Home Arts Book Review ‘Nomad Century’: Recommended for All

‘Nomad Century’: Recommended for All

I was halfway through writing my commentary on preparing to receive climate chaos refugees (The Bridge, Sept. 7–20, 2022) when I heard an interview on National Public Radio with Gaia Vince, author of “Nomad Century” (2022, Flatiron Books, New York, NY) I was impressed with the scope and detail of her command of the issue and immediately ordered a copy.

Vince contends that nations of the temperate north should prepare now for wholesale migration of people from tropical and subtropical regions, where climate change already begins to preclude human survival. She explores prospective scenarios, including ambient temperatures too hot for humans, inundation by sea rise and flood, desertification, and increasingly violent storms. She observes (as one can conclude from listening to today’s news) climate conditions threatening survival have begun, as have migrations to more livable climates, such as ours in Vermont.

Vince’s treatment is impressively complete, starting with documentation of increasing climate chaos, detailing alternative scenarios based on different scientific models and assumptions; the propensity of humans to migrate since our origin; and, particularly, suggestions for strategies to prepare to accommodate and integrate entire nations of displaced climate refugees. The final chapter suggests measures for eventual climate restoration. The writing is clear and accessible to any English-speaking reader. Her expositions are written for the lay reader without sacrificing scientific verity. Easily understood charts and graphs underscore her message in key chapters.

Vince argues for welcoming migration, rather  the opposite of the approach by the United States and similar to the “official” policy of the European Union. (Some EU countries are increasing resistance to migration, especially from displaced Africans.) She lauds the recent acceptance of migrants from war-enveloped Ukraine and deplores shipping immigrants back to the war-torn regions from which they have fled, as was recently done by the United Kingdom. 

Vince proposes building new cities where immigrants can live and contribute to the economy of their new country, focusing mostly on urban solutions. I disagree with her strong recommendation to locate refugees almost exclusively in cities. 

In my view, the shift of populations to cities has been a major cause of environmental destruction, including climate chaos. Cities cannot materially support themselves and must consume resources from the surrounding rural and more-or-less natural environments. Dwellers of big cities do not experience the consequence of this vacuuming of resources; they cannot be responsible if they even try because they have no frame of reference.

I also dispute Vince’s strategies for feeding displaced millions or billions whose former home environment can no longer produce food. She favors industrialized approaches such as lab-grown meat substitutes and genetic engineering. I prefer natural foods produced by ecologically attuned methods. Perhaps this would be more labor intensive than industrial agriculture, but with large influxes of population, labor would not be a limiting factor. I am also uncomfortable with her confidence in genetic engineering as agricultural solutions to new environmental conditions. Overall, I feel that her ideas for feeding climate refugees are the weakest portion of her book. 

Despite these reservations and others, I recommend Vince’s book to everyone who takes seriously the upcoming massive migration north or who wants more information on that prospect.

No one has all the answers to the wholesale migration of climate-displaced people. Yet, probably the only alternative is large-scale conflict. This book provides a stimulus to the necessary discussion and planning if we are going to complete this century with a minimum of violence and an optimum of humane acceptance. While I recommend it to everyone, I believe that Vince’s book can be an especially good textbook for class discussions from high school through graduate school.

Dan Hemenway was a permaculture teacher, publisher, and designer from 1981 until his retirement in about 2010. He has international awards in conservation and community service and five advanced degrees from the International Permaculture Institute.