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'Nomad Century' delivers a message that's sharp and jolting about mankind's future


Gaia Vince's new book delivers a message that is clear, sharp and jolting. Large regions of the world are becoming unlivable, she says - lethal for 3 to 5 billion of us. We can survive, but to do so will require a planned and deliberate migration of the kind humanity has never before undertaken. Her new book, "Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World" - Gaia Vince, the award-winning science journalist joins us now from London. Thanks for being with us.

GAIA VINCE: Oh, it's a great pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

SIMON: One of your early startling sentences says, quote, "we already know which communities will need to relocate by 2050." That's just 28 years away. I have to ask who needs to move and when?

VINCE: Yeah, it's pretty shocking, isn't it? But if you look at the climate projections and if you look at our globe, temperatures are just going to become too hot, unbearably hot, for parts of the year. Sea level rise will cause too much erosion - huge, extreme storms. Do you know, we talk a lot about climate mitigation, about trying to reduce our carbon emissions. Well, climate change is already with us. And now, we're starting to talk about adaptation, about changing the way we live to adapt to this much hotter world. Well, what we're not talking about is that for huge numbers of people, there is no way to adapt. They're going to have to move as well.

SIMON: You also write migration will save us because it is migration that made us who we are. But wasn't that in centuries when people were nomadic and lived off the land?

VINCE: Yeah. Well, exactly.

SIMON: Yeah.

VINCE: I mean, human history is built on migration, and it's been to our great success. Unfortunately, what we have done in the last few centuries is hamper that great tool. So we've made things harder for ourselves with this artificial ordering of nation states that we belong to, apparently.

SIMON: Well, but let me get you to follow up on that because you think we maybe should no longer divide and rule ourselves by the nation state system.

VINCE: Well, you know, I'm not saying throw out the nation state system because, you know, in the time that we have to deal with this crisis, I don't think there's time to completely reinvent nation states as such. But we need to rethink how we decide where someone is allowed to live. And let's remember that a lot of the relatively safe places to live on our planet, which - we're talking about, the far north, really, the northern latitudes. These are places which are suffering, as well, a demographic crisis. You know, people are not having enough babies to support the ageing population. And in a few decades, this will be a huge problem.

SIMON: This is just mind-bending. But how does somebody living, let's say, in Cairo - I mean, they might say, you know, if my family's going to survive, we better move to the Arctic. But that's difficult to do.

VINCE: Yeah. I mean, it's nothing short of an absolute tragedy that people are going to have to move. But let's be clear. Migration this century is inevitable. This is my way of staring head-on what we are facing, which is degrees Celsius hotter. These are deadly temperatures. So what I'm saying is we have mass migration. Let's manage it. Let's not veer from one utter crisis to another with many deaths and with social unrest and political unrest. And we need people to do this. This could be done in a manageable, safe, equitable way. Or it could be a catastrophe.

SIMON: I feel the need to be utterly specific. For decades, the American Southwest and West has been energized, populated by people moving from the North. You are suggesting that people - Texas, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico - ought to move back to where maybe some of their great-grandfathers lived in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

VINCE: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. We're going to see the great reversal, the Rust Belt cities being revived. But, yeah, I mean, places like New Orleans - you know, its lifespan is limited. It will be flooded increasingly. And we're going to start seeing these a sort of climate apartheid where the poorest and most disadvantaged people in society are the worst impacted by climate effects. So we can do something about that with policy, but we need to plan for it.

SIMON: I must say your book was a revelation to me. But as you make it plain, the people who are experts, who know what they're talking about, are talking about this.

VINCE: Yeah. I mean, some leaders are going ahead and becoming much more proactive in this way. So, for example, Canada is planning already on tripling its population over the next few decades. And it's doing that through immigration and, as part of that, has programs for integration. And it's planning demographically where it will need more schools, hospitals and so on to make it work. So although this might seem completely out there - and the scale that we're looking at is going to be unprecedented - you know, nations are already sort of on board with the idea that we do need to improve immigration and the way it works.

SIMON: I apologize for a totally personal question. As I do the math, you will be in your early 70s by 2050, the date you say by which much, if not most, of the world will have to migrate. Are you making plans?

VINCE: You know, I have been. I'm half Australian. That's a place that I love, but it's cursed. And it upsets me that I won't make a home there again. You know, moving is a very difficult decision. It means leaving behind networks, friendships, familiar places, sometimes language. It's a very difficult decision for anyone to make. They have to be helped to make it so that they have a future to look forward to.

SIMON: Gaia Vince, her new book, "Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World." Thank you so much for being with us.

VINCE: Oh, thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.