22. Clearcutting the World's Rainforests
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.
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.
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
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
Damien Lewis, an environmental
research photojournalist from London, with his co-author Virginia Luling, has
investigated the environmental disaster occurring in Africa.
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
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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."