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Climate Change To Triple Number Of Migrants Reaching European Union By 2100, Study Predicts

The number of migrants making their way into the European Union will nearly triple by the year 2100 if rapid climate warming occurs, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

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The number of migrants making their way into the European Union will nearly triple by the year 2100 if rapid climate warming occurs, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

The new study — which was actually requested by the European Commission itself — relates directly only to climate warming, it should noted — mass migrations triggered by wars and cultural conflicts would be in addition to those discussed by the study.

Photo by Rebecca Harms (some rights reserved)

It’s interesting to note here that there’s been something of a backlash against the report amongst some researchers who were not involved in the work — with the idea being that the findings are exaggerated.

As a student of history, I’ll go ahead here and bluntly state that the reality is that the findings are likely a vast underestimate of what will be occurring during the second half of the 21st century — as climate warming and weirding intensify; and as the common human activities of projection, scapegoating, and lazy thinking do as well.

According to the new study, asylum applications to the EU (from across 103 different nations) tended “to rise in the 2000–2014 period when temperatures at home were far hotter or colder than the ideal for growing maize.”

The projection put forward by the study is that asylum applications could climb to 1.01 million per year by 2100 (up from an average of 351,000 during 2000-2014) under a scenario that sees temperatures rise fairly fast. The primary driver of this rise would be reduced agricultural productivity (again, the human conflict aspects of what’s coming aren’t being factored into this work).

As I noted above, the reality is that even that figure is likely a vast underestimate of what’s coming — based on a look back at earlier periods of rapid climatic change and/or ecological collapse (soil fertility loss included) and taking into account more factors than the research did.

In particular, the late–Bronze Age collapse seems the most relevant corollary to modern problems. It was precipitated by a wide variety of causes, including: the wholesale deforestation of much of the Mediterranean and Middle East; accompanying changes in weather patterns and agricultural failures; mass migrations partly triggered by such; technological changes (a shift from high-quality bronze weapons and professional armies to cheap mass produced iron weapons and commoner/slave/peasant mobs); growing piracy and banditry; and the collapse of highly complex urban systems and bureaucracies; etc.

That collapse, by the way, saw some regions depopulated completely for hundreds of years and the populations of most others reduced to a fraction of what they were before. The populations that remained, it should also be noted, were very different from the ones that preceded them. The Celts and many other modern groups considered to be “European” moved into the region at the time from Anatolia and the Middle East, for instance — largely displacing or committing genocide of the groups that were living there before, it seems.

There’s no way to know for sure exactly what happened in many places as regards that last statement, though, as the script and most of the languages that were in use during the time ceased to exist completely following collapse (the “Linear B” script is still something of a mystery to researchers in many ways). And the period that followed was a so-called “Dark Age” (an age without many written records).

There’s no doubt, though, that mass migrations played a large part in the collapse that occurred in many regions — both directly through conflict and also indirectly through overstressed systems and environments.

I bring all of this up because, speaking from a vantage point that looks back over earlier events and histories, the person that is underselling what is coming is the one that effectively is saying: “Not my problem. I’ll be dead by then. Don’t make me think about it.”

At some point, the reality of what extreme anthropogenic climate change and ecological collapse is slated to bring to the world is going to have to be dealt with. Or, one would think so anyways…

With that in mind, here are some excerpts from a piece Reuters did on the study: “Some other scientists were doubtful about the findings. ‘The evidence so far on the impacts of climate change on migration is still quite weak,’ said Jan Selby, a professor of international relations at the University of Sussex.

“He said it was wrong to project that gradual warming would have the same effect on harvests as weather shocks. ‘A sudden climatic shock may destroy a crop; a gradual increase in temperature over decades would not (instead farmers would change crops, etc). We simply can’t extrapolate from one to the other,’ he wrote in an e-mail.”

That all sounds quite orderly, doesn’t it? In a world where people didn’t behave the way that people do, and more importantly where highly stressed people didn’t behave the way that highly stressed people do, maybe I’d believe it. But when change occurs in human societies in the real world, it usually does so quite messily.

A more notable criticism came from Cambridge University’s Mike Hulme (a geography professor), who questioned why the new study focused on maize: “They note that their model only works for maize rather than other staples. Why? In any case, maize isn’t a major crop in most of the EU’s refugee-origin countries.

“I would have thought that civil war, political repression, weak civil institutions, low levels of educational attainment, etc, are more powerful predictors of asylum-seeking. But this is a question these authors don’t ask. Yet it matters.”

That second paragraph leaves me scratching my head, though — agricultural productivity is the determinant of everything that ultimately goes on in a human society; politics largely just follows from the course set by resource extraction and usage rates (in modern societies anyways).

In other words, won’t rising temperatures and falling agricultural yields lead directly to weakening civil institutions (self-consumption), political repression, and civil war? Isn’t that exactly what’s happened in Syria over the last decade?

I’ll end things here with the study’s assertion that “our findings support the assessment that climate change, especially continued warming, will add another ‘threat multiplier’ that induces people to seek refuge abroad.”

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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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