Immigrant song

illegal-immigrant-sign.jpgAccording to the Washington Post, “Climate fears are driving ‘ecomigration’ around the globe” [reg req’d, full text at Climate Ark, extracts at the ODT], and the example the paper chose was NASA computer expert Adam Fier and his family, who have moved to New Zealand:

…a place they had never visited or seen before, and where they have no family or professional connections. Among the top reasons: global warming.

The Post goes on to examine the phenomenon in some detail:

…ecomigration is not just the province of the desperate — or a phenomenon that involves only people in faraway lands. “The guy who moves from here to New Zealand is no different than the guy who moves from the lowland in the Philippines to the highland, or from El Salvador to Honduras,” said Rafael Reuveny, a political economist who studies ecomigration at Indiana University at Bloomington. “Down the road, probably sooner than we think, we are facing major environmental changes. These changes have started to occur and are moving relatively slowly, but the pace of change will accelerate in our lifetime.”

A few years ago, Fier drew up a list of countries he could consider migrating to:

He examined their environmental policies, access to natural resources and whether they would be safe from conflict. He decided that New Zealand would offer a comparable quality of life, has an excellent environmental record and is isolated from global conflicts by large tracts of the Pacific Ocean. Its tropical, subtropical, temperate and arctic zones also offer a variety of “bioenvironments” as a hedge against the vagaries of climate change.

This sounds familiar to me: I’ve talked to a few people who are considering moving or coming back to NZ, and the potential for damaging climate change in their current homes is one of the prime drivers. Some have even arrived, bought land and started planting their veggie gardens 😉 (you know who you are!).

Lifeboat New Zealand is already a pleasant prospect for many, but the political perspective on migration here (leaving aside xenophobia) is dominated by the numbers of New Zealanders departing to live in Australia. At some point, I am certain that balance is going to shift, and our politicians will be greatly exercised by the numbers of people turning up at New Zealand’s borders as ecomigrants. You don’t have to envisage fleets of boat-born refugees from SE Asia: every Australian has a right to live here, and there are at least 500,000 New Zealand citizens living overseas who might decide that Warkworth is the better part of valour.

Where might this lead? New Scientist conducts an interesting thought experiment in this week’s issue; how could we adapt to living in a world that’s warmed by 4ºC by the end of the century. It’s a Lovelockian vision, but well worth a read. And if you click on the link to their interactive map of what it’ll be like in various parts of the world, this is what they offer for New Zealand:

New Zealand is largely rural in 2009, and well-known for the beautiful vistas captured on film in The Lord of the Rings. However, by 2100 it will be a densely-populated island state, with high-rise cities and intensive farming. Rapid warming will mean that crops grow readily.

Reminds me a little of the entry for Earth in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: mostly harmless. But it points up a dilemma that will be real and pressing in the future. When you live in a very pleasant little lifeboat that looks as though it can ride out the worst effects of climate change, how do you decide when the boat’s becoming too full? Where’s the balance between the humanitarian impulse to provide good lives for all, and the need to be sustainable, to have a quality of life that’s worth defending. Fertile ground for demagogues and general unpleasantness. This is one more way that climate change is going to shape the politics of the coming century, and I’m not at all sure that I like the prospect.

[Whisper tales of Gore]

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