Rethinking the 'debate on environmental refugees': from 'maximilists and minimalists' to 'proponents and critics'



The debate over 'environmental refugees' is prominent in the literature on environmental change and human migration. Protagonists in the debate are 'maximilists' and 'minimalists' depending on their support for the concept. This article argues for the use of 'proponents' and 'critics' of the term. A nuanced critique of the 'proponent account' is offered, showing how the 'environmental refugee' is a particular representation of the relationship between environmental change and migration. There are conceptual problems in 'proponent' models, regarding both migration and development. These pertain to a sedentary bias and a reliance on pushpull, neo-classical models of both migration and the migrant. Some accounts are ahistorical and apolitical. The article advocates a research agenda that focuses on the interactions between environmental and nonenvironmental factors in mobility decisions, and that is historically relevant and contextually specific.

Keywords: environment, migration, environmental refugee, discourse, representation

How to Cite: Morrissey, J. (2012) “Rethinking the 'debate on environmental refugees': from 'maximilists and minimalists' to 'proponents and critics'”, Journal of Political Ecology. 19(1). doi: