How screwy climate problems may have brought Trump's grandfather to America.

Since the 18th century, over 7 million Germans have moved to North America, gifting countries like the United States with their language and culture.

Participants in New York City's annual German-American Steuben Parade back in 2002. Photo by Graham Morrison/Getty Images.

We can still see 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 makes Advil was founded by a German immigrant, and the grandson of another is now the president of the United States.


The conventional story behind why so many Germans came to North America is that back in the 1800s, Germany — and all of Europe, really — was going through a pretty tumultuous time. Revolutions, wars, the birth of empires: Back then, Europe was a complicated place to try and make a living.

But a new study 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 North America in the 19th century," said Rüdiger Glaser, a professor at the University of Freiburg in Germany.

Using a complicated analysis of 1800s population numbers, weather data, and food prices, 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 prices were really the heart of the problem. At the time, German farmers depended on stable, reliable weather to grow their crops. But as droughts, cold snaps, and floods wracked the region, stable weather 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-1840s.

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 seeing our climate and weather patterns change again.

While the events that caused immigration back in the 1800s were not necessarily the same type of climate change we're seeing 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 happens 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.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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The difference between a politician and a public servant may be a matter of semantics, but when it comes to getting legislation passed that actually helps people, the contrast is stark.

Texas Representative James Talarico is on a mission to get his constituents the life-saving medicine they need. The 31-year-old lawmaker has just introduced legislation that would cap the price of insulin—a medicine people with type 1 diabetes need to live, which has become unaffordable for many—at $50 a month.

The mission is personal for Talarico, as he nearly died three years ago when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

He shared his story on Twitter:

"In May 2018, I was a healthy 28-year-old running for the Texas House. I decided to walk the entire length of my district and hold town halls along the way. I hike Big Bend every year, so I wasn't concerned about a 25 mile walk...

But halfway through the walk, I began feeling nauseous and fatigued. Before the town hall in Hutto, I vomited in the bathroom."

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less