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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


University of Arizona researchers skeptical about Princeton’s Mexican migration study conclusion

A recent Princeton study proposes that climate change will increase Mexican migration, but UA researchers are skeptical.

The study estimates that between 1.4 million and 6.7 million Mexicans will migrate to the U.S. by 2080.

Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University and one of the study’s authors, said they chose to focus their study on the U.S.- Mexico border because the data is stronger there than in other border cases, and they thought the study would interest policy makers.

“”There have been many claims that global warming would cause a significant increase in global migrant flows, including immigration across borders. However, none of these claims was substantiated with quantitative projections based on detailed observations and modeling,”” Oppenheimer said. “”We set out to fill this gap by constructing a model which could be used to project the effect of climate changes on immigrant flows over a period of many decades.””

Oppenheimer said that the paper’s major limitation is that it assumes ‘all other things being equal’ meaning that only the climate will change over the decades and not the economic standings of the U.S. and Mexico.

“”This is a simplification, and we hope subsequent research will improve upon it,”” Oppenheimer said.

Here at the UA, Co-director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth, Diana Liverman, remains unconvinced about the study’s claims.

Liverman’s main criticism is the use of UA research.

The research from the UA was done 10 to 15 years ago and examinedhow climate change would affect crop yields in two places in Mexico.

“”They sort of extrapolate that from two places where we did research a long time ago to the whole of Mexico, and I found that to be a bit of a leap of faith,”” Liverman said.

According to Liverman, they did use another study as well that showed the same general trends.

Liverman also thought the paper was heavily statistical and did not make use of any field-based work on how climate change affects communities in Mexico.

“”I would have liked them to at least have talked to a migrant,”” Liverman said.

David Plane, UA professor of geography and regional development, was originally intrigued by the possibility of a connection, but had his doubts after reading the paper.

“”I believe there are myriad factors affecting the volume and pace of Mexican migration to the U.S.,”” Plane said, “”and even after reading about these modeled trend results, I am skeptical that climate change ranks very highly among the longer term controlling factors.””

Plane noted that the recent recession has caused a decrease in Mexican immigration to the U.S.

“”It is somewhat ironic that undocumented migration has become such a hot button issue right now. When the incoming levels are actually down and return movement up,”” Plane said. “”Our current high unemployment causes native-born Americans to be rightly worried about the overall jobs picture, whether or not they themselves work in sectors where possible competition from Mexican immigrants is a major factor.””

Liverman spoke with Oppenheimer about the paper and, despite their differing opinions, she said the debate remained cordial.

“”He accepts some of the criticisms, and his response is we should work together or we should do a better job,”” Liverman said.

Oppenheimer said he hopes the study will be a way forward on what had previously been a difficult issue to analyze and will grab the attention of policy makers.


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