F&ES 827b / 2013-2014

Contemporary Environmental Challenges in Africa

Credits: 3

Spring 2014: Tu, 1:00-3:50, Sage 32


The objective of this seminar is to provide students with in-depth insight into the dynamics of human-environment interactions in sub-Saharan Africa in a collaborative and open discussion format. Families, communities and nations in the African region face an array environmental challenges ranging from periodic drought and food insecurity to loss of biodiversity, conflict over resources and persistent poverty. Moreover, many countries in the region are saddled with histories of colonial rule that defined human-environment relationships in the simplest terms, often posing direct causal links between traditional practices and environmental degradation while ignoring the complex interplay of social, biophysical and geographical factors that contribute to environmental outcomes. Throughout the course, we will critically engage common perceptions of African environments, explore alternative theories, and seek deeper understandings of human-environment interactions in the region. The course is designed around six main themes: 1) Environment, poverty and development; 2) Property rights and access to resources; 3) Risk and adaptation to natural hazards and climate change; 4) Conservation, deforestation and biodiversity, and 5) Transboundary issues and environmental politics. Within each theme, we will devote a week to introducing the general concepts and a second week to discussing one or two in-depth case studies that illustrate the issue in detail. Student work will consist of participation in class discussion and a course paper, which will be presented to the class. Enrollment is limited to 15 students.