FLASH FORWARD to Coping with Climate Migration

John Shirley

UPDATE! An alternate possibility for the coming mass global migration of desperation.

A theoretical update, anyhow. Earlier in this column I said that one of the great challenges of climate change this century will be adapting to a vast “migration of desperation” of climate refugees. There could be as many as two billion people forced to migrate to other countries due to endless drought, dustbowls, climate-caused famine, extreme weather flooding, and the attendant social chaos. I sketched one way nations could begin to plan for it–no nation seems to be planning for it yet–but I’ve been skeptical that our feverish, greed-driven, myopic world civilization will be able to organize on a scale large enough to deal with this humanitarian crisis. We’re lacking in planning and perhaps in sufficient empathy. HOWEVER...It occurs to me that, perhaps through perusing computer models, or simpleconferencing, our international leaders may calculate that what they’d have to spend, and to sacrifice to help these desperate migrants is actually far less than the price they’ll pay if they do not prepare and do not offer transportation, food and shelter to these hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of future migrants. There are already some climate refugees, yes even now, and there are already waves of immigrants escaping intolerable social conditions. But the numbers  involved are small compared to what I’m projecting. The consequences of failure to prepare will be unprecedented.

CONSIDER: If there is no preparation, no accommodations made, envision the masses on the move, in ships, in boats and rafts and overland; on one side, the lands they’re escaping. Resource crisis has created social chaos in their homelands; brutality from militaries and militias. Will they simply be forced to try to exterminate waves of people coming across the border?

What are the emigres to do?  On one side of the moving mass of immigrants, if you don’t die of hunger you’re likely to be shot. On the other side, more fortunate are nations worried–not without justification–that they cannot take in these great numbers of foreign emigres. They too have their hairtrigger law-enforcement, their armies, and possibly anti-immigrant militias. But this migration of desperation is essentially unstoppable.

In many cases it may be largely driven by military action in originating nations. These starving, unhomed masses will have been driven out of their own country. Borders in the countries chosen for emigration will be breached by the sheer numbers of immigrates coming in wave after wave, and chaotic social conditions may spark war between the originating nations of this great mobile mass, and nations struggling to accommodate immigrants.

It may eventuate that the governments of some of those nations losing great masses of their people feel that they–the administrators of those governments–have no chance for themselves but to order invasion of neighboring countries. Some might choose to use their own unarmed migrating people as cannon fodder, unwilling “advance troops” of a sort, to weaken nations they plan to invade.

These flashpoints could lead to some form of World War III. Not necessarily a nuclear weapons exchange, but something on an anarchically huge scale. Now consider the overall costs of all this–the conflict, the sudden influx of immigrants in the many millions, the social tumult that would result, the strain on resources–it could be that Europe and the Americas,  and some Asian nations will see this coming. And they will make the calculation that they’ll save money and resources and avert wars by setting out, in advance, to ameliorate conditions for climate migrants, and to resettle them.

Could islands be constructed for temporary housing? Could large areas of mainland be set aside for them in advance, and supplies stored up? Could systems of transportation be co-opted to disperse them widely across the world, in decent settlement conditions? Will the nations of the world decide that they’d benefit from planning for these emigrants,  embracing them rather than simply trying to repel them?

* * * * * * * *

At this point we know we’re going to need a two-pronged approach respecting the challenge of Climate Change. The first prong you  know–we find more and more ways to create sustainable energy, and non polluting transportation, and reduce carbon and other greenhouse emissions. We preserve the seas, and forests to help clean the air. Right. The second prong…is a bitch! The second prong, you see, is mitigation–moderation of climate change’s worst effects. It’s going to take a lot of preparation,  and if any nation is  currently doing that preparation, they’re not telling us about it. Possibly some preparations are being made but being kept quiet so as not to panic people.  What would panic people, you ask? Preparations for the catastrophic potential mass migration of billions of people. Oh yes it’s already beginning. While, some of our present-day  immigration of desperation  is due to fleeing from awful societal situations and thugs,  more and more  immigration of desperation is occurring because of extreme Climate Change conditions:

Climate migration occurs when people leave their homes due to extreme weather events, including floods, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires, as well as slower-moving climate challenges such as rising seas and intensifying water stress. This form of migration is increasing because the world has not been able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt global average temperature rise, which leads to more climate disasters. [Council on Foreign Relations]

It’s happening now and it’s going to happen more intensively when climate change itself intensifies. Dust bowls will replace farmlands and that means widespread famine in much of the world. It’ll be a deeper and broader famine than any we’ve ever seen. Clean water will become ever more precious. Extreme weather will be untenable–floods will alternate with excruciating heat, and drought. Many countries do not have the assets and infrastructure to provide for their populations in these conditions.

Besides meteorological extremes  and the related famine and water shortages, some of this coming climate migration will happen at the point of a bayonet. In many third world countries, there’s a likelihood  that armed militias, and even armies, will decide to carry out a resource-usage “triage”, targeting certain groups due to racial, tribal, social or religious bias, driving them out of the country so they don’t have to share food, water, and the electrical grid with them. Those refusing to leave their scant resources behind will be at risk of execution. Mass murders will take place routinely. As this becomes evident, it will further accelerate the surges of refugees seeking survival in Europe, North America, China, the UK and other more civilized regions. Border security will be overwhelmed. Empathy and sympathy will wane as people decide to put their own families and locales first. Wars caused by the new struggle for resource will also be a huge driver of emigration. If the scientific consensus is correct, immigration of desperation will displace anywhere from five hundred million to two billion people. Perhaps more than two billion.

We must somehow prepare to mitigate this nightmare of unprecedented mass migration–this horror for migrants and the monumental difficulties experienced by the countries to which they’re quite-understandably emigrating. But how? It’s about preparing livable interim housing, piling up stocks of food to provide within that housing, and finding locales where emigrant communities can be built, without resorting to oppressive “camps”. We want to help these people, not shove them in concentration camps. The entire civilized world, hopefully spearheaded by the United Nations, will have to take part in this vast mitigation, this easing of the crisis–and it can only be successfully carried out if we begin preparations immediately.

In the meantime…how do we modify climate change’s other ill effects? We will need new technology to deal with wildfires. We’ll need to develop robotics that finds fires early and puts them out for us in advance; we’ll need to have logistical preparation in wildfire-prone areas for evacuation; we’ll need massive programs of reducing needless ground flammables.

And other new technologies can be brought into play. Many wildfires are started by lightning strikes. Scientific American reports that lightning can be redirected with lasers:

In the new experiment, a high-powered laser turns a column of air into an electrical conductor. When the laser fires, it separates electrons from air molecules in the beam’s path, creating charged particles in a process called ionization. This transforms the air, which is typically insulating, into an attractive point for the lightning to hit—effectively creating a towering, temporary and controllable lightning rod in the sky above the area to be protected.

Suppose we set up remote-controlled lasers in areas prone to lightning-triggered wildfires. The lasers could redirect the lightning away from the trees, back into the sky.

Another means of mitigation would be much greater subsidization of high-rise farming, the towering, all enclosed, climate-protected farms that are only now being built and tested. They take up less room on the ground than conventional industrial agriculture; they require no pesticides, as pests can’t get into them; they conserve water, and they can supply large numbers of people with food. But we’ll need lots of these vertical farms.

Many is the absurd, paranoid conspiracy-theory about weather control–but we might be able to do a little weather control after all. We could stifle the start of hurricanes (more common now in climate-change-caused extreme weather conditions), by spreading sulfur compounds on the ocean in an area where a hurricane is “brewing”.  Hurricanes are generally caused by an interaction of warm air and warm seawater. Just as large volcanic eruptions can cool enormous areas of the Earth, through emitting an aerosol of sulfur compounds, we could spray it on seas, in certain areas, to cool them, undercutting the hurricane’s genesis.

And here’s one you might find far fetched–I suggest that we can radiate intense heat back out into space, through a variant of the space elevator concept. Or rather, it’s a space elevator that is also a variant of cooling tower. A space elevator is a hypothetical structure that would extend from the ground all the way to lower orbit, to create a cargo and personnel transfer system to orbiting craft. Why not use them to give heat a chance to rise to orbit? The structure could be accompanied by piping that draws liquid upward, drawing heat with it from the troposphere (our own lower layer of the atmosphere),  so the heat emanates from coolant towers at the upper end, and into space. Now, this heat draw from below is energy, which could be harnessed, possibly through turbines, to provide electrical charges for use by spacecraft and the tower itself.

Dangerous times need radical measures!

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