Climate change: migration is the solution, not the problem

By 2050 there will be 1.5bn climate refugees—denial is not an option
October 6, 2022
Nomad Century: How to Survive the Climate Upheaval
Gaia Vince (RRP: £20)
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My great-grandfather was a merchant seaman from Bergen who settled in Gateshead. My wife’s family fled a pogrom in eastern Europe. Most of us will have a similar story somewhere in our history. As Gaia Vince notes in Nomad Century, her essential, bold and clear-sighted new book, migration will also define our future.

We are on track for over 3°C of warming by 2100. Vince presents the most terrifying map I have ever seen: the world encircled by a 3,500km-thick “uninhabitable zone” stretching from Khartoum to the northern tip of Lake Malawi. All of India south of Hyderabad is lost. By 2050, 1.5bn people will be climate refugees. “Migration is not the problem,” says Vince, “it is the solution.”

As the ice retreats, millions will make their home in the Arctic. The metropolises of Greenland and Siberia will feature wooden skyscrapers and vertical farms. There’s a utopian quality to some of Vince’s argument, and at times the distance between possibility and realpolitik is wide. (It isn’t clear to me where a global UN migration organisation “with real powers to compel governments” would acquire such power.) But I have yet to read a book that takes the question of how to survive the coming decades more seriously. 

The final chapter explores how geo-engineering might recover the planet’s lost regions. “In time,” Vince speculates, “humans will once again expand from their refuges to the far reaches of the planet.” Meanwhile, the nomad century is already here. Pakistan’s recent floods displaced 33m. Indonesia plans to abandon Jakarta, the world’s fastest-sinking city, for a new purpose-built capital. Kiribati in the Pacific has purchased 20 square km of Fijian jungle in readiness for the day the sea overwhelms the island. And the Arctic treeline advances northward by 50m per year.