The Arctic and the Amazon: Global Change and the World's Last Great Frontiers - NEW COURSE

Robert Healy
LS 760-33
Spring 2019
Mondays, 6:15-8:45 pm
Carr 242
Begins *January 9 - Ends April 15 (no class on January 21 and March 11)

The Arctic and the Amazon are only recently explored, mapped, and affected by the economic, social, and ecological forces associated with modernity.  They have many things in common, including an often inaccurate treatment in popular literature and films, sensitive environments disproportionately affected by global change, recent penetration of even the most remote regions by highways and seaways; new interest by outside economic actors in resource development, and small groups of indigenous people trying to obtain decision-making authority and protect traditional cultures and people/land relationships.


The course will interrogate how several disciplines deal with the past, present, and future of these important mega-regions, including history, literature, anthropology, political economy and economics, ecology and conservative biology, and public policy studies.


  1. Heroic exploration narratives—not that long ago—Theodore Roosevelt in River of Doubt; Arctic exploration narratives of Fritjob Nansen, accounts of the Franklin expedition, George DeLong’s Jeanette expedition and others;
  2. Literary works with a strong sense of place.  For example, David Gramm’s The Lost City of Z or Kim Leine’s Prophets of the Eternal Fjord (18th century Greenland);
  3. Relatively small numbers of scattered indigenous groups that are struggling for sovereignty over land and resources and to hold on to traditional ways of life;
  1. historical encounters between indigenous people and Europeans; Canadian Film Board film Pangnirtung; exploitation of rubber tappers;
  2. groups exhibiting agency rather than victimhood (Kayapo and Xingu; Choci Mendes and rubber tappers; Arctic Native Claims Settlement Act; Matthew Coon Come and the James Bay Cree); links with national and international environmental groups;

4.    Potential for mineral development (oil and gas, metals); water and dams in Amazonia; agriculture and forest plantations; fisheries in Arctic seas and Amazonian rivers;

5.    Biodiversity—extremely high in Amazonia; extremely low in Arctic.  Concentration of nutrients (in vegetation in Amazon) in waters and under the ice in Arctic.  Emblematic life forms—the polar bear and the jaguar;

6.    Multiple nations involved—six in Amazon basin; six in Arctic.  Scores of subnational governments and stakeholders;

7.    Historically colonial relationship to outside authority—core and periphery; decolonialization;

8.    Relation of local groups to national and international NGOs in seeking to confirm or protect management and use rights;

9.    Role of tourism/ecotourism as both a threat to the environment and a possible income source for local people;

10.  Designation and management of protected areas; type of areas and implementation experience;

11.       Present and future impacts of climate change—warming and ice melt in Arctic; drought and fire in Amazon; impacts on local people; impacts on world climate system; policy alternatives.

About Robert Healy
Nicholas School of the Environment

Bob Healy is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Policy in the Nicholas School and of Public Policy Studies in the Terry Sanford School. Before coming to Duke in 1986, he was a researcher with The Urban Institute, Resources for the Future and The Conservation Foundation/World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C. He has written ten books, mainly on issues of land use, environmental management and economic development. The latest are Knowledge and Environmental Policy (MIT 2011) and Environmental Policy in North America (Toronto 2013). Locally, he has long been involved with efforts to protect the New Hope Creek watershed. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles.