Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Climate Scientists and Predicting Future Migration in a World Where Average Temperature has Increased by 7 Degrees

An example  worth reading.  You won't learn much about our future under climate change but you will see a laundry list of uncertainties related to how climate change will affect us in the future.  You will see that this researcher admits that "he knows that he does not know" what climate change will mean for specific migration patterns.  Since the author is not an economist, you will not see any discussion of incentives or free market capitalism providing signals helping people to cope with future scenarios.  This logic is what distinguishes Climatopolis from other "pontifications" about our future in the face of climate change.

UPDATE: I also suggest that you read the preface from the same January 2011 Special Issue. I can't say that I'm that impressed with their current knowledge.  Climate change looks like a vague threat and we need these nerds to make some progress refining their predictions and offering better geographic resolution to help us to adapt.

Here are a few quotes from the article.

"As adaptation strategies will be a key element of the fight against climate
change in a 4◦C+ world, policy responses would need, in particular, to promote
the right to mobility. Migration can indeed be an efficient adaptation strategy
and traditional patterns of mobility in relation to environmental changes will
most probably be deeply disrupted. Migration, in many cases, would need
to be encouraged rather than avoided. Migration would have to become a
core element of the affected populations’ adaptive capacity, rather than a
symptom of adaptation failure."  (this sounds like a quote from Climatopolis!)

"Climate change will affect societies through an extensive range of impacts. The
prediction of such impacts, however, remains marred by uncertainties, especially
at the regional and local levels."  (this is why I wrote Climatopolis to help people think these issues through!)

"The effects of water stress on migration patterns remain heavily contested:
some authors argue that droughts and desertification are a major push factor
for migration [28,29]"

"We are thus faced with a double level of uncertainty: the first level deals with
uncertainties related to climate impacts on local and regional scales; whereas
the second level concerns the way humans will react to environmental changes.
Such uncertainties are even greater in the event where the average global
temperature would rise by 4◦C and beyond."  (again my friends, this is why I wrote Climatopolis!)

"Given the uncertainties associated with a 2◦C temperature rise, an assessment
of climate-induced displacements in a 4◦C+ world is a very tricky task. Though
empirical evidence cannot predict future population displacements, it suggests
that, in a 4◦C+ world, people might move in a very different way than in a 2◦C
world: the very nature of the displacements might be affected more than just
their magnitude."  (capitalist price signals will guide the migration, migration is a rational investment
choice and price signals will tell workers where their skills are valued and where food and necessities are
more plentiful).

"However, not everyone moves when confronted with environmental changes.
Another consequence of a temperature rise of 4◦C+ might be, paradoxically
and in some cases, a decrease in the number of people on the move. Numerous
studies show that migration flows tend to decrease when environmental crises
peak. This is especially true in the case of droughts, as people tend to allocate
their income primarily to meet their household’s basic needs rather than to
moving [6,36]."   (note that he does not discuss increasing the efficiency of using our resources more wisely in a climate changed world. No more green grass, reducing production of water intensive crops --- such actions could allow us to live on where we currently live even if we have fewer resources because of climate change -- price signals of rising scarcity would bring about this transition more smoothly).

"In a nutshell, the effects of a 4◦C+ temperature rise on migration flows remain
difficult to assess. The linkages between environmental changes and mobility
cannot be explained through a linear, deterministic relationship, though many
discourses on this issue remain rooted in an essentialist perspective. Empirical
research has shown that responses to environmental changes vary according to
a wide set of factors and are context-specific: this makes it difficult—if not
impossible—to design a general predictive model of climate-induced displacement."  (and this is a peer reviewed paper given that he concludes "mush"? I do respect his honesty about the uncertainty here but notice that nowhere does he discuss capitalism as a useful force in guiding adaptation efforts. But, that is the whole point of Climatopolis.)

"As Danish physicist Niels Bohr famously put it, ‘prediction is very difficult,
especially about the future’. A 4◦C+ world would bring unprecedented changes
to the environment, likely to affect human mobility in different ways."  (Well, maybe the wise Bohr should have taken a course in micro economics?)

I looked up the author's resume and he is not a scientist but it is revealing that this is the author that must have been selected for this conference to discuss "climate change and humanity".   While prediction is difficult an economic analysis of adaptation offers more precise pathways for how we will respond to climate change than this article suggests.