The Climate Reconciliation

By Keith Kloor | March 12, 2010 12:03 pm

Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress (CAP) moderated an interesting panel discussion on the relationship between migration and climate change. Based upon this CAP paper on the subject, issued in December, it would seem that the liberal think tank is not above overplaying the scary climate migrant card.

So, via The New Security Beat, which has posted excerpts of the recent CAP event, I see that one migration expert who participated in the panel injected some scholarly rigor into the debate. Here’s what Susan Martin, a professor of International Migration at Georgetown University, said at one point:

Environmentalists have tended to see the issue of migration as a way of getting attention to mitigation and have often talked about migration in very alarmist terms. Migration experts, on the other hand, have been very skeptical about the interconnection.

Unfortunately, the New Security Beat did not capture any response to that comment. Now I may be comparing apples & oranges here, but an observation like that from a migration expert strikes me as awfully similar to the kinds of things that a well known political scientist has been saying for some time about the dubious link between disasters and climate change.

Yet this disaster (and climate policy) expert, perhaps because he has the temerity to air his views on a blog (his credentials and published papers are not in question), is often denounced by some of the loudest climate advocates, one who happens to be a well known CAP blogger.

Since this particular blogger refuses to debate the disaster and climate policy expert one on one, perhaps they could instead participate in another CAP panel, which I would call, “Reconciling Climate Science, Politics, and Policy.” In my dream panel, they would be joined by Gavin Schmidt, Judith Curry, Todd Stern, and Andy Revkin.

Given how polarized and rancorous the climate debate has become, and given how far we are from a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gases, maybe it’s time for an institution to bring some representation of these varied and influential players together, on the same public stage, so they can hash out their disparate perspectives. Who knows, maybe in that dust up they could even find some common ground that would point to a new path forward.

  • Geoff Dabelko

    Thanks Keith for this post for it gives me a chance to add my reaction to Susan Martin’s identification of a real problem in the climate migration discussion but at the same time imprecise if not incorrect description of who is perpetrating the problem.  I completely agree with her diagnosis that there has in some quarters been too much arm waving about floods of climate induced migrants (please let’s just drop the term refugees for a host of reasons).   A willingness to assign very large numbers with weak methodology is counter-productive but dramatic.  A strong (some would say disproportionate) interest in transboundary South to North flows has also dominated the debate when more precise research suggests rural to urban migration within country and within region along established paths is the most likely for the largest numbers.  These are problems, especially in broader public bumper sticker debates that are real but increasingly recognized and in many serious quarters, increasingly muted or modified.   So the problem identification is robust. 

    However it is a much more complicated mix of people from a variety of sectors who have been better and worse on this issues.  Dr. Martin suggested it was environmentalists on one side and migration experts on the other.  My reading is that there is plenty of imprecision and arm waving in both camps. And importantly, other development, security, and foreign policy camps  have been alternatively better and worse on this topic. These prominent voices, interested in different dependent variables, are not captured by the enviros vs. migration dichotomy.  

    This discourse plugs into the larger problem of how climate and security linkages are used and abused.  The range of first and second order risks are significant enough that the arm waving isn’t necessary and is counter-productive if there is oversell (remember The Coming Anarchy experience of the 1990s).  The risk and precautionary principle approach rather than the scientific certainty before action is what is needed. Trying to stretch for the latter when dealing with matters of social, political, economic, and in this case security reactions to climate is just unnecessary and ceding the ground to those who would demand an impossible evidence level before acting.

  • Keith Kloor


    As always, your perspective is illuminating. At the end of my post I spun off to fantasize about a  panel composed of representative players who might, by virtue of appearing together, help steer the climate debate out of a nasty fog. Like I said, it’s a fantasy.

    But perhaps a similar kind of panel representing those security, development and foreign policy camps ought to be convened, in order to iron out those “imprecise if not incorrect descriptions” you refer to. Otherwise, the danger is that a one-size-fits all definition will prevail, and we see how problematic that has been for climate advocates in their arguments.

  • WabbitWeader

    Eli Rabbit, a real scientist who knows whats what, has this calibrated right.  It is time to engage in professional shunning of the Pielkes: “The NAS members need to take the lead in withdrawing respect and collegiality from the Pielkes”

  • Steve Bloom

    Re #3:  Speed the day.

  • Keith Kloor

    Steve and wabbitweader occupy their own echo chamber.


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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