The Hidden Cost of Your Hardwood Floor


image by Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune

Coming soon to a condo near you: Hardwood made in China. "Night and day, the timber ships reach this Yangtze River port[Zhangjiagang], one of the world's busiest clearinghouses for logs from every corner of the globe: Southeast Asia, the Amazon, Russia, the Congo....And no one is consuming more of it than Americans. U.S. shoppers have become the world's best customers of low-cost Chinese flooring, furniture and plywood, buying 10 times as much as a decade ago. But that profitable embrace comes at a steep, hidden cost: The demand for cheap Chinese goods is driving destructive logging around the world, threatening livelihoods and dividing fragile nations."

We have covered this subject before, but Evan Osnos of the Chicago Tribune has prepared a special report that is a must-read.

We copy a brief section here:

There may be no better place to hear the echoes of China's rise than Papua New Guinea, whose local timber industry is booming. It sends four out of every five logs to China.

Less than a decade ago, the industry was headed for ruin--until something thousands of miles away changed the course of the island nation's natural history.

In the summer of 1998, massive floods struck the Yangtze and other Chinese rivers, leaving thousands dead and 14 million people homeless. Chinese authorities blamed aggressive logging for eroding the soil and exacerbating the floods.

With the sweeping power afforded a one-party authoritarian state, China banned logging on vast sections of the rivers, slashed tariffs to attract foreign logs and turned in part to Papua New Guinea.

Since that moment, its timber exports to China have soared more than tenfold. Though the exports accounted for just 6.5 percent of China's log imports in 2005, they meant everything to its tiny trade partner. In effect, China salvaged the logging business in Papua New Guinea.

"If you took China out of the industry now, we wouldn't be sitting here," said timber spokesman Bob Tate.

Papua New Guinea spreads east from Indonesia across half the rugged island of New Guinea. This year it crossed an astounding milestone, leaping past big Asian and African timber producers to become China's largest supplier of tropical logs.

Behind that surge is a timber industry with unequaled power in local politics and business, strong enough to keep cutting trees despite mounting criticism from citizens, government and international organizations.

Regulators describe a logging system in crisis. Hundreds of pages of Papua New Guinea government audits, ordered by the World Bank from 2000 to 2005, document widespread illegal and unsustainable logging, a monitoring system "fatally damaged" by budget cuts and cronyism, and "few lasting benefits" to the villagers who sell their trees.

Foreign donors and customers have begun to recoil. The World Bank canceled a conservation deal last year that would have delivered more than $30 million in loans. British timber traders recently issued a rare advisory to avoid products made of Papua New Guinea wood.

::Chicago Tribune
(may require free registration) and also ::Is Your Wood Legal?