A World of Mass Migrations

Mass migrations are going to become an ever-increasing feature of our world.  However, few, if any, societies are prepared for this.  We are already seeing serious backlash against immigrants in many affected countries.  But the magnitude of these migrations is only beginning.

Environmental changes will be one major cause of mass migration. For example, low-lying island nations, such as the Maldives and the Marshall Islands, will soon disappear under the water as the result of rising sea levels. Their populations will have to leave or drown.

Sea level rise will similarly swamp large areas of many coastal megacities, including Mumbai, Dhaka, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Jakarta, Osaka, Manila, Rio de Janeiro, Lagos, and Alexandria.  In the United States, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Atlantic City, Virginia Beach, Manhattan, and Boston areas are especially threatened by rising sea levels.

Extremely high temperatures are going to make a number of low latitude regions unlivable and cause large scale population movements.  Particularly vulnerable locations include much of South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), the Persian Gulf and much of Southwest Asia in general, many areas of North Africa, and Australia.

Another factor that is going to render areas uninhabitable is the unavailability of fresh water.  Climate change will shrink glaciers and cause reduced mountain snowpack.  Rivers that cross international borders are being diverted for use upstream so that populations downstream have greatly reduced flow.  In addition to reductions in flowing water, ground water shortages are emerging.  Humans have depleted major aquifers and made many others unusable through pollution.

Other consequences of climate change effects that will cause mass displacements of people include prolonged drought, desertification, and megafires.  Increasingly intense storms will cause severe flooding in many areas.

Many emerging situations will cause areas to become incapable of supporting a living from local resources. Crops can’t be raised locally by small-scale farmers in a way that can compete with distant subsidized giant agribusinesses.  Similar effects will make the local raising of animals, cutting of timber, fishing, mining, etc. no longer profitable. When the economic basis of an area disappears, inhabitants have to move to areas where they can still make a living.

Natural disasters can result in large population displacements.  We are only now beginning to fully appreciate the potential hazards of mega earthquakes, for example along virtually the entire West Coast of the United States.  In truth, all the cities along the Pacific Basin Ring of Fire are at some level of risk from strong earthquakes.

Up until now, official recognition of refugee status has focused on people displaced by ethnic/religious/political conflicts or other risks of violence (e.g., gangs).  Environmental and livelihood refugees don’t get the same degree of international protection and support now.  However, these refugees are going to be ever more prevalent in coming years.

There are going to be many hundreds of millions, possibly billions, of people seeking to move to locations with better conditions in future decades.  Where are they going to go?  How can they be absorbed and integrated into the receiving societies?  Many of the refugees are likely to arrive desperately poor, and with educations and skills not well suited for their new environment.  Which receiving societies will be able to welcome and embrace vast numbers of migrants?  How are they going to provide housing, food, energy, transportation, and services in general to very large numbers of new people?

2 thoughts on “A World of Mass Migrations”

  1. Not disagreeing with any of the points identified. Citing recent examples (eg, recent extremely high (120 degree +) temperatures in India, Pakistan and Australia; earthquake induced Fukushima earthquake effect, Himalaya glacier melting (via National Geographic) would strengthen the presentation.

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