22. Clearcutting the World's Rainforests

Sources: Multinational Monitor, PO Box 19405 Washington, DC 20036, Date: September 1992, Title: "The Scramble for African Timber," Authors: Virginia Luting and Damien Lewis; Environmental impact Reporter, PO Box 1834, Sebastopol, CA 95473, Date: September 1992, Title: "Alert: Clearcutting in Far East Russia," Author: Juliana Doms; SF Weekly, 425 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA 94107, Date: June 24, 1992, Title: "The Killing Forests," Authors: Angela Gennino and Sara Colm.

SSU Censored Researcher: Diane Albracht

SYNOPSIS: After years of uncontrolled devastation, the plight of South America's Amazon rainforests was finally put on the international media agenda, and the world's environmentalists heaved a sigh of relief. However, the timber industry has taken its clearcutting machines to areas of the world not in the media spotlight. For example, there is a myth that the African rainforests and their inhabitants remain isolated and secure from the timber interests. As a result, the ongoing destruction of Africa's equivalent of the Amazon continues to escape the attention of the Western world.

The forests of Zaire, which contain half of Africa's and 13 percent of the world's rainforest, an acreage surpassed only by Brazil, are now under siege. Ninety per cent of Zaire's forest has been parceled out, mostly to the powerful elite-President Mobutu and his political and military allies. The situation in Zaire is typical of that in the rest of Central Africa; 90 percent of the Central African Republic's rainforest has been allocated to European companies, and European aid agencies are funding new roads to speed up the timber extraction. Africa's forest people have only recently begun to oppose actively the logging companies and are now taking their case to the world's media in hopes of attracting support.

At the same time, large pristine forests in Far East Russia are faced with the same threat of clearcutting. Two major timber projects are working through the Russian bureaucracy -- one is spearheaded by a U.S. lumber company, Weyerhauser, and the other by the South Korean automobile corporation Hyundai. They both have their eyes on the Siberian Forest. The vast, untouched Siberian Forest is home to a unique blend of forest ecosystems, many endangered plant and animal species (including the Siberian tiger) and thousands of indigenous people who subsist on forests and rivers that would be directly affected by clearcutting. Weyerhauser plans to clearcut in the Botcha River Basin area upon completion of a joint venture agreement with the local forest industry, which has the right to log in the basin.

Meanwhile, ink on the United Nations' peace treaty for Cambodia was hardly dry before chainsaws were roaring through that nation's forests. Ironically, the treaty that was to bring peace sparked a new deforestation craze in Cambodia that could turn into one of the world's great ecological disasters. Investigative authors Angela Gennino and Sara Colm report, "Decades of war have already taken a heavy toll on Cambodia's forests -- the country had lost nearly 40 percent of its forest cover before the peace accords. But this new round of logging might boost the annual rate of deforestation by as much as three to four times the previous levels. At this frenzied pace, warns the United Nations Development Programme, the loggers could devour what little is left of the country's forests within the next 10 years -- and destroy Cambodia's ability to feed itself."

While world public opinion may have prevented the timber companies from totally destroying the South American rainforests, media attention should now follow their clearcutting machines to other parts of the world.

COMMENTS: While the media can take some satisfaction in finally putting the destruction of South America's Amazon rainforests on the international agenda (to the point where a California group called Rainforest Products, Inc., now markets a breakfast cereal named "Rainforest Crisp"), a comparable, and possibly even worse, destruction of rainforests is quietly taking place in other locations throughout the world.

Damien Lewis, an environmental research photojournalist from London, with his co-author Virginia Luling, has investigated the environmental disaster occurring in Africa.

Lewis decries the lack of media attention on what's happening in tropical Africa. "Between the sensational news-friendly stories of the drought and famine in sub-Saharan Northern Africa, and especially Somalia at present, and the breaking up of apartheid in South Africa, Central (tropical) Africa receives very little media and news coverage at all.

"The story of the rape of the African rainforests has received little if any coverage on TV (both news and documentary), and has suffered from a dearth of coverage in the print media, whether it be the dailies or newsweeklies.

"The story published in Multinational Monitor (which has also been published in the UK and Europe) is the result of a considerable amount of investigative research both in Africa and the U.S., trying to piece together which companies from which (Northern) countries are operating in which areas of Africa's rainforests, and to whom they are exporting their timber and at what economic and ecological cost to the African countries themselves.

"The destruction of the world's rainforests is one of the greatest human and environmental crises facing humankind. Unfortunately, the real culprits for the destruction of this vital natural resource are often not identified, and the blame all too often is placed upon 'the poor rural farmer' clearing the forests, or the 'irresponsible Third World governments liquidating a priceless global asset.' The reality in Africa tells a far different story, and one noticeably absent from the global media.

"It tells of vast, highly destructive logging carried out by almost exclusively northern trans-nationals, for export to 'First World' markets in Europe and the U.S., to satisfy First World demand for tropical timber and the loo-seats, tables and doors made from it. It tells of the wanton destruction of a priceless resource, the profits from which are made predom-inantly in the north. It shows that rather than blaming the developing world for the loss of these forests, the blame lies fairly and squarely with ourselves. Only by recognizing this will we even start to solve the problem.

"A conspiracy of silence seems to surround the whole issue of the destruction of Africa's rainforests. If you consider how much coverage the burning of the Amazon or the logging in Malaysia receives, there is a glaring lack of coverage of this issue. Africa is one of the only sources of raw (i.e., not processed into sawn timber or products) logs, and hence one of the few remaining areas where enormous profits can be made by foreign companies. As the logging is carried out by European and U.S. logging companies, and the market for the timber is the U.S. and Europe, it is clear who profits from the silence surrounding this issue. Certainly, the UK government earns more than five times as much for the VAT (value added tax) it charges on tropical timber imported into the UK than all the aid it gives to the tropical countries.

"It has been extremely difficult to secure publication of this article on this subject. One major UK magazine actually commissioned and then turned down this article, because it didn't want to stick its neck out. However, it has now secured publication in the Multinational Monitor, in Norway's Nature Miljo Magazine and in the UK's BBC Wildlife Magazine."

Co-author Virginia Luling, also of London, added, "Compared with the relatively wide coverage given to the destruction of the rainforest in South America and Southeast Asia, that of the African forests is almost unknown. Yet, if deforest-ation rates are expressed as a percentage of original forest area, then it is Africa that has suffered the highest level of deforestation in the last decade. Those who suffer most from this are the Pygmies and other forest dwelling people. Survival International (the international movement to support tribal people) will not slacken its efforts to publicize their plight."

Investigative writer Juliana Doms, who explored forest clearcutting in Far East Russia, notes that little is published on international forestry activities, especially in a consistent manner that would expose the magnitude of the problem worldwide.

Doms also points out that more media coverage would generate a stronger urgency to develop specific international forestry policies and to implement the Forest Principles developed at the Earth Summit last year.

Doms believes that the issue of "clearcutting the Siberian forests should be used as a test case for the Clinton/Gore administration in forcing international cooperation in protecting the environment." But she also recognizes that the economic fragility of the world market -- especially in Russia -- will make it difficult to demand protection of those forests, particularly since "the multinational timber giants have the hard currency that Russia needs."