Since the 18 th century, over 7 million Germans have moved to North America, gifting countries like the United States with their language and culture.
We can still assure their influence in our love of Oktoberfest, the accordions found in Tejano music, and the many people who bear German names. For instance, the Pfizer pharmaceutical company that constructs Advil was founded by a German immigrant, and the grandson of another is now the president of the United States.
The conventional narrative behind why so many Germans came to Northern america is that back in the 1800 s, Germany — and all of Europe, really — was going through a pretty tumultuous period. Revolutions, wars, the birth of empires: Back then, Europe was a complicated place to try and make a living.
But a new survey suggests that’s not the whole picture. Because the weather itself may have also been conspiring against them.
“Overall, we found that climate indirectly explains up to 20% to 30% of migration from Southwest Germany to Northern america in the 19 th century, ” said Rudiger Glaser, a prof at the University of Freiburg in Germany.
Using a complicated analysis of 1800 s population numbers, weather data, and food costs, Glaser and his colleagues were able to illuminate how a changing climate played a hand in bringing immigrants from southwestern Germany to America.
Those food costs were really the heart of the problem. At the time, German farmers depended on stable, dependable climate to grow their harvests. But as droughts, cold snaps, and inundates wracked the region, stable climate could be in short supply.
“The chain of effects is clearly visible: Poor climate conditions lead to low crop yields, rising cereal prices and finally emigration, ” said Glaser.
Glaser and his team were even able to pinpoint specific events and changes. For instance, they saw a big wave of emigration right after the bitterly cold and rainy Year Without a Summer in 1816. A series of droughts caused another wave around the mid-1 840 s.
The changing weather patterns don’t explain everything about migration — there were still wars, still revolutions, after all — but they did appear to play a role.
Today, we’re considering our climate and weather patterns change again.
While the events that caused immigration back in the 1800 s were not inevitably the same type of climate change we’re find today( the Year Without a Summer was due to a volcano, after all , not carbon emissions ), rising sea levels and more extreme weather events are still forcing people to move. In fact, the U.N. estimated that in 2008, climate change displaced 20 million people worldwide.
Glaser’s team hopes that by looking to the past, we can better understand the connection between human migration and our climate.
So if your last name happen to be Schmidt or Weber or Fischer, it might be worth double-checking when your grandparents or great-grandparents arrived in the United States. You might be in for a surprise.
Glaser and his colleagues’ paper appeared in the scientific journal Climate of the Past.
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