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How does nature contribute to human mobility? A conceptual framework and qualitative analysis

Charlotte Wiederkehr, Department of Computational Landscape Ecology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Germany
Matthias Schröter, Department of Computational Landscape Ecology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Germany
Helen Adams, Department of Geography, King's College London, UK
Ralf Seppelt, Department of Computational Landscape Ecology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Germany; Institute of Geoscience & Geography, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
Kathleen Hermans, Department of Computational Landscape Ecology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Germany; Laboratory of Geo-Information Science and Remote Sensing, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-11318-240431

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Abstract

Different types of mobility are known as longstanding strategies used by humans to deal with environmental pressure. Immobility is relevant in this context as population groups may be at considerable risk but lacking the capacity or willingness to move. Despite significant advances in this research field, grasping especially the subjective dimension of people’s migration decision remains challenging. Moreover, the conceptualization of cultural factors in this context has received rather marginal attention thus far. In light of this, we propose a framework that integrates the novel concept of nature’s contributions to people (NCP) with migration theory, in particular the triad of migration need, ability, and aspiration. NCP goes beyond the popular notion of ecosystem services by conceiving nature-society relations in a more inclusive way with culture being a key element of these. Combined with migration need, ability, and aspiration, we argue that this approach offers a valuable nuanced perspective on nature-mobility interactions, including cultural aspects of natural resource use and varying degrees of agency related to mobility decision making. We apply the framework to two archetypal climate-related migration situations, southwestern coastal Bangladesh and the northern Ethiopian highlands, to delineate the diverse mechanisms through which environmental change shapes population movement in highly resource-dependent livelihoods. We show that based on the analyzed case studies most links can be drawn between material and regulating NCP and migration need, and that nonenvironmental factors play a crucial role in mediating nature’s contributions to human mobility. More knowledge is needed though in particular on the influence of nonmaterial NCP on mobility decision making and on migration aspirations in general to better account for important cultural factors. We formulate a number of hypotheses and questions relevant for guiding future research that can inform policy interventions.

Key words

Bangladesh; Ethiopia; immobility; mobility; nature’s contributions to people; place attachment

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087