China's Olympics may destroy New Guinea's rainforests
May 1, 2006
Construction for the 2008 Olympics in China may fuel deforestation in New Guinea according to an article published last week in the Jakarta Post.
The article reports that a Chinese company has asked the Indonesian government for permission to establish a timber processing factory in Indonesia's Papua province to produce 800,000 cubic meters of merbau timber in time for the Olympic games to be held in Bejing. Merbau -- a dark hardwood found in the rainforests of New Guinea -- is used for hardwood floors and currently commands prices of up to US$138 per square meter, making the proposal potentially worth more than a billion dollars.
Environmental groups are concerned that a new timber processing factory would hasten the destruction of the island's highly biodiverse ecosystems.
"An investment of this size will only serve to legitimize and further fuel illegal, highly unsustainable, and ecologically devastating logging," said Glenn Barry, a forest activist who has launched a campaign to block the project. "It is against the Olympic ideals of bringing 'people together in peace to respect universal moral principles' when the events are housed in facilities constructed with ancient rainforest timbers of questionable legality and morality."
The Olympics has only added to the building frenzy currently occurring across China's cities. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), China's demand for imported industrial wood -- timber, paper and pulp -- will grow by at least 33 percent within the next five years, from the current 94 million cubic meters to 125 million cubic meters. Green groups allege that much of this wood -- including "almost all of the estimated 300,000 cubic meters of merbau smuggled out of Papua every month" according to the Post article -- comes from illegal sources. Environmentalists say that American consumers are even unwittingly involved in the illegal trafficking of Papuan timber by purchasing mislabeled merbau flooring products distributed by large retailers across the United States.
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