Refugees or Nomads: Responding to Climate Change

Screen Shot 2018-03-15 at 9.02.56 PMBritish catalyst/writer/speaker, Graham Brown-Martin frequently posts provocative points of view that I respond to. Here’s our most recent conversation triggered by his Jan 14, 2018 essay titled:

Education and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

I recommend you read it (follow the link above) and respond to it directly. I commented on his statement that:

Combined with climate change and rapid global population growth this century is the most challenging that our species has ever faced.


Perhaps. Or perhaps prehistoric humanity has faced equal challenges many times before but without leaving a record we know how to read yet. Large segments of the human population and many cultures have been wiped out before. Seeing our current dilemmas as unique in scope feeds pessimism. I prefer to think we’re still here because we are so good at adapting to potentially disasterous occurances.

Graham replied:

True, although we’ve never had over 7 billion souls living on the planet at the same time — this number is greater than all of the people who have ever walked on this planet.

The impact of climate change and continued population growth this century suggests that the number of refugees will grow from circa 40 million today to over 1 billion by the end of this century. Thus migration will be the new normal

Let’s not underestimate the challenges that present and future generations will face and the decisions that they will have to make

My response:

…Agreed, let’s not underestimate.

Whether the absolute number of Earth-bound humans is 1 million, as in prehistory, or 7.6 billion, as of 2018, a large proportion of our population has been nomadic, moving to follow food sources, weather conditions and ecological competition. Humanity has seen many changes in sea level and glacial land cover. Those who failed to move perished. This time it’s happening much faster and we have developed the capacity to see it coming. I’m not convinced we become more adaptable by calling ourselves refugees. We will not be fleeing an unforeseen social upheaval such as a war or a rapid disaster triggered by a plague or wildfire. The term “refugee” brings an image of helplessness and mass panic to my mind. I’d rather not wait until climate change erases all our options.

Instead, let’s use education and industrial practices to bolster our adaptibility. We have the technology for seasteading and arcologies that can provide human habitats on water-revised Earth. We, as a species, have failed to proactively protect Earth’s climate from drifting away from conditions we evolved to deal with over hundreds of thousands of years. Let’s not fail to use the brainpower we have developed so that our children can thrive in the coming new environment, one we may have inadvertantly brought about.

Years ago I took a course from noted Stanford psychologist Al Bandura. He introduced the concept he called “perception of self-efficacy“. People with high self-efficacy believe in their own ability to cope in difficult situations and try harder to overcome the obstacles they face. Even if they are nomads who travel and have no permanent home they become the survivors. People with low self-efficacy become refugees, the huddled masses  on the shore who give up and succumb to raising seas. Perhaps our greatest challenge as educators is not figuring out how to prepare ourselves and our children for either climate change or 21st century jobs. What we need to be doing is promoting a high perception of self-efficacy across the population so that we keep innovating and engaging in our as-yet-unknown future.