Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A well-founded fear? Tracing the footprints of environmentally influenced human mobility
by Moriniere, Lezlie C., Ph.D., The University of Arizona, 2010, 160; 3404709
Abstract (Summary)

Humans have fled environmental degradation for many millennia. Due partially to climate change, environments across the world have often degraded to the point that they can no longer securely sustain livelihoods. Entire communities and households have been displaced by extreme, rapid or creeping disasters; during their flight, they have left footprints across the globe that merit tracing. Sometimes this mobility is forced and at other times it is purely voluntary; for both, the mobility has roots in a changing environment. The footprint of environmentally influenced mobility (EIM) was traced through a series of three independent but related studies.

The first study gained foundational perspective through an exploration of connections between climate drivers and natural and human impacts of climate change. This inquiry sought to answer the question, “How important is human mobility in the greater scheme of changing environments and changing climate?” Human mobility was one among 15 different climate drivers and impacts studied; the connections between all of them were examined to enable a quantitative comparison of system susceptibility, driving force, tight coupling and complexity. While degradation was the most complex of all natural elements, mobility surfaced as the human system element exerting the greatest forcing on other elements within the coupled system.

The next study focused only on human mobility to explore how scholarly literature portrayed the two possible directions of the link between mobility and degrading environments—with a particular focus on urbanization as one manifestation of the phenomenon. Type A links, in which human mobility triggers environmental degradation, are portrayed in the literature as often as Type B links, in which degrading environments trigger human mobility. Surprisingly, science has not lent support to urbanization being a result of environmental change; plausible reasons for this are discussed.

The final study canvassed expert opinion to examine why no scientific, humanitarian or governmental entity has succeeded in providing systematic support (e.g., policy and interventions) to populations enduring environmentally influenced mobility. Four very different discourses emerged: Determined Humanists, Benevolent Pragmatists, Cynical Protectionists and Critical Realists. The complexity these discourses manifest help explain the inaction—a stalemate between actors—while confirming the inappropriateness of one-sided terminology and linear quantifications of environmentally influenced mobility.

The results of these three studies demonstrate that human mobility has unequivocally destructive force that can trigger non-linear effects, potentially casting the coupled system into an unprecedented state; that the visible lack of scholarly exploration of environmentally influenced urbanization (EIU) can be partially explained by high system complexity and disciplinary research; and most important, that despite diametrically opposed viewpoints, experts unanimously agree that human mobility has strong connections to environmental change. Together, the results merge to confirm a “well-founded fear” on the part of those who dwell in degrading environments, and to highlight a pressing need to offer solutions both to those who remain in such environments as well as a name and protected status to those who flee them.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hutchinson, Charles F.
Commitee: Crimmins, Michael A., Hirschboeck, Katherine K., Marsh, Stuart E., Robbins, Paul F.
School: The University of Arizona
Department: Arid Lands Resource Sciences
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: DAI-B 71/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Climate Change, Environmental science, Urban planning
Keywords: Complexity, Coupled human and natural systems, Disaster risk science, Discourse analysis, Environmental degradation, Human mobility, Urbanization
Publication Number: 3404709
ISBN: 9781124019093