Social networks as corridors for climate migration
Social networks are forged through the connections between people in origin and destination countries, which may then lower the cost of an international move through information on the destination labor market and through information on the migration process itself. Once established, these social networks may form migrant corridors, which may strongly facilitate transnational migration. In the presence of established social networks, even small climatic triggers may lead to massive livelihood-based migration responses. We term this relationship the amplification mechanism. Network-facilitated climate migration is of particular concern to industrialized nations with established labor migration ties to developing countries. There have been fears of large numbers of poor people from developing countries migrating to industrialized nations in response to climate change.
Mexico as ideal case
We set out to find empirical evidence for or against the amplification mechanism and the results of this study have been published in Global Environmental Change. Our study focused on rural Mexican households, which heavily depend on agriculture for sustenance and income generation, making them highly vulnerable to the impacts of adverse climate change. Moreover, rural Mexico provides a unique case for the study of social network’s influence on climate migration because century-long labor migration from Mexico to the U.S. has led to the establishment of dense transnational ties connecting the two countries.
Contrary to popular beliefs, social networks, therefore, appear to suppress rather than amplify climate migration"
For this study, we combined detailed migration histories with daily temperature and precipitation records for a 40-year period that allowed us to compute a set of 15 climate change indices.
We measured social networks in terms of prior migration experience at the household level and the prevalence of return-migrants in the community.
Networks suppress rather than amplify climate migration
Surprisingly, the results from sophisticated statistical models revealed that adverse climatic conditions such as heat waves and rainfall decline increased international migration only in the absence of social networks. As soon as strong social networks were present, climate change ceased to have any effect on migration. Contrary to popular beliefs, social networks, therefore, appear to suppress rather than amplify climate migration. One explanation for this effect is that networks may facilitate climate change adaptation. Through established transnational networks, rural Mexican households receive remittances and knowledge that can be used to adapt to climate change in their local communities. For example, households may learn from their relatives and friends who reside in the U.S. how to use drip irrigation systems and receive the necessary funds to implement this technology on their own fields.
The results from our study suggest that social networks may help vulnerable rural households to adapt to climate change. Policies and programs that help facilitate the transfer of knowledge and funds through established social networks may reduce climate-related migration from developing countries to industrialized nations.
Photo Credits: View of Popo from the Pyramid in Cholula, Mexico: Russ Bowling under CC BY 2.0 // Puebla Centro: Russ Bowling under CC BY 2.0 // ARS Agronomist Jim Smart and Mexican farmers Miguel Morales Beltran and Hector Rodriquez Mediola discussing the 1996 drought that caused this irrigation ditch: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under CC BY 2.0 // Remittance services in London: futureatlas.com under CC BY 2.0