Media outlets are using the findings of a new study to make the totally baseless claim that President Donald Trump’s immigrant grandfather was likely a “climate change refugee.”
“Prevailing climatic conditions, crop yields and cereal prices were “significant with explanatory power between 22 and 38%” of emigration from southwestern Germany to the U.S. during the 19th century, according to a study published in the journal “Climate of the Past.”
More than 5 million Germans left for the U.S. during the 19th Century, which was during the “Little Ice Age” when Europe and much of the Northern Hemisphere was about 1 degree Celsius colder than the 20th century.
Even though Europe was cooler, the study’s authors noted that migrants had many reasons to leave Europe, including “lack of economic perspectives, social pressure, population development, religious and political disputes, warfare, family ties,” University of Freiburg Professor Rüdiger Glaser said in a statement.
Many famous German family progenitors, including Heinz and Pfeizer, came to the U.S. during this time. Glaser wanted to know if climate played a major role in why they left.
“Migration in the 19th century was a complex process influenced by multiple factors,” Glaser said. “Nevertheless, we see clearly that climate was a major factor.”
The research was meant to contribute to the broader debate about how future global warming may impact immigration patterns and violent conflict — a highly contentious area of research.
Frederick Trump left Germany in 1885 at the age of 16, just within the time period of the study, so several media outlets took this to mean that Trump’s grandfather, Frederick Trump, was likely a “climate change refugee.”
The UK Independent reported that “droughts, floods and cold temperatures account for up to 30 per cent of the 19th century emigration from south-west Germany, the home of the US President’s ancestors.”
“Climate was a major reason why people bearing some of Americaʼs most famous family names, including Trump, Pfizer, and Heinz, emigrated from southwest Germany in the 19th century, a new study reveals,” Vice’s Motherboard reported.
Of course, outlets tied Trump’s family to an alleged “climate change refugee” as a jab against the president’s stance on their treasured climate policies, like the Paris accord and Clean Power Plan.
“Perhaps if Frederick Trump were still around he could convince his grandson to be more proactive on climate change and to more seriously consider the devastating human impacts,” Earther reported.
Setting aside the debate over whether bad weather in individual years constitutes “climate change,” Glaser’s study itself provides little evidence that climate change forced Trump’s grandfather out of Germany.
Trump’s grandfather hailed from what’s now the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate in the southwestern area of the country. Glaser’s study looks at the neighboring state of Baden-Württemberg.
Even so, Palatinate was a very poor area of Germany at the time, and that alone would have been plenty of incentive to leave. Frederick Trump eventually did leave in 1885 for New York City where, upon arriving, he moved in with his older sister who’d already been living there.
It’s not known exactly why Frederick left Germany. One German historian recently told CNN Frederick was forced to leave for avoiding military service. According to Glaser, Frederick left Germany in the last great migration wave in the 19th century.
Outlets like Motherboard want readers to think climate change was a likely reason, but Glaser’s study suggests the climate had little to do with late 19th century immigration.
Glaser and his colleagues found the “last peak year of 1881/82 was more dominated by socio-political factors, especially the importance of family networks,” adding “weather conditions were not outstanding … and led to a slightly above average harvest.” Graphics in Glaer’s study showed the 1881 “peak” extended into 1886.
There were still some tragic flooding and bad weather in that time, but Glaser wrote “the year 1885 brought a rich harvest of potatoes and, at the regional level, strongly differing crop yields.”
“Looking for a major reason for this emigration wave, current research stemming from a more societal point of view concludes that the ‘attraction of the New World’ as a whole and the ‘reunification’ of successfully emigrated family members were the main drivers,” Glaser wrote.
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