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A 4°C warmer world. The billions of climate refugees to come. NOMAD CENTURY - Gaia Vince -

How to make their arrival in the countries of the North acceptable?

In a 4°C warmer world, billions of people would move to cooler climes like Canada, Northern Europe and Russia. New Zealand would become a megalopolis of skyscrapers.

Suppose the global temperature rises four degrees Celsius above its pre-industrial average. A very dark scenario that would involve the shift to a world of vast deserts, devastating fires and colossal floods. But that's not impossible. Gaia Vince, science writer, wonders about the number of people who could be forced to migrate following such a disaster, and about the other possible consequences. This is an important question, and she explains the issues eloquently. The most striking pages of 'Nomad Century' are the maps. Gaia Vince points out areas that would be uninhabitable in a 4°C warmer world. A wide strip around the equator, populated by some 3.5 billion people, would become unlivable. Most of the areas south of Britain and northern Patagonia would become so inhospitable that few people would want to live there. According to Gai Vince, billions of people would move to cooler climates such as Canada, Northern Europe and Russia. New Zealand would become a megalopolis of skyscrapers. Naturally, Gaia Vince favors policies that would reduce carbon emissions and thus prevent the world from warming up in such a calamitous way. However, if these measures fail, people will have to adapt by moving.

The number of people affected will depend on the actual intensity of the Earth's warming, but the central point of the book is absolutely true. In a warmer climate, people would benefit from living in places that are currently cold.

The economic effects of migration

Gaia Vince vividly describes the technical feats that would allow people to get by. Vast tracts of North Africa emptied of their inhabitants could be used to produce solar and wind energy. Much of the world's food is believed to be grown in Greenland and Siberia. Nordic cities could be built high up to allow a world population of 10 billion to live in reasonable comfort and with greater energy efficiency. However, his economic and political analysis is superficial and unconvincing. She begins by observing, rightly, that migration tends to make the world richer, especially when people move from poor, badly governed countries to rich, well-governed countries.

Canada, Northern Europe and New Zealand are exceptionally well-run, and people from Africa or South Asia who move there have prospered and integrated well in the past. Future migrants will certainly boost the GDP of the countries where they settle. And while a massive influx of foreigners is sure to upset nationalists and racists, this problem can be overcome, Gaia Vince believes. "We will have to shed some of our tribal identities to embrace a more cross-sectional identity."

If only it were that simple. Gaia Vince glosses over two crucial points. First, the economic benefits of immigration, while immense, accrue primarily to migrants, rather than to the native voters of the country who decide their admission. The integration of foreign doctors and engineers has obvious advantages for the local population; the countless poor and poorly educated migrants are another matter. If they are allowed to work, as Gaia Vince rightly asserts, they will be able to support themselves. But if hundreds of millions of them can claim benefits as locals do, they will bankrupt the welfare states of rich countries; and if they are denied this aid, they risk becoming a visible underclass, as is the case today in the Gulf States.

"Migration tends to make the world richer, especially when people move from poor, badly governed countries to rich, well-governed countries"

It would be a more humane outcome than letting them die of heatstroke in their home country, but it's hard to imagine a Canadian politician getting elected promising to make Canada look like to Dubai.

How to accept so many migrants?

Second, humanity is far from adopting a “universalist” identity. Nationalism and culture have their importance. Some wealthy countries, such as Australia and the United States, did a good (though far from perfect) work of integrating people from a large variety of cultures in their societies. Others, like Sweden and Japan, have not succeeded. Still others, like Hungary, have strenuously refused to try. These uneven results were achieved at a time when migration flows were only a tiny fraction of what Gaia Vince envisions. Today, perhaps 3.5% of people live outside their country of birth. In a world with four more degrees, a much larger crowd would head to fewer destinations. The voters in Northern Europe will quickly and dramatically be outnumbered in their own countries by people from Africa, the Middle East and other culturally distant places with authoritarian traditions. Given the political crisis triggered by the arrival in 2015 of one million Syrian refugees, barely 0.2% of the population of the European Union, it is difficult to imagine that these voters would consent to it. Gaia Vince suggests creating a global body with powers over nation states, which could decide who settles where. National governments will certainly not want this. Anatol Lieven, another British author, made a different pitch in 2020 in 'Climate Change and the Nation State'. Whatever the wishes of cosmopolitan idealists, nationalism will not go away, he insisted. Massive movements of climate refugees could trigger violence "akin to genocide".


- By Gaia Vince -

In the fight against global warming, nationalism is perhaps the only force. Politically, calls to save "our nation" are more effective than calls to save the whole world, and they work just as well in dictatorships as in democracies.
Nationalism, engine of change?

To avoid this, he suggested harnessing the power of the nation state to fight climate change. Nationalism is "perhaps the only force (other than direct personal concern for children and grandchildren) that can raise one of the greatest obstacles to serious action, namely, that it demands sacrifices on the part of present generations on behalf of future generations".

Politically, calls to save "our nation" are more effective than calls to save the whole world, and they work just as well in dictatorships as in democracies, Anatol Lieven asserted.

The deputy governor of a region in Siberia once told him that he was in favor of climate change because it would allow oranges to be grown in Siberia. Anatol Lieven pointed out that Siberians would probably have to share those oranges with tens of millions of newly arrived Uzbeks, Afghans and Chinese.

"His mouth opened and stayed like that for a moment. 'Ah, he said. I hadn't thought of that."

Climate migration will happen. But if it is sudden, massive and occurs in panic, the countries of destination will surround themselves with barbed wire. The way to keep it gradual and orderly is to prevent the world from overheating in the first place.

Nomad century. By Gaia Vince

Flatiron Books: 288 pages

Climate Change and the Nation State.

By Anatoly Lieven. Oxford University Press: 240 pages