Good Reads: Saving the Amazon, Kenya's 'Iron Lady,' drones, Depardieu the Russian

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes climate-change diplomacy in the Amazon, a profile of a Kenyan politician to watch beyond the elections, the future of drones, and a look at Gérard Depardieu's new Russian citizenship.

Nelson Feitosa/IBAMA/Reuters/File
Environmental police inspect logs during a raid against illegal logging in Brazil.
Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
Political candidate Martha Karua is Kenya’s ‘Iron Lady.’

In efforts to reduce deforestation levels in the Amazon region, Brazil is at the forefront of an experimental climate-change prevention strategy known as “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” or REDD.

In Foreign Affairs, Jeff Tollefson describes the REDD system, which places monetary value on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be stored in trees. Wealthy nations or corporations pay countries to protect their rain forests, and thus offset carbon emissions.

Through its Amazon Fund, Brazil received funding from Norway starting in 2010. Spending almost $152 million, Brazil executed projects that paid landowners to preserve forests and educated farmers and ranchers on sustainable practices. The result: Brazil has seen a plunging rate of deforestation, registering record lows from 2009 to 2012.

Despite the remaining challenges for implementing a universal plan, Mr. Tollefson writes, “at a time when expectations for progress on climate change are falling, Brazil has given the world a glimmer of hope. In many ways, the hard work is just beginning, but the results so far more than justify continuing the experiment.”

Kenya's 'Iron Lady'

During the run-up to Kenya’s March 4 presidential election, the media focused on the two front-runners, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta. But among the six other candidates, there is one to keep watching: Martha Karua, Kenya’s own “Iron Lady.”

A profile by Al Jazeera details Ms. Karua’s rise in national politics, from a magistrate to a member of parliament and minister for justice under President Mwai Kibaki. She was the only woman to run in this year’s election, during which she pledged to create a universal health-care system and increase Internet access to 50 percent of Kenyans within five years.

“Her manifesto, perhaps reflecting her legal background, emphasises ‘a new spirit of constitutionalism’, prioritising the fight against corruption and respect for national diversity,” Al Jazeera writes.

Her outspoken condemnation of her fellow candidates, particularly those implicated in stoking the postelection violence in 2007, best explains her Iron Lady nickname. She accuses Mr. Odinga of ethnic cleansing, and Mr. Kenyatta is facing charges of crimes against humanity from the International Criminal Court.

She said he should be cleared of those charges before he can be elected president.

“How do you seek votes, yet grave accusations of causing death, arson and mass displacements are on your head?” she told reporters. “If your cow’s leg is broken, do you strap a plough on it and head to the farm – or do you first get it treated and allow it time to heal?”

Future of drones

Drones have drastically changed the strategy of modern warfare, playing an effective, albeit controversial, role in the US fight against Al Qaeda. The government and private companies are now looking homeward for the next development in drone technology. Potential uses include crop dusting, traffic control, border patrol, and weather forecasting, reports John Horgan in National Geographic. But even with these benefits, people are worried about potential breaches in privacy – and the possibility for errors.

As new, more sophisticated drones take to the skies in the United States, and in other countries where drones are manufactured (such as China, Israel, and Iran), Mr. Horgan says that limiting risk is crucial.

“The invention that escapes our control, proliferating whether or not it benefits humanity, has been a persistent fear of the industrial age – with good reason,” Horgan writes. “Nuclear weapons are too easy an example; consider what cars have done to our landscape over the past century, and it’s fair to wonder who’s in the driver’s seat, them or us."

Depardieu and income inequality

As Gérard Depardieu takes up residency in his newly adopted countries (Belgium and Russia), Lauren Collins in The New Yorker explains why the French have dismissed the once beloved actor.

Mr. Depardieu famously renounced his French citizenship after the government promised to impose a new supertax on the wealthy – 75 percent on incomes greater than 1 million euros. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called Depardieu’s move “pathetic.”

This was the ultimate insult for a man who came from a poor background and built his wealth through acting and entrepreneurial ventures. He’s leaving France, he said in a letter to Mr. Ayrault, “because you believe success, creation, talent, anything different, to be grounds for sanction.”

But 60 percent of his former countrymen support the supertax, drawing “on the republican ideal of taxation as an institution that would foster social cohesion,”writes Ms. Collins. Taxes on the rich are seen as a way to prevent income disparities.

“There’s a very egalitarian idea of what society should be, whatever hypocrisy it entails,” Christine Ockrent, a veteran journalist, told Collins. “It dates back to the French Revolution, which, by the way, was a very bourgeois revolution. The myth of equality is something which strangles any discussion about income.”

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