Climate change won’t ‘invariably’ cause social collapse—it’s a lot more complicated than that

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Credit: Charlotte Hollands

Currently, global planning bodies are working on their responses to climate and environmental change and public health concerns. Unfortunately, these professionals don’t typically rely on archaeology to inform their decision making.

Let’s examine the claim that climate change will invariably lead to environmental migration, competition for resources, interpersonal violence, and societal collapse. Bioarcheological research shows that although mobility can be an important strategy for coping with environmental change, climate change does not always lead to migration and migration does not always lead to violence. In some cases, drought and socio-political changes have been triggers for large-scale migration (for example, Beekman 2015). Sometimes increasing mobility in a period of changing environment has also been associated with an increased level of socio-political instability or interpersonal violence (for example, Tung et al. 2016). But in other cases, societies form cooperative alliances with other communities for exchange and resource redistribution (see Harrod and Martin 2013).  

Related article:  High-yielding plants that survive temperature swings may be our next weapon against climate change


It is up to anthropologists to demonstrate the importance of historical, social, and cultural forces in shaping human perceptions of climate change, decision making, and the consequences of different choices over the long term. These considerations are vital if we are to respond, adapt, and thrive.

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