if you must despair, work on. When our time is up and we meet our great unifying spirit, we won’t be asked what did we accomplish. Rather, we will be asked what did we attempt to do, and how much love did we spread around while we tried.