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Excerpt from Strangely Like War

Eating the World (p. 117)

From chapter "Consuming the World"

A voice from Papua New Guinea: “You white people use sawn timber to build your houses. We Niugini use black palm for flooring. We use cane instead of nails. We use Kunai to make our roof instead of iron. Machines of the company have spoiled our black palm trees, our cane, and the dozers have trampled our Kunai land. Gone is the Malou we use to make our traditional clothes for sharing our customs with the other villages. Machines have spoiled our land and our tradition. Money is no compensation.”


Transnational corporations are eating the world. One of their strengths as a tool of the rich is that they so effectively kill at great distances. Those who profit never have to see the devastation they cause. Another of their strengths is that because they do not actually exist, because they are legal fictions, they can never be killed. Worse, because they have no bodies—being instead the “embodiment” of greed, and because they, like the rest of our culture, are an attempt to separate themselves—for whatever stupid, insane, murderous, and suicidal reason—from the world that surrounds them, they effectively never need stop growing.

So corporations grow huge as forests grow small. Our lives and local economies grow ever-more-controlled by these ever-larger, ever-more-distant, and ever-more-imperious fictional entities.

And they are eating the world.

It’s all very strange, very sad, very stupid.

Transnational corporations and those who run them have no allegiance to any place. Corporations based in the United States deforest southeast Asia. Corporations based in southeast Asia deforest South America. Corporations based in Europe deforest Africa. It doesn’t stop.

Our problem with globalization is not based on abstract economic and political theory. We are talking about actual companies and real forests. The largest “landowners” in the world are timber companies.

The Canadian corporation Abitibi-Price owns a million acres in the United States and Canada, and holds cutting rights to 19 million acres more. Barito Pacific holds 2 million of Indonesia’s 21 million acres of forestry concessions. Canadian Pacific Forest Products owns or holds tenures on 24 million acres. The Japanese paper manufacturer Daishowa controls nearly 10 million acres of timberland in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. Karl Danzer of Germany controls more than 7 million acres worldwide, including concessions accounting for 10 percent of Zaire’s forests and 40 percent of its logging, and an Ivory Coast concession of almost a million acres. In the 1980s Danzer also operated in Brazil and Argentina. From its concession of 750,000 acres in Gabon’s Bee forest, the German corporation Glunz obtained okoume logs for its Isoroy subsidiary, the largest tropical plywood producer in Europe. Seeking more “raw material,” Glunz also gets logs from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and the Congo. Japanese Hyundai signed a thirty-year logging agreement in the Primorskiy Krai in Siberia in 1990; much of the timber is exported as raw logs; Hyundai has also expanded into the upper Bikin watershed. International Paper has controlled as much as 12 million acres across the United States. The Timber Group branch of John Hancock Insurance Company controls more than 3 million acres in the United States and Australia. Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi controls more than 20 million acres of timberland in Australia (woodchips), Brazil (plywood), Canada (pulp and paper and chopsticks), Chile (woodchips), Papua New Guinea, and the United States (woodchips). New Oji Paper, associated with Mitsui of Japan controls 17 million acres of timberland and operates woodchip, pulp, and paper mills in Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Brazil, Thailand, Chile, and Indonesia. The Malaysian timber company Rimbunan Hijau owns or controls more than 9 million acres in Papua New Guinea (and accounts for more than half of PNG’s total timber cut), Malaysia (2 million acres), Brazil (more than a million acres), Khabarovsk Russia (almost a million acres), Cameroon and New Zealand. Rougier Ocean (a French corporation) controls more than 300,000 acres and a sawmill and plywood plant in Cameroon, and exports logs to France, Italy, Spain, and Japan. Half of Cameroon’s debt to France was cancelled in 1994 in exchange for Rougier Ocean’s access to Cameroon timber, while French President Mitterand’s son was, coincidentally enough, a shareholder in Rougier’s Cameroonian subsidiary. Rougier also has the largest foreign holding in Gabon timber (more than 90 percent of Gabon’s timber cut is exported as raw logs). The Malaysian company Samling signed a 1994 agreement giving it access to almost 5 percent of Cambodia’s land area and 12 percent of its remaining forest. Samling has entered into multimillion-acre agreements in Brazil. In 1991 Samling and the Korean company Sung Kyong obtained a 25-year license to log 4 million acres in Guyana. Samling also operates at “home” in Malaysia, with rights to cut more than 3 million acres. The Malaysian corporation Tenaga Khemas has a concession of almost 2 million acres in Guyana.

And so on.


A voice from Malaysia, a statement signed by sixty-one tribal Dayak leaders: “Some people say we are against ‘development’ if we do not agree to move out of our land and forest. This completely misrepresents our position. Development does not mean stealing our land and forest. . . . This is not development but theft of our land, our rights and our cultural identity.”

What we said earlier, about how corporations never need stop growing, is not precisely true. They will not stop growing until they have consumed the world. Surely they will stop then. And so will the forests. And so will we.