China is deforesting Russia

Preface. Here’s more than half of a New York Times article about China deforesting Russia. Yikes! Peak oil had better come soon before we denude the earth.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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Myers, S. L. 2019. China’s Voracious Appetite for Timber Stokes Fury in Russia and Beyond. After sharply restricting logging in its own forests, China turned to imports, overwhelming even a country with abundant resources: Russia. New York Times.

From the Altai Mountains to the Pacific Coast, logging is ravaging Russia’s vast forests, leaving behind swathes of scarred earth studded with dying stumps.

The culprit, to many Russians, is clear: China. Chinese demand is also stripping forests elsewhere — from Peru to Papua New Guinea, Mozambique to Myanmar.

Since China began restricting commercial logging in its own natural forests two decades ago, it has increasingly turned to Russia, importing huge amounts of wood in 2017 to satisfy the voracious appetite of its construction companies and furniture manufacturers.

“In Siberia, people understand they need the forests to survive,” said Eugene Simonov, an environmentalist who has studied the impact of commercial logging in Russia’s Far East. “And they know their forests are now being stolen.”

Russia has been a witting collaborator, too, selling Chinese companies logging rights at low cost and, critics say, turning a blind eye to logging beyond what is legally allowed.

In the Solomon Islands, the current pace of logging by Chinese companies could exhaust the country’s once pristine rain forests by 2036, according to Global Witness, an environmental group. In Indonesia, activists warn that illegal logging linked to a company with Chinese partners threatens one of the last strongholds for orangutans on the island of Borneo.

Environmentalists say China has simply shifted the harm of unbridled logging from home to abroad, even as it reaps the economic benefits. Some warn that the scale of logging today could deplete what unspoiled forests remain, contributing to global warming.

At the same time, China is protecting its own woodlands.

Two decades ago, concerns about denuded mountains, polluted rivers and devastating floods along the Yangtze River made worse by damaged watersheds prompted the Communist government to begin restricting commercial logging in the nation’s forests.

The country’s demand for wood did not diminish, however. Nor did the world’s demand for plywood and furniture, the main wood products that China makes and exports.

It is one thing for Chinese demand to overwhelm small, poor nations desperate for cash, but it is another for it to drain the resources of a far larger country, one that regards itself as a superpower and a strategic partner to China.

The trade has instead underscored Russia’s overreliance on natural resources and provoked a popular backlash that strains the otherwise warm relations between the countries’ two leaders, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Protests have erupted in many cities. Members in Russia’s upper house of parliament have assailed officials for ignoring the environmental damage in Siberia and the Far East. Residents and environmentalists complain that logging is spoiling Russian watersheds and destroying the habitats of the endangered Siberian tiger and Amur leopard.

China’s stunning economic transformation over the last four decades has driven its demand. It is now the world’s largest importer of wood. The US is second. It is also the largest exporter — turning much of the wood it imports into products headed to Home Depots and Ikeas around the world.

More than 500 companies operate in Russia now, often with Russian partners, according to a report by Vita Spivak, a scholar on China for the Carnegie Moscow Center. Russia once delivered almost no wood to China; it now accounts for more than 20 percent of China’s imports by value.

Russia sells such logging concessions at prices that vary by region and type of wood, but on average, they cost roughly $2 a hectare, or 80 cents an acre, per year, according to Mr. Shmatkov of the World Wildlife Fund. That is far below the cost in other countries.

Government corruption, criminality and the lack of economic development in Siberia and the Far East have made the crisis worse.

Also, in many rural areas of the Russian Far East and Siberia, there are few other ways to make money, or to make a living, than stripping natural resources of the vast surrounding forests. Logging without contracts is also common, while arsonists are suspected of having set fires to forests, because scorched trees can be legally culled and sold.

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