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Will Climate Change Lead To Mass Migration?

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Governor Jerry Brown often speaks on the dangers of climate change. And recently he’s referenced the situation in Europe.

"When we look at the Middle East and we see the desperate migrants trying to escape the hell of the Middle East wars and now inundating Europe, we get a foretaste of what climate change will mean," he says. "Not just to Europe, but to California."

But migration experts disagree about whether the comparison is sound.

Demetrios Papademetriou is President of the Migration Policy Institute Europe.

"I suspect the governor was trying to use the European situation as a teachable moment," he says. "It is not. 

Papademetriou says mass migration based on climate change is unlikely as long as countries adapt and try to mitigate the effects. 

UC Davis Economics Professor Giovani Peri says the research on climate and migration is limited.

"Most of the research, by the way, on weather and migration, is on Africa, is on communities which are very, very poor, who are really counting on agriculture to support themselves," he says.

But UC Berkeley Public Policy Professor Solomon Hsiang says Brown is not wrong in his assessment.

"What the governor is talking about isn’t crazy," he says. "And it’s not inconsistent with all sorts of patterns we’ve seen around the world, including the United States, over the last century."

Shung says the American Dust Bowl is an example of how climate forced mass migration as people followed economic opportunities. 

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