It’s more important than ever for world leaders to understand how migration relates to climate change, especially if their own families have a history of immigration.
Frederick Trump and his family. The boy on the left is Fred, Donald Trump's father.
US President Donald Trump isn’t really known for favorable views toward migration and climate change. Ironically, however, if it weren’t for the fact that his grandfather migrated from Germany to the US, Trump wouldn’t be where he is now. It’s also likely that climate change played a part in the wave of immigration out of Germany in the 19th century.
Frederick Trump, the president’s grandfather, was one of about five million Germans who immigrated to the during that time period. Most of these five million Germans moved to the US, which is why German-Americans comprise the largest ethnic group in the country today.
When Frederick arrived at New York in 1885, he was 16 years old, unskilled, and unable to speak English. Researchers say that changes in climate were responsible for about a third of immigrants from south-west Germany to the North America in the 1800s.
US immigration records that include the name "Friedr. Trumpf". He was 16 at the time, and born in Kallstadt, Germany.
So what exactly drove these immigrants out of their home country? A new study has found that this period of migration, which lasted from 1816 to 1886, coincided with a period of war, poverty, and instability in southwest Germany. While these factors drove migrants to seek out new places to live in, climate also played a crucial role. In the 19th century, Germany experienced colder winters and cooler summers, as well as weather extremes such as floods and droughts.
"The chain of effects is clearly visible: poor climate conditions lead to low crop yields, rising cereal prices and finally emigration," said Rüdiger Glaser, one of the study’s authors. "But it is only one piece of the puzzle."
Glaser also offers more insight into what drove Frederick Trump to the shores of the United States. "Trump, he comes from southwest Germany—the Palatinate, the neighboring region to Baden-Württemberg," says Glaser. Glaser also explained that though German immigrants like Frederick said they came to the US for “peace and freedom”, the study has found that climate likely played a significant role. Poor climate, Glaser adds, is a strong driver for migration, especially in agrarian-based communities. Climate change is also expected to drive more migrations in the future due to rising sea levels and more frequent weather events.
Migration isn't as clear-cut as we'd like it to be.
It’s important to note, however, that climate change isn’t the only thing that drove the migrations that occurred in the 19th century. There were, of course, other factors. However, in looking toward our future in terms of climate change, it may be prudent to look back on how climatic conditions affected societies in the past.
Germany also wasn’t the only country to see mass migrations due to extreme climate and weather. Glaser cited examples of a number of other countries and time periods in which climate made an impact on societies and the migration of communities.
Millions of people have already been displaced due to climate events in the past few years. However, it’s worth noting that the mass migration that occurred in the 19th century ended up being beneficial to the US in the long run.
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