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Green Or Gone

Climate Migration, A Very Different Global Crisis Is Coming

While the pandemic has restricted people's movement, climate change will increasingly do the opposite as populations move from the worst to less affected zones.

A Venezuelan family in a makeshift migrant camp in Bogota, Colombia
A Venezuelan family in a makeshift migrant camp in Bogota, Colombia
Brigitte LG Baptiste


BOGOTÁ — Scientists warn that climate change could trigger a veritable collapse of our civilization in this or the next century. The worst-case scenario currently being put forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has temperatures rising 4 degrees Celsius, and sea levels rising 1 meter by 2100.

Having this information puts us in a complex situation. Paralyzed by the gravity and imminence of what may come, mostly we prefer to avoid the subject. We shouldn't though, because even though the probability of that worst scenario is relatively low — 17%, for now at least — conditions are deteriorating, and with repercussions that will be felt by all.

One thing worth considering are the lessons we've presumably learned as we slowly emerge from another kind of global crisis: the coronavirus pandemic.

Cooperation and competition, in differing doses, are the forces that mold adaptive responses to environmental tensions. We are entering a phase where the former will matter more, as there can be no quarantine against climate chaos, nor hideaways allowing protective isolation for some.

People's main response to heat waves and natural disasters will be to migrate, be it on temporary or permanent bases, with the UN's International Organization for Migration expecting between 200 million and 1 billion climate migrants by 2050. Such figures, it states, will be the fruit of our very successful collective effort to ignore the scale of the climate problem.

The nomadic world that is heading our way as a result of ecosystem collapse will involve crises resulting from the material and symbolic tensions caused by large populations moving from the worst to less affected zones. There may well be a hardening of borders, either in legal terms or invisibly.

Millennials are already showing interesting forms of territorial disconnection, which shows how one can learn from a nomadic world through its circumstances. That may be a key to designing a more welcoming civilization in the full sense of the world: Nobody knows where they will end up or when they may have to move.

Providing sanctuary and protection to the refugee will implicate all territories.

In these conditions, the notion of providing sanctuary and protection to the refugee will implicate all territories. Paradoxically, those who attain better levels of attention will be overwhelmed by the needs of those who have not, which will gravely affect their own capacities.

Today, a place like Puerto Carreño on the Colombia-Venezuela border is surrounded by recently formed shantytowns in threatened natural zones (like the Cerro de la Bandera or the mouth of the Bita river). This is the result of a mix of populism and manipulative usage of solidarity, which merely create future problems along with murky dependencies on gangs and human-traffickers.

Thinking of formal strategies to prevent climate migration from falling into the hands of illegal groups is a matter of urgency. We should rather turn migratory flows into a legitimate opportunity to make settlement, work, education and all forms of production more flexible. This is undoubtedly an immense socio-ecological challenge.

Clearly, insularity is of no use here: There is no room for nostalgia for the ancestral turf or a return to local lifestyles when the climate is forcing us all to make our actions global.

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