I am interested in how marginalized people in vulnerable places migrate in order to adapt to climate change impacts. Migration is a geographical decision about how a person will apply his or her labor in pursuit of wages. The concern is that when poor people must rely on their wages to adapt to environmental distress, they risk slipping further into poverty. My research is motivated by three questions:
- As climate change renders some spaces uninhabitable, how will this change the spatial distribution of the human population?
- How are migration decisions constrained by climate change, local resource politics and political economies?
- How can we use the digital infrastructure (i.e. mobile phone networks, and internet usage patterns) to detect migration as a signal of shifting habitability?
Pursuing these questions has led me to investigate displacement and migration around catastrophic flooding along the Atlantic coast of Honduras
; glacier recession and shifting water resources in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru
; and tropical cyclones in coastal Bangladesh
. I have found that migration takes place in the context of political economies in which national planning privileges certain uses for land, resources and labor. I have also found that migration takes place in politically charged contexts, where powerful actors control access to resources like land, housing and employment. This raises critical questions about the extent to which migration and wages can help people adapt to climate change impacts without slipping into poverty.
Data from the digital infrastructure for mapping invisible populations
Migration is hard to measure, especially in the context of environmental degradation. For the past eight years, I have been experimenting with methods for measuring migration flows using data from the digital infrastructure. This led to my collaboration with Flowminder
, Grameenphone and Telenor using mobile network data to measure displacement and migration flows around tropical storms in Bangladesh. See here
for a summary of methods and aims.
Illicit geographies: Narco-deforestation in Central America
My research on the root causes of vulnerability and migration in Central America led me unintentionally to understand narco-trafficking as a major driver of deforestation and environmental degradation. The coastal lowlands of Central America's Caribbean register the highest rates of deforestation in the world, which in the space of a few short years has produced catastrophic flood regimes in coastal communities. What is the cause? Central America emerged in the mid-2000s as the "Gold Spike" in the inter-American drug trade. At its peak in 2013, >90% of all suspect air traffic originating in South America was destined for Eastern Honduras. Annually, billions of dollars in illicit capital flood into Central American economies, these dollars must be laundered. Much of this money is being invested in large-scale cattle ranching. This work published in Science
and has been covered in over 300 news outlets, including New York Times
, The Guardian
, and National Geographic
I am interested in working alongside students to address sustainability questions using the conceptual tools of political ecology and land systems science. I would like to advise students who want to:
- understand and predict patterns of migration, residence and labor as adaptation to climate change now and moving toward the end of the 21st Century.
- develop experimental "near sensing" methodologies, for collecting spatial data using digital devices.
- understand the grounded social and environmental realities of the Drug War in Central America.
I strongly encourage students to apply who have been personally affected by Drug War policies, particularly, the uneven policing and prosecution of drug-related laws in our judicial system. A permanent record of drug-related legal violations will not work against your application: rather it indicates a personal stake in identifying and addressing the harmful outcomes of the Drug War.