Environmentalist and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai has announced she is withdrawing from the Olympic torch relay. As an activist, Maathai connects the dots between environmental devastation, democracy and peace. The L.A. Times reports that Maathai
urged China to use its economic influence to halt the destruction of African forests, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Tanzania, as it buys up natural resources around the world.
In her statement (you can read it here at the website for the Green Belt Movement she founded), Maathai wrote,
With respect to the upcoming Beijing Olympics, I have been aware of the environmental challenges China has faced as a fast growing economy that is largely dependent on fossil fuels. Some of the environmental initiatives taken by China to comply with the spirit of a “green Olympics” such as planting trees and controlling pollution have been commendable.
Nevertheless, I have grappled with the contentious issues surrounding the Olympics and which are being raised daily by human rights and environmental activists. I am sensitive on the need to demonstrate our commitment to the issues of human rights and the environment. Here in Africa we have benefited greatly from the solidarity of the international community when we most needed it. Without such solidarity at the international level our own political crisis would likely have degenerated into unmanageable levels.
Maathai joins a growing group of Olympic boycotters, including Japanese shot put maker Masahisa Tsujitani, Indian football (aka soccer) captain Bhaichung Bhutia and Thai environmentalist Narisa Chakrabongse.