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A species on the move: How climate migration reshapes us all

If we don’t stop global warming, we may be facing mass migration across the globe on a scale never seen before. Here’s an excerpt from Nomad Century, the new book by award-winning science writer Gaia Vince.


As climate change continues, more and more farmers may be forced to move. (Photo: Rinku Jareda/Pixabay)


Editor’s note: No place on Earth is immune to climate change. As it continues to affect livelihoods, people will be moving. As coastlines diminish and drought-hit regions become unsuitable for farming, we may see hundreds of millions displaced in the next decades. Gaia Vince has spent years travelling the globe, reporting on how the changing climate is affecting our food, our cities, our politics, and more. In Nomad Century, she assesses what is happening, and how we will be able to cope.


We are making a new and very different world through our environmental changes. As the only sentient beings capable of such audacious planetary transformation, we must have the maturity and wisdom to direct our talents towards saving ourselves.

I’ve certainly panic-Googled land prices in Canada and New Zealand, seeking a safe place for my children’s future with reliable fresh water and greenery for the coming decades. But I have also had to accept that this is not a challenge that we can meet as individuals. For if we approach the greatest migration in a piecemeal way – in which those who can, buy safety in the least affected parts of the world – we risk an inequality of survival that threatens us all.

We would face the likelihood of an enormous loss of life, of terrible wars and misery, as the wealthy erect barriers against the poorest. We see this devastating situation occurring in a far smaller way today – we cannot allow such calamitous chaos at the scale expected in a few decades.

Quite apart from the moral abhorrence, there would be no peace for any of us. Instead, we must come together as a global society to address this human-made problem. We are a planetary species, dependent on a single shared biosphere. We must look afresh at our world and consider where best to put its human population and meet all of our needs for a sustainable future.

Doing so requires a radical rethink. The question for humanity becomes: what does a sustainable Promised Land look like?

We must look afresh at our world and consider where best to put its human population and meet all of our needs for a sustainable future

If we manage to achieve a commonwealth of humanity, we will continue to dominate the globe, although we and our food production will inevitably be limited to a relatively small region. We will need to develop an entirely new way of feeding, fuelling and maintaining our lifestyles in this Anthropocene era, while also reducing atmospheric carbon levels. We will need to live in denser concentrations in fewer cities, while reducing the associated risks of crowded populations, including power outages, sanitation problems, overheating, pollution and infectious disease.

At least as challenging, though, will be the task of overcoming a geopolitical mindset, the idea that we belong to a particular land and that it belongs to us. In other words, we will, as refugees of nations, need collectively to transition to a sense of ourselves as citizens of Earth.

We will need to shed some of our tribal identities to embrace a pan-species identity.

We will need to assimilate into globally diverse societies, living in new, polar cities.

We will need to be ready to move again when needed.

With every degree of temperature increase, roughly a billion people will be pushed outside the zone in which humans have lived for thousands of years. We are running out of time to manage the coming upheaval before it becomes overwhelming and deadly.

Migration is not the problem; it is the solution.


This is an excerpt from Gaia Vince’s new book Nomad Century: How to Survive the Climate Upheaval, published with kind permission from Allen Lane/Penguin Books.


About the author

Gaia Vince is an award-winning science journalist, based in London. Her interest is in exploring the interaction between the human world and planetary systems. She wrote the popular science books Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made and Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty and Time. Her articles have been published in The Guardian, New Scientist and Science. Follow Gaia Vince on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.


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