March 2, 2018
For the last fifteen years, I have been researching how environmental events like droughts, floods, and storms affect human communities and migration patterns. I am interested in both the historical relationship between environment and migration and understanding how climate change will affect migration patterns in the future. The title of my 2014 book published by Cambridge University Press captures the nature of my work quite nicely - Climate and Human Migration: Past experience, future challenges.
There is a wide interest in this research beyond academia, and I often give interviews to the media (e.g. the CBC, the BBC and NPR) on how climate change will affect global migration patterns. I have also provided advice to government ministries in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and European Union countries on environmental migration, as well as the World Bank, several United Nations agencies, and public policy think tanks.
A good example of the type of advice they seek is found in the 2017 Global Land Outlook Report issued by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which contains a chapter I contributed on how drought, desertification and land degradation affect migration patterns in dry land regions. The short answer to this question is that migration is a common livelihood strategy that people living in dry lands use to adapt to the inherent challenges of living in a challenging environment.
The next stage in my research is a SSHRC-funded project that will investigate the effects of drought on rural communities in western North America. My co-investigator Colin Roberston and I want to know how rural populations adapt: are there are circumstances when droughts (or floods, storms, pest outbreaks, fires, etc.) prompt people to leave rural communities and if so, what are the long-term implications. This type of information is important for planners, policymakers and governments at all levels, from local to national, especially since extreme heat events, droughts, water scarcity, and fire risks in the west will be amplified by the impacts of climate change in coming decades.
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