Review of ‘Nomad Century- How to survive the Climate Upheaval’

by Gaia Vince

‘Nomad Century’ by Gaia Vince

‘A great upheaval is coming. It will change us, and our planet.’

Vince tackles the elephant in the room with regards to the climate emergency with a refreshing frankness. Climate migration and the protective regulations surrounding migrants need to be front and centre, as tens of millions continue their migration.

Vince makes the early point, that, as a species, we have always been migrants. ‘Migration will save us, because it is migration that made us who we are.’ She argues that ‘a radical rethink’ is required and that ‘Migration is not the problem; it is the solution.’

This is not a simplistic nor naïve proposal by Vince, suggesting that millions of migrants would simply converge on countries that are least impacted by the climate crisis, but rather an admission that as a species, we have always moved and adapted to our environment. ‘Migration is our way out of this crisis. Migration made us. This might be hard to see in the context of today’s geopolitical identities and constraints, where it can feel like an aberration, but, viewed historically, it is our national identities and borders that are the anomaly.’

With numbers of migrants estimated to be in the hundreds of millions, the attitudes and ideology that we have been taught about migrants is tackled well in this book. Vince urges us to look beyond the narratives of country borders and to recognise that we are a global species, with global responsibilities. Although fully aware of the narrowing window for action, she delivers the clear positive argument that we can be bystanders, or that we can be active participants in the solutions. She states, ‘Human movement on a scale never before seen will dominate this century and remake our world….

Have no doubt, we are facing a species emergency – but we can manage it. We can survive, but to do so will require a planned and deliberate migration of a kind humanity has never before undertaken.’

The Four Horsemen of the Anthropocene

Vince takes the time to describe the situation that humanity has placed itself in and with a wonderfully titled chapter (above), outlines the risks, challenges and impacts of the Four Horsemen of fire, heat, drought and flood. She outlines that, ‘Fire, heat, drought and flood will transform our world this century.’ With news stories almost on a daily basis on these four amplified risks, it is hard to disagree with her analysis- especially now, with tens of millions of people displaced owing to floods in Pakistan. She persuasively argues that ‘We are leaving the sanctuary of an unusually stable climatic era in Earth’s history- one which enabled crops to be grown and the flourishing of human civilizations.’ Into a world which has already reached 420 parts per million, the highest that it has been for at least the past 3 million years and one which will likely hit 450ppm by 2032. She castigates countries and companies who are ‘not making anywhere near enough progress to meet the pledged emissions standards.’ Climate attribution studies are already concluding that extreme weather events are many times more likely as a result of human caused climate change and are on the increase. Vince argues convincingly that, ‘A liveable planet is not a lost cause. It is still within our agency to turn this around and we must try. Every degree of temperature rise we avoid, the safer we will be; every tenth of a degree matters.’

Global and social cooperation is a must

As Vince states that migration will be essential to human survival, collaboration and social cooperation need to embedded within ideologies and beliefs. She highlights the recent judgment in 2020 where ‘the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that climate refugees cannot be sent home, meaning that a state would be in breach of its human rights obligations if it returns someone to a country where – due to the climate crisis – their life is in danger.’ Our shared humanity and shared reminder that we only have this one Earth, need to be paramount. Legal protections for climate migrants, whether moving from repeated drought or flood zones, need to be enshrined. Accepting and accommodating migrants enriches societies and countries Vince points out, as she details GDP increases that occur and increased rights that are developed by policies that are accommodating.  ‘Decades of anti-migration rhetoric and misinformation means there is massive misconception in rich nations about the basic facts of migration.’ Decoupling the political and arbitrary lines on maps that ‘define’ identity and recognising that the world faces a crisis which can only be solved through cooperation and a shared sense of humanity is the necessary step.

Diverging on geoengineering

I finally found myself disagreeing with Vince on her views on geoengineering, though I accepted the moral position from where she was coming. She accepts the dangerous uncertainty of geoengineering when she says ‘If we turned down the temperature of the planet, fewer people would be forced to migrate, and those who have been displaced could return. However, the methods for doing so, known as geoengineering, are mostly untried and controversial.’ Her reasons for at least keeping an open mind on geoengineering are certainly laudable and centred in the needs of migrants.

‘For me, the morally right thing is to do whatever we can so that our fellow humans can live in a safe climate where they have enough to eat. This will mean helping those living in danger and hardship to migrate to safety; and reducing global temperatures so that climate stability is restored.’ To continue to quote her fully ‘It means all efforts for cooling must be considered, with the more feasible all propelled forward.’

Vince begins to close her arguments by exploring the food and water crises; accepts that these will lead to conflicts and explores options that could be considered. Her final points are that colossal migration is inevitable, but how we respond to it is not. ‘The question is whether we will manage the transition through calm preparation or wait until hunger and conflict erupt – an unconscionable outcome that would endanger us all.’

The absurdity of migration

This is not a text about reducing emissions, nor about corporate blame. This is a text that simply acknowledges where we are and looks for future management of an inevitable problem. Vince makes the repeated point that simply being passive bystanders, responding to the latest climate disaster with a wringing of the hands, is no longer an acceptable or palatable choice. ‘But today we lack a coherent plan; we are simply experiencing our world heating up, and reacting to each new shock – each drought, each typhoon, each blazing forest, each heaving boat of migrants – with a new patch-up.’

Her final point is that it is absurd that we have reached this point, but that it would be even more absurd if we continued to ignore the mass migration of people.

‘It is absurd that we are considering the mass migration of billions of people. It’s absurd that we are continuing to heat the planet, knowing the consequences.

Migration is inevitable, often necessary, and should be facilitated. But a situation in which billions of people are forced to leave their homes because parts of the world have been made unliveable is a tragedy. To a degree, this situation is not yet inevitable.’

Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come, in yours and my discharge’


One response to “Review of ‘Nomad Century- How to survive the Climate Upheaval’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: