Researcher: Warming Globe Could Drive Climate Migrants To The Mountain West

May 7, 2020
Originally published on May 27, 2020 9:25 am

A recent study shows that humans have been living in a specific temperature "niche" for at least 6,000 years, but climate change could force billions of people to live in areas outside of the niche by 2070. That could be intolerably hot, even lethal, for many of them.  

That study also showed that the Mountain West may get warmer, but will likely stay well within that historic temperature niche. That doesn’t mean it won’t be affected, though, according to Tim Kohler, a regents professor of evolutionary anthropology and archeology at Washington State University who co-authored the study.

"If we don’t take action, we can expect that there will be large pressures on northern countries such as ours to accept large numbers of migrants. And we know that that’s going to be politically difficult," Kohler said.

Kohler said this study isn’t set in stone, though, and that humans can still avoid some of the more dire outcomes of climate change if they act quickly. 

“These are projections. Models are not 100% accurate, they never can be. But they are certainly the best tools we have available for us right now. They’re painting a rather grim picture. And people have to decide if that’s the way they want the world to be in 50 years when most of us will be gone, but our children will still be hanging around,” he said.

Kohler added that our nation should also plan to help vulnerable populations in case we don’t succeed. 

"In the absence of migration, one third of the global population is projected to experience a [mean annual temperature greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit] currently found in only 0.8% of the Earth’s land surface, mostly concentrated in the Sahara," the authors wrote.

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

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This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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