Examination of Environmental Change, Vulnerability, and Human Migrations

Examination of Environmental Change, Vulnerability, and Human Migrations

This module was funded by the CGS and developed for the Midwest Institute for International/Intercultural Education’s workshop, “Human Migrations, Global Networks and Leadership.”


Name: Matthew Borr 

College: Kalamazoo Valley Community College 

Discipline: Geography 

Course Title and Number: GEO 102 – World Geography/Maps and Media 

Module Title: Examination of Environmental Change, Vulnerability, and Human Migrations 

Narrative Description of the Module 

Anthropogenic climate change has been linked to environmental changes in many regions of the world. As populations experience these changes, adaptations are necessary and inevitable. Human migration as an adaptation to environmental change, whether it is sudden or gradual, has been a feature of human life for thousands of years. Present-day environmental migrants are presented with many challenges and barriers, including economic hardship, international law, and attitudes toward immigration. 

Educational Objectives of the Module 

This module is designed to help the student understand the causes and implications of environmental driven human migration, especially as they relate to anthropogenic climate change. The student will examine and research different regions of the earth that are experiencing environmental change. The student will also compare and contrast given geographic locations to understand current environmental problems, migration patterns and vulnerability of the populations endemic to the region. 

Assigned locations to study will be:

  • New Orleans
  • Micronesia
  • Bangladesh
  • Alaska
  • Syria 

Each location demonstrates different dimensions of environmental changes. Each location demonstrates different dimensions of vulnerability. When limits of vulnerability are reached, migrations may take place. Since vulnerability is linked with other factors (conflict, poverty, etc.) the student will seek to understand the role of environment-driven migration in human migration.


  1. Identify and become aware of the changes that are occurring. Predict what the future holds.
  2. Identify the various ways that climate change may affect conditions or resources in a population.
  3. Understand how poverty is a precursor to vulnerability to environmental change.
  4. Understand the different types of environmental change, and how they may cause involuntary or forced human migrations.
  5. Understand the difference between sudden-onset and slow-onset environmental change, and how this factor affects human migration.
  6. Understand how climate change may impact humans in the future as the effects become more pronounced, and how it may cause migrations in the future.
  7. Promote a general basis of knowledge regarding the human dimension of climate change.
  8. Understand how environmental changes may interact with other push-pull factors in human migration.

Outline of Lectures/Discussions Used to Implement the Module

Lecture #1 Lecture Discussion on physical factors contributing to climate change, and human impacts/vulnerability

  1. Discussion of the chemical and physical basis for climate change.
  2. Define the difference between “climate” and “weather.”
  3. Introduce incoming and outgoing solar energy concepts. Relate to temperature patterns on earth.
  4. Introduce albedo and greenhouse gas (GHG) characteristics (Carbon dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Water vapor, and Ozone).
  5. Introduce and discuss concepts regarding GHG emissions. The concepts of sources and sinks will be introduced.
  6. Examine the climate record (temperature, precipitation). Explain how past records relate to current temperature and precipitation changes. Briefly look at current activities in the field of climate science.
  7. Introduce concepts relating to general effects observed in the earth system (Sea level rise, Land and sea ice melt, drought, extreme weather events, rainfall patterns, erosion, ocean acidification, salt water intrusion, flooding, pestilence and disease outbreaks, and biodiversity reduction)
  8. Discuss the concept of vulnerability in human populations. Compare contrasting locations on earth in terms of human vulnerability to climate change effects.
  9. Discuss concept of interaction of environmental change with other issues of vulnerability (poverty, conflict, economic development, and others)
  10. Introduce the concept of human migration due to environmental circumstances. (What, Why, Where, How many, Methods of migration?)

Lecture #2 Watch Documentary film “Climate Refugees.” Fill out worksheet provided with questions regarding main points and questions while watching film. 

Lecture #3 Finish watching “Climate Refugees.” Collect documentary worksheet. 

Watch short film: “Bangladesh: Bhola threatened with submersion”

Watch short film: “Micronesia:Vanishing Islands” 

Lecture and discussion regarding five preselected locations/regions assigned:.

New Orleans





  1. For each location/region, lecture will provide basic information regarding the subject:
    1. Geographic Location
    2. General qualities of historical climate at location
    3. General issues regarding vulnerability of populations in regards to political, economic, and/or conflict.
    4. Present impacts of climate change affecting the location/region (Sea level rise, Land and sea ice melt, drought, extreme weather events, rainfall patterns, erosion, ocean acidification, salt water intrusion, flooding, pestilence and disease outbreaks, and/or biodiversity reduction)
    5. Current state of human migration and/or potential for refugees to emerge from location/region
  2. Hand out information and question/worksheet regarding location.
  3. Form groups of two. Each group will be assigned two locations randomly.

Lecture #4

Due: 1 Report discussing the current and potential challenges, vulnerabilities and human migration of the area/region assigned for each student. The report must be handed in typed, and based on the assignment sheet handed out. The paper must contain original research done by the student.

Due: 1 1 page report for the 2 person group that discusses the similarities and differences between the locations selected in the group. The report must be handed in typed, and based on the assignment sheet handed out.

Reports will be evaluated by level of detail, breadth of research, and answering the questions posed on the worksheet.

Reports comparing and contrasting two locations turned in. Reports will be evaluated by level of detail, breadth of research, and answering the questions posed on the worksheet.

Class discussion on reports with each group. Each group must contribute to the discussion. Points will be awarded for contributions to the discussion. 

Listing of Audio-Visuals Used to Implement the Module

Documentary film “Climate Refugees
*Can be accessed via https://pennstate.kanopy.com/video/climate-refugees 

Documentary film “Bangladesh: Bhola threatened with submersion

Documentary film “Vanishing Islands: Micronesia

Student Readings/Writing/Field/Experiential Assignments Used to Implement the Module

Groups of two students will research a topic along a set of guidelines provided by the instructor. Students will be provided with readings and videos for general knowledge to answer questions on an assignment report sheet. They will also be expected to find informational material using their own research. 

A Final 4 page report will be produced by each student assessing the situation in their location, and a 1 page report, prepared by the group will compare and contrast the situation in their different locations that were assigned.

Student Evaluation/Testing Regarding the Module

Student groups are required to turn in a individual report, and a group report comparing and contrasting the two locations they were assigned. The reports will contain detailed information about the environmental change the location is experiencing, the vulnerabilities of the locations’ population, and the resultant effects on migrations.

A class discussion will take place in lecture #4. Groups will be required to comment as the discussion progresses. There will be ample opportunity for discussion, because, since there are only five locations, many groups will have locations in common to share ideas and comment about.

The total points for the module will be 60 points, which is about 12% of the total points available in the class section. The points will be broken down as such:

5  points for Documentary worksheet on “Climate Refugees”

30 points for individual report on location, with worksheet attached

20 points for group report comparing and contrasting locations in 2 person group.

5 points for adding to the final discussion in Lecture #4

Resources (Bibliography) Used to Develop-Implement the Module  


Documentary film “Climate Refugees” — Can be accessed via https://pennstate.kanopy.com/video/climate-refugees

Short film “Bangladesh: Bhola threatened with submersion

Short film “Vanishing Islands: Micronesia

General Resources for students to use in starting their research:

News Deeply article “Somalia’s ‘Climate Refugees’ Can’t wait for Global Action Much Longer

Papers: United Kingdom Government “Migration and Environmental Change: Future Challenges and Opportunities

Website: National Geographic “Mapping Migration After Hurricane Katrina

PBS article: “A Major Contributor to the Syrian Conflict? Climate Change

New York Times article: “How a Warming Planet Drives Human Migration

New York Times article: “Climate Change is Driving People from Home. So why don’t they count as Refugees?