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What’s on CIFOR’s holiday reading list?

Check out these recommended reads from CIFOR scientists
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With holidays approaching, now is the time to catch up on those articles, books and films missed out on over a busy year. We asked CIFOR scientists for their recommendations on interesting, science-based content to get immersed in over the break.

Robert Nasi, Deputy Director General, Research

Following COP22, Robert Nasi has been reading up on the Paris Agreement and the 1.5-degree limit. He suggested a range of articles that approach the topic from different perspectives.

In Nature, the article Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2°C presents an interesting analysis of the current set of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), and shows the value and challenges in this new era for climate policy.

Science and policy characteristic of the Paris Agreement temperature goal in Nature Climate Change is on the same topic but with another angle, and proposes a post-Paris science agenda.

In Current Biology, The environmental legacy of modern tropical deforestation comes from the perspective of ‘hidden’ or overlooked time lags that might already doom the efforts to stay below 2 degrees. The piece suggests conservation alone won’t be enough.

Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, Scientist, Gender Coordinator

Bimbika Basnett recommends a handful of classic works on gender and forestry – all defining texts in the field and essential reads for those interested in the interactions and intersections between gender, forestry and the environment.

Bina Agarwal’s work on gender and green governance (starting from her 2001 paper on the topic) is a must for anybody interested in understanding why gender inequality matters for forests and the environment. Agarwal, a well-known feminist economist, researched groups set up to manage village forests in rural Nepal and Gujarat that are often praised for bringing people together to manage resources with little intervention from governments or market forces. Agarwal finds that women are either absent or play a very limited role in these groups, even in instances where women are more dependent on forests than men. Agarwal shows how increasing women’s participation can have positive outcomes for both women and forests as the rules determining who can access forests, when and for what purposes tend to be more favorable to women.

But, Agarwal argues that simply adding women is not sufficient. There needs to be a ‘critical mass’ of women represented in decision-making bodies and when key decisions are being made about forests.

Earth Mother Myths and Other Ecofeminist Fables: How a Strategic Notion Rose and Fell by Melissa Leach in Development and Change

This paper provides an excellent and critical overview of how gender has been integrated over the years in environment and development policies and interventions. It notes that gender, or ‘women’s issues’, was first brought to the development and environment agenda by two camps: eco-feminists who argued that women are inherently close to nature and possess deep knowledge about forests because of their biology, and those from the Women, Environment and Development (WED) side, who also shared the view that women are closer to nature than men. Many feminist scholars and practitioners have criticized both WED and eco-feminists on several grounds, for example assuming that women are the same everywhere, what women and men do not change, and for focusing only on women and not on men.

Others argued that policies and interventions informed by WED/eco-feminism can be harmful to women by simply adding women rather than addressing underlying gender inequalities, increasing women’s unpaid work burden and perpetuating gender stereotypes, among other things. Leach found that policies and interventions were slowly abandoning WED and eco-feminist ‘fables’ and a more rights-based and politically aware approach was building momentum. But, she feared that the ‘baby was being thrown out of the bathwater’ to the extent that gender issues were being sidelined and policies and interventions remained gender unaware.

The World Survey on the role of women in development 2014: Gender equality and sustainable development by UN Women

This UN Women report was released before the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were finalized, but it was clear that one of the goals would be dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and that it would go beyond the Millennium Development Goals. There are many reasons why the report is important, including the point that gender equality and women’s empowerment are important development goals in their own right and not because they would be instrumental in achieving other goals. The report notes that women’s work needs to be a part of data collection efforts, and it offers lessons for research projects on zero deforestation pledges/corporate commitments and REDD+.

A Feminist in the Forest: Situated Knowledges and Mixing Methods in Natural Resource Management by Andrea Nightingale in ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 

This paper builds on, or engages with, some of the most significant contributions that feminist scholars and researchers have made to social science methods and data collection. Nightingale points out that there is no objective truth that can be extracted by having an arms-length approach between researchers and the objects of their research. ‘Data’ is inevitably an outcome of researchers’ own social and political backgrounds, commitments and assumptions, as well as the nature of their interaction with research objects, what research subjects want to tell them and socio-political realities. She concludes that instead of privileging any particular methodology, it is important to use multiple methods to uncover different, plural and competing voices from the field.

Romain Pirard, Senior Scientist

Romain Pirard’s list returns to the past to look at the roots of conservationist attitudes and environmental concerns in the arts. His selections all come from the end of the 1950s, a period of rising awareness of wildlife and environmental issues among artists, and in turn among society at large.

A fairly voluminous book, The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary was published in 1956. This work of fiction exposes brilliantly the damages of elephant poaching in Africa and the struggle of an idealist who faces both local and colonial forces in his crusade. Producing certainly one of the first fiction novels that deals with the issue, Gary was a pioneer, as exemplified in his other works. He is a recipient of the most prestigious literature prize in France, the Prix Goncourt.

For film lovers, The Roots of Heaven was adapted with the same name for the screen by John Huston in 1958, with Errol Flynn in the main role.

The film Wind Across the Everglades by Nicholas Ray was released the same year. It tells the edifying story of a game warden fighting plume hunters in Florida and gives an interesting and complementary perspective to elephant poaching in a totally different (but just as tough) context.

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