In this politically correct climate of global warming, in an age where it has finally become fashionable to eschew a disposable lifestyle, buying things made of wood is better than OK, it is imperative.
Investing in durable wooden furniture and toys, not to mention wood siding for our homes and wooden play structures for our parks, is considered the greener alternative to plastics, which are clogging our landfills, not to mention making our homes and cities ugly.
Theoretically, the wood industry is sustainable.
Of course nothing is ever so simple in this oversized shopping mall we call the global market.
Like diamonds and sugar and chocolate and coffee, the wood industry is a corrupt and bloody one, one that is also devastating the forests, which we need so desperately these days to reverse climate change.
Illegal forestry supports murderous regimes and is quickly turning entire nations into deadly sand traps.
Meanwhile, we can buy a six-piece dining room set at our nearest Ikea for $299. What a bargain!
Ikea has set a lofty goal for itself, however.
By 2009, it wants 30 per cent of its wood to be certified — that means approved by the Forest Stewardship Council as sustainably and legally harvested.
Right now, only four per cent of the wood it buys from China passes that test.
Illegal forestry includes more than just the logging of endangered trees. Although this type of industry is thriving and mainstream companies are reaping the benefits by selling products such as flooring made with endangered Indonesian merbau.
Illegal logging also includes logging non-endangered trees by illegal means.
Most illegal logging is happening in vulnerable regions such as the Amazon Basin, Central Africa, Southeast Asia, the Russian Federation and some of the Baltic states.
Even governments that have banned logging turn a blind eye and therefore under-report its occurrence.
In places where governments have reported little or no illegal logging, NGOs have countered that it is as high as 50 per cent of the logging industry in those countries.
In the Baltic states illegal logging accounts for between 25 and 50 per cent of the industry, according to the World Wildlife Federation.
In Brazil, 80 per cent of logging in the Amazon violates government regulations, according to the federation. The case is similar in Bolivia, Columbia and Peru.
Mahogany from the Amazon, known as “green gold,” fetches over US$1,600 a cubic metre.
With this kind of money at stake, organized crime, money laundering and human right abuses are rampant in these countries.
But the importers also have to take some blame, if not all of it.
China’s insatiable demand for wood is devouring the forests of many of its neighbours, including Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma, Papua New Guinea and Eastern Russia.
And with a view of these forests disappearing in as little as a decade, China is moving into Africa and South America.
According to Forest Trends, a Washington-based nonprofit, China’s wood imports are expected do double within the next decade.
Today, China supplies about 30 per cent of the world’s furniture trade.
The town of Nanxum, which has been called “the wood flooring centre of the world” by the Environmental Assessment Agency, which conducts undercover environmental investigations worldwide, has more than 500 flooring factories.
Much of this flooring, including the endangered hardwood merbau from Papua New Guinea, is primarily sold in Canada and the US.
Every month enough stolen merbau — 300,000 cubic metres worth — is shipped from Papua to produce hundreds of millions of dollars worth of flooring, according to a 2005 report by EIA and Telapak, an Indonesian eco-group.
The middlemen in this illegal industry are often military officers or government officials. The tree-cutters’ slice of this lucrative enterprise is meager.
“For every dollar spent on luxurious merbau flooring in the west, local forest dwellers receive less than half a cent … meanwhile forest loss in Indonesia is accelerating, with an area the size of Switzerland lost every year,” says the EIA/Telapak report.
Of course China once had its own trees, but they are largely gone now and replaced with vast deserts, which sometimes get stirred up into violent dust storms that can cause severe respiratory ailments.
In 1998, forest depletion along the Yangtze River caused flooding to become so out of hand that it killed 3,000 people, destroyed five million homes and engulfed nearly 21 hectares of land.
According to the NGOs that are tracking illegally logged wood, China is the world’s leading importer.
They claim that in supporting, and in some cases initiating, much of the illegal logging trade in Asia, China has funded Burma’s murderous military government and the now-deposed regime of Liberia’s Charles Taylor.
Species extinction is another consequence, as is disease, hunger and poverty — not to mention climate change since there are no longer as many trees to absorb the carbon.
Deforestation (much of it illegal) accounts for 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2007 report by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The rate of the world’s transportation sector is 14 per cent.
Wood need never clog our landfills because wood, as opposed to plastic, is a renewable resource that can melt (biodegrade) right back into its natural environment.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.