facing up to radical change – The Irish Times

Nomad Century: How to survive climate change

Nomad Century: How to survive climate change

author: Gaia Vince

ISBN-13: 978-0241522318

publisher: Allen Lane

target price: £20

By the time I started reading Gaia Vince’s new book, temperatures in the UK were reaching 40 degrees Celsius. During breaks, I scrolled past Facebook posts from friends in Iraq, where they were in their 50s. I later took the book to Kenya, where around four million people in the north of the country are in dire need of food because of a record drought said to be linked to climate change (neighboring Somalia is now expected to declare a climate change-induced famine) . When I submitted this review, a third of Pakistan was under water, with more than 1,100 dead and 33 million people affected by devastating floods.

Vince lives in London and is a former editor at Nature and New Scientist. She has lived on three continents and traveled to 50 countries researching her first book, Adventures In The Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made. Her second book, Transcendence, was shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize. And her latest work, Nomad Century: How to Survive the Climate Umheaval, is a “manifesto” for mass migration in response to climate change: what she calls her “assessment of our best way forward.”

“A great upheaval is at hand,” Vince writes in her introduction. “Huge populations will have to seek new homes: you will be among them or you will receive them… We can survive, but that will require a planned and deliberate migration of a kind never before undertaken by mankind.”

It could be catastrophic, she continues, “or, well managed, our salvation.”

The book begins by hammering home some chilling statistics about climate change along with a series of similarly shocking maps. A future of fire, heat, flooding, reduced food production, deaths from smoke inhalation and water shortages awaits us.

Currently, our planet is 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Vince writes. Could it climb 4 degrees up?

Large parts of the world would become uninhabitable, making the required scale of global migration “not a challenge for us as individuals.” Can we all work together to ensure our survival?

“Other species live in the environments they are best suited to,” writes Vince. “However, people have created a problem for themselves.” That problem is borders.

Huge new cities

Today, only 3.5 percent of the world’s population are international migrants, compared to 14 percent in the late 19th century (when the Irish were spreading all over the world). In the future, she says, this will increase drastically: Huge new cities could arise in the far north, while huge parts of the tropics are abandoned.

Nomad Century proposes changes at all levels. These range from adding algae to livestock’s diets to reduce their methane burps; and optimize the altitude at which planes fly to avoid contrails; to “having a world population concentrated in safe havens in megacities.”

Vince examines food and energy; advocates wealth redistribution, universal health care and education. She argues that offering social support to new migrants makes sense for security reasons. People should be allowed to move with their families, she says, to offer them stability in better climates.

For those who, out of compassion, do not believe in allowing movement, there are economic incentives to migrate. The aging population of the Global North makes an urgent need for a new workforce.

Some of Vince’s proposals, like creating temporary sanctuaries for climate refugees on private islands, show clear potential for abuse and have questionable historical precedents (e.g. the use of Christmas Island to detain asylum seekers off Australia or the recent protests in the area). Dispatch of Rohingya refugees to the remote island of Bhasan Char in Bangladesh). The creation of charter cities run by wealthy countries on the territory of poorer countries has echoes of colonization.

That’s not the only time Vince (perhaps necessarily, given the mindset of inaction she’s fighting) has given people too much credit. The hope that all people and states will work together has already failed: That is why the climate crisis is so advanced.

Her proposal to set up a new UN agency on global migration with “real powers to force governments to take in refugees” also seems unlikely: there are reasons why the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration have limited capacity and are constantly criticized for their ineffectiveness.

Millions of people are already in need of emergency assistance and possible relocation, but their mobility is more restricted than ever. Borders are being fortified, walls and fences are being built, visa regimes are being strengthened. Migrants are used as a political toy in the West.

plague of locusts

This book could have been strengthened with more sourcing and clarification. Vince says we are witnessing the highest number of human displacements on record, with the number of refugees surpassing 100 million globally in 2022 for the first time. However, UNHCR figures point this to the number of people forced to leave their homes, including those living internally displaced persons, with the number of registered refugees accounting for less than a third of that (UNHCR admittedly often mixes up these figures) .

At another point, Vince says that in 2020 alone, about 20 percent of the country on earth was affected by locust plagues, but the only source I can find for this is the UN’s statement that locusts have the potential to take up that much territory accessible during the plague. Given how much the climate-related discussion is based on future projections, it seems helpful to clarify as much as possible what has already happened and what is expected.

Of course it’s easy to be critical. The greater truth is that Vince’s perspective and suggestions are refreshing in a world where Don’t Look Up-style denial is entrenched.

And given what’s happening in Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere, their proposals don’t seem all that radical. If this book elicits just a little more sympathy for the vast numbers of people being driven from their homes, that’s a great thing.

Sally Hayden is the author of My Fourth Time, We Drowned, winner of the 2022 Orwell Prize.

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