Saturday, October 23, 2010

Borneo's majestic rainforest is being killed by the timber mafia

Borneo's majestic rainforest is being killed by the timber mafia

Felling trees to meet British demand for garden furniture is devastating villages, livelihoods and food supplies, and threatening endangered species

floods in indonesia
Villagers cope with 'dry season' flooding in Lanjak; the monsoons are still a month away. Photograph: Tracy McVeigh
The cows are afloat, with squawking chickens sharing their sturdy bamboo rafts. Children splash and swim in and around their homes, keeping away from the deeper channel of peat-coloured water that powers through the village of Meliau. Adults tightrope-walk across makeshift paths of hardwood thrown over huge floating logs. Others paddle around in long wooden boats. Everything that floats is lashed to everything that doesn't.
The monsoon rains are not due for a month or so, but the "dry" season for people in West Kalimantan province in Indonesian Borneo has been marked by three months of unrelenting floods. The sky is clear and blue and the stilted long houses and huts are reflected in mirror image on the water: it is a strangely scenic backdrop to one of the largest unfolding disasters on the planet – the stripping of the Borneo rainforest.

Indonesia has one of the world's largest areas of remaining forest but also one of the highest deforestation rates, ranking only behind Brazil. The vast green rainforest carpet has become a patchwork with more than half of Borneo's tree cover and peat swamps – which absorb much of the planet's carbon excesses – already gone after a decade's "goldrush" of uncontrolled timber logging that was at last partially curtailed in 2006.

But now the rest is being pillaged by palm oil and pulpwood plantations and networks of illegal loggers – the "timber mafias" – in an onslaught that is endangering not only the wildlife and the people but also contributing to global climate change on a scale far out of proportion to the island's size on the map. Indonesia's carbon emissions as a result of its deforestation and land use changes put it in third place of the world's worst offenders, behind only the US and China.

The timber from its rare 100- to 200- year-old diptocarp trees, each one the home of hundreds of insects, is eagerly snapped up, keeping consumers and the construction industry in the UK and elsewhere in tables, patio chairs, trinket boxes, doors and plywood. When consumers buy paper, furniture or even charcoal on the British high street there is an estimated more than 80% chance they are buying into this destruction.

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Biofuels are a wide range of fuels which are in some way derived from biomass.

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