Increasingly, research seeks to understand how environmental distress motivates migration, often focusing on the importance of singular events such as flood, drought or crop loss. This article explores the case of a Cambodian community where environmental shocks have been frequent over the past decade and international migration has increased. It shows that as a result of recurring and varied environmental shocks, households increasingly perceive agriculture-based livelihood strategies as unwise and risky. This perception is widespread even among households not directly experiencing income loss. As a result, households use migration as a replacement for local livelihood strategies. These findings support two arguments relevant for future research and policy. First, that environmental shocks have importance beyond their immediate, direct impact. Second, that recurring shocks can influence preferences for and risk perceptions of local investments. Thus for policies to effectively address environmental vulnerability and/or rural development in precarious environments, they must incorporate local understandings of risk and possibility.