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Mass Migration, Land Back and a Sustainable Earth

With climate change poised to drive reshape global geography and demography, the path forward is plagued with contradictions. What is to be done?

| Steve Clark |

At long last, our world seems to have accepted the reality of climate change and the devastation it portends. But, we still have a long way to go in assessing, much less implementing, an effective global response. 

Inevitably, the struggle for programmatic clarity unfolds against the backdrop of long-entrenched corporate domination of the key entities – the IMF and most of today’s nation-states — that might do something about it.  These cautious and self-interested perspectives controlled the agenda at the recent COP26 climate conference in Glascow. Outside the conference, however, more thoughtful voices are beginning to be heard.

“US immigration policy is harsh and xenophobic, but it’s also rear-looking and stupid,” says (I paraphrase) Parag Khanna, author of Move: The Forces Uprooting Us

Khanna was interviewed November 20 on the MMT-themed Macro ‘n Cheese podcast by regular host Steve Grumbine.

In world system geographer Khanna’s mind, climate change will impose adaptations on civilization that, unfortunately, the recent COP26 conference barely mentioned. Anticipating the conference’s stance, he says, it will focus on mitigations to “virtue signal” that “we can do this, world.”

That’s what it did, but that’s not good enough, says Khanna. Instead, he is laser-focused on one imposing, yet well-ignored adaptation: mass migration. Already unfolding and irreversible – just like climate change, itself – mass migration can be ignored only at civilization’s peril. 

This is because, as climate change deepens and imposes its will, a great swath of the places where people live today will become increasingly uninhabitable.  This devastation of ancient, previously-productive habitats distresses the Global South and indigenous people far more than the “modern” societies of the Global North. According to Khanna, mitigation efforts must, of course, be deployed, but they won’t be adequate to prevent the impending catastrophe in the South. Independent of our will and efforts, our warming earth is going to make life for humans in equatorial regions difficult and sparse. Adapting to that reality, mass migration from South to North is vital, but unfortunately, excruciatingly difficult. 

While tragic in so many ways, this inevitable migration, Khanna avers, is also a “silver bullet.” For people of the Global South, it provides a place to go to sustain families and build new lives. And for nations in the North that are already at or near zero population growth, migration provides the younger workforce that these aging societies can’t do without. 

In Khanna’s prophecy, mass migration serves both North and South and helps get humanity to the other side of its ecological nightmare. In stark contrast, the indigenous radicals behind The Red Deal say mass migration (social displacement) is just the latest and greatest catastrophe imposed on Nature and native people by capitalism and settler colonialism. “Land Back!” is their demand. They insist on full indigenous control of natural resource management everywhere because, without such strategic (anti-capitalist, anti-colonial) oversight and guidance, human life – indeed, all life – is in jeopardy.

To indigenous people, the earth – just like the water, animals, plants and other people – is a “relative” and, like all relatives, must be treated with care, justice and opportunity. Relative-care is the only way to save our planet from the destruction of capitalist exploitation. Thus, indigenous people look forward to managing the earth’s fragile, climate-ravaged, equatorial regions, and they will endure whatever hardship is necessary to restore their wounded relative — the earth. But for this, indigenous people expect nothing less than the decisive voice in civilization’s long-range, natural resource management agenda (aka, the Green New Deal) as well as all the resources necessary to mitigate and abate the crisis wherever it exists or emerges. In the meantime, indigenous people expect the right to emigrate and to be welcomed wherever they choose (or are forced) to go.

Today’s ill-conceived US immigration policy erects walls against the very workforce the nation needs for its own survival. Biden-Harris take note. A good policy would encourage immigration and a path to citizenship. Khanna cites Canada and Kazakhstan as nations that have sound immigration and citizenship programs and stand to prosper as people and production move north through the 21st century. After traveling extensively in Russia (where global warming is creating vast regions of newly arable land), he also reports rising interest in the Russian hinterland for a more welcoming immigration policy. The US, meanwhile, stands to lose substantially if it does not ease its anti-immigrant policies and correct its white-supremacist fringe.

Khanna acknowledges but doesn’t much concern himself with the injustice that, “once again,” hits the Global South far worse than the North. In his brief allowance that mitigations (as well as adaptations) must be deployed, Khanna expresses solidarity with those seeking redress of imperialism’s unjust equatorial legacy, yet he stresses the inevitability and redeeming worth of mass migration and, accordingly, urges an “incremental evolution” in anti-imperialist demands. He does not so much as mention “indigenous rights” or “indigenous authority,” apparently presuming that existing means of natural resource management and allocation can be adequately reformed within the framework of evolving but on-going capitalism and nation-state authority. He also never mentions socialism or any transformational vision of mainstream production and exchange.

His omission of indigenous impacts and other class dynamics is hardly unexpected given the white, settler, colonial blind spots of Western imperialism and the academics within. It is a major, ideological shortcoming but should not disqualify Khanna’s factual point that – depending on various geographic factors (resources, borders, infrastructure and people) – climate change is already having uneven and divergent impacts that will make life easier and more sustainable in northern regions than in southern. Sound public policy will ground itself in this reality.

Khanna also anticipates sharpening competition between the US and China because both are competing for younger workers, yet both are rather xenophobic. He says that China, with a younger domestic workforce, was ascendant as the (post-Soviet) global economy took shape in recent decades – and was more nimble with state finances than the West. But, going forward (post-pandemic), it will endure strong competition as all economies seek to add (restore) local production and commercial circulation against the pandemic-made-apparent danger of over-reliance on global supply chains. Diversification and localization are the now the rising trend. China’s share of global trade is bound to shrink. He notes that Cuba and Viet Nam (among others) evidence sound practice in endogenous self-sufficiency. In contrast, he lists Norway and other Scandinavian countries that, despite their welcoming social perspective, cast a heavy global footprint due to their national reliance on oil revenue.

The divergence in viewpoint between Khanna and the Red Nation reveals the depth that the present climate change discourse must still fathom. It’s a deep and wide chasm, but with only a decade or less to figure it out, a much intensified debate and a re-tooled strategy is indispensable. Who is going to lead us to salvation… the corporate sector with its financial and technological “fixes” or indigenous people at the head of a popular, global movement? Time is short; we need to get this right, and we need to do it soon. 

The podcast is titled: Mapping the Future of Humanity with Parag Khanna. It runs 1 hr 7 min.

The Red Deal, Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth (2020) is an ebook by the Red Nation, a revolutionary collective of native people.

This essay was published concurrently in GlobalTalk.

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