Human Responses to Climate Variability: The Case of South Africa

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 4:45 PM
Michael Oppenheimer, Rachel Licker, Marina Mastrorillo, Pratikshya Bohra-Mishra, Lyndon D Estes and Ruohong Cai, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, United States
Climate variability has been associated with a range of societal and individual outcomes including migration, violent conflict, changes in labor productivity, and health impacts. Some of these may be direct responses to changes in mean temperature or precipitation or extreme events, such as displacement of human populations by tropical cyclones. Others may be mediated by a variety of biological, social, or ecological factors such as migration in response to long-term changes in crops yields. Research is beginning to elucidate and distinguish the many channels through which climate variability may influence human behavior (ranging from the individual to the collective, societal level) in order to better understand how to improve resilience in the face of current variability as well as future climate change. Using a variety of data sets from South Africa, we show how climate variability has influenced internal (within country) migration in recent history. We focus on South Africa as it is a country with high levels of internal migration and dramatic temperature and precipitation changes projected for the 21st century. High poverty rates and significant levels of rain-fed, smallholder agriculture leave large portions of South Africa‚Äôs population base vulnerable to future climate change. In this study, we utilize two complementary statistical models - one micro-level model, driven by individual and household level survey data, and one macro-level model, driven by national census statistics. In both models, we consider the effect of climate on migration both directly (with gridded climate reanalysis data) and indirectly (with agricultural production statistics). With our historical analyses of climate variability, we gain insights into how the migration decisions of South Africans may be influenced by future climate change. We also offer perspective on the utility of micro and macro level approaches in the study of climate change and human migration.