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Could population flows lead to conflict?

Posted By Kevin Jae, Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the role of migration in causing conflicts through his seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Migration and conflict seem to be intrinsically connected. Intra- and inter-state conflicts around the world have devastated livelihoods and led to displaced peoples both inside and outside of home country borders. One can think of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and recently, Syria, as examples.

 

The converse appears to be the case as well. The recent movement of migrants into the borders of the West have shifted domestic politics. In the United States, President Trump has vowed to build a wall to keep Mexican migrants out. In the European Union, there has been a similar political realignment. In the absence of an appropriate European response, nationalist responses have threatened to unravel the fragile political tapestry that is the European Union. Europe ended up paying Turkey to host migrants—the solution was figuratively displaced.

 

The vicious cycle of conflict, forced migration, and further conflict threatens to spiral out of control, particularly due to the unresolved threat of climate change, which may worsen food stability and literally render some areas of the world uninhabitable. According to a commonly cited figure, there will be over 200 million forced displacements related to climate change by 2050. The current figure is at 80 million forced displacements (both internal and external) today.

 

A brief sketch of 2050 may frighten the reader into believing in an apocalyptic image of the future, in which over-migration will lead to resource scarcity, societal disorder, and violent conflict. However, one can temper this image of 2050, where migrants storm the gilded gates of the West.

 

Despite popular conceptions, the share of migrants as a percentage of the global population has hardly changed since 1960. It has remained at 3% of the global population, from 93 million out of a population of 3 billion in 1960 to 244 million out of a population of 7.3 billion in 2015. However, the flow of migration has changed. The European continent has changed from being a source of migration (due to colonization and push factors) to become a destination for migrants. It attracts 1.5 to 2.5 million migrants per year today, which equates to 0.3% to 0.5% of the entire European Union population.

 

Forced displacements have occupied a powerful image in the public imagination. However, Europe and the West is not the final destination of all of the nearly 80 million displaced people in the world. According to the UNHCR, at the end of 2019, 45.7 million were displaced internally, and 26 million were considered refugees (being displaced externally). Of the 26 million people, 73% were hosted in neighbouring countries, and 85% were hosted in developing countries. While climate change threatens to create forced displacements, the majority of those displaced will be displaced internally and most of them will be displaced into neighbouring countries.

 

Finally, additional context about the present discourse around migration and conflict needs to be discussed. While migrants may create some legitimate cultural and structural tensions, it is also important to explore the economic context underlying the recent shift in public discourse about migrants. Research suggests that the inhabitants of regions hit by economic insecurity, due to the 2008 financial crisis and the outsourcing of supply chains, are more likely to be anti-migration. Insecure livelihoods and scarcity revive the well-worn trope of the lazy, but job-stealing migrant, who simultaneously takes jobs from locals but also undermines the welfare state. The migrant has perhaps returned to the position of the scapegoat. These economic conditions contribute to the perception of the conflict-bringing migrant in political discourse.

 

Migratory movements in the future may lead to conflict; however, we can also imagine and create a future in which migration and conflict are not inevitable. One must escape the confines of the present economic and political context to think more rationally about migration and potential conflict in the future.

 

© Kevin Jae

Tags:  conflict  migration  population 

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Does climate change mean the end of nation states?

Posted By Johanna Hoffman, Thursday, June 4, 2020

Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects the effect of climate change on nation state concept. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Climate change will create new pressures for the nation state paradigm not seen for generations. Just look to history. Our past is littered with examples of climatic shifts acting as harbingers of governmental destabilization. Researchers have found links between changes in climate and the collapse of societies across time and geography, from the Akkadian empire of ancient Mesopotamia, to the Maya of Central America, to the Norse societies of Greenland in the 1500s.

 

Many argue that the last major change in climate led directly to the end of the feudal system across much of Europe. Commonly known as the Little Ice Age, the period stretched from the start of the 14th century until roughly the mid 19th, and coincided with drops as great as 2 degrees Celsius in global temperatures. These changes led to a swath of adverse impacts, from sudden frosts, to dry summers and bitter winters. As a result, harvests turned increasingly erratic and food stocks declined. Desperate from hunger, populations rioted and eventually rebelled. Through it all, the importance of market economies for buying and selling ever more precious food continued to mount. Together, the argument goes, these shifts sowed the fall of feudalism and laid the foundations of the modern world we know today.

 

The lesson of the Little Ice Age is clear -- climate change changes everything. Given the speed and scope of current changes, we are likely heading into a period far more intense and long lasting, with impacts liable to harm not just harvests, but decrease fresh water access and spark more conflict. As sea levels rise and climate patterns grow more inconsistent, the numbers of environmental refugees will spike. Already many island-based and low lying areas of the world, such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, are strategizing how to move their citizens to other countries, effectively accepting that their nation states will no longer exist in the near future.

 

So what systems might arise if the sway of nation states starts to shift? While it’s impossible to say with certainty, migration patterns may provide some helpful clues. These growing numbers of refugees will likely head to where people have long flocked when displaced -- to cities. They will swell already burgeoning numbers. Urban populations are bigger than they have ever been in human history, with 55% of the world’s population living in developed areas. By 2050 those numbers are slated to be as high as 68%, nearly 2/3rds of all human life.

 

The trajectory is a necessary one. As populations grow, space to live compresses and resources grow scarcer, with access to essentials like potable water becoming increasingly hard to manage. Only in dense urban environments can we hope to house our burgeoning populations, particularly as climatic impacts and associated strife intensify refugee movement across the globe. Megacities, currently defined as cities with over 10 million residents, will become home to more of the global population than ever before.

 

Many believe that as megacities grow in size, the dominance of the nation state – with its emphasis on collective identity and shared sense of cultural self - may decline. Think of Shanghai, Sao Paolo, Lagos or New York City. These urban environments hold increasingly large economic and cultural sway in their respective countries. Political and governmental influence often follows those factors. As megacities grow, they are likely to become bigger engines of growth, innovation and culture.

 

The potential shift of power from nation states to megacities and their associated regions could happen because of factors beyond climate change. Conflicting values between urban areas and the national systems and populations in which they operate all have impact here. Yet the tension underwritten by climatic issues serves to augment such tensions. When uncertainty increases and resource scarcity and change is on the rise, our willingness to adhere to systems that don’t directly apply to our concerns and direct circumstances can start to wane.

 

Nation states were founded as entities whose citizens were relatively homogenous in language, culture or descent. When the make-up of a state grows more diverse, at what point do its denizens stop accepting norms and regulations that don’t reflect their values? The rising impacts of climate change will bring such questions increasingly to the fore.

 

© Johanna Hoffman 2020

Tags:  climate change  nation state  population 

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How do nations control multicultural and multiethnic populations?

Posted By Kevin Jae, Monday, May 11, 2020

Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks multicultural and multiethnic populations shaped by global migrations in his fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

How do nations control multicultural and multiethnic populations? We need to examine the concept of the nation and nationalism in relation to this question. Control is the word that must be thought through first. The word control implies that the nation-state, through heavy-handed measures, forces upon the migratory population a standard of behaviour to which they must conform. Control can be achieved through devious, circumlocutious tactics as well. A nation can deceive a migrant population to create docile subjects for governance. In the first is governance by repression; in the second, through ideology. Both of these cases rely on an unquestioned assumption. This is the separation of the self, the national population and the other, the migrant population. The boundary between the two is much more porous than they appear. There is no eternal national body with unchanging boundaries and neither is the migrant forever an excluded outsider.

 

What is the nation? The nation is much more than citizenship and bureaucratic inclusion. As scholar of nationalism Benedict Anderson suggests through the title of his landmark work, the nation is an “imagined community.” It is imagined because it is a constructed collective that relies on an imagined bond connecting members of the nation to other imagined members who they will never interact with. It is a community because the nation is “always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” as opposed to a hierarchical relationship. Nation-states are able to extend this community to migrants, and redefine the borders of national belonging. Construction does not imply invention and falsity. Even though nations and the feeling of national belonging are culturally constructed, it inspires community, belonging, and meaning for its members.

 

Canada is an example of one nation-state in which the definition of the national subject has changed. Canada is known for its brand of multiculturalism today. This was hardly the case in the mid-20th century, when Canada’s identity was predicated on Britishness and whiteness. White Canada policies excluded non-white individuals as national subjects. However, the boundary that once existed between white Canada and the once unassimilable migrant population has disappeared in the present day.

 

Other nation-states are going through their own transitions. The foreign population in South Korea was roughly 40,000 in 1990 and has grown to approximately 2.5 million today. Previously, one had to have “pure” Korean blood to claim belonging to the Korean nation, but the growing foreign population is challenging and redefining what it means to be Korean. The South Korean state is an active participant in these redefinitions through mechanisms like multiculturalist policies.

 

There are several potential incoming sources of migration in the coming years. These range from “pull” factors, such as labour market migrations, to “push” factors, like climate change related migrations. How might these migrants be welcomed into the national body? Thinking about the future is always limited by the ways of thinking in the present. There has been a revival of narrow nationalist discourses in the political landscape in recent years. In these discourses, the migrant is a figure who is completely exterior to the national community. The migrant threatens traditional, eternal ways of life with a strange dress, a strange tongue, and unfamiliar mannerisms.

 

However, the politics of the present need not be the politics of the future. Just as the national community is constructed, it can be reconstructed anew. The story of migration is in part a story of the reinterpretation of the national community. The migrants of today can be full members of the nation tomorrow.

 

© Kevin Jae 2020

Tags:  migration  population  South Korea 

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What are drivers of future migration?

Posted By Kevin Jae, Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the future drivers of migration in his third post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

What are drivers of migration in the future? There is one large difference from the past. This is on the tip of everybody’s tongue: climate change. We will take a critical look at this new driver of migration. It will complicate some of the narratives surrounding climate change related migrations, and we will consider some of the ultimate implications (and destinations).

 

Climate change holds the threat of ecological devastation and a radical global transformation — it is no wonder that it has occupied the popular imagination and mainstream political discourse in recent years. Climate change has been linked with migrations all over the world, whether in Central America or Bangladesh. Headlines like “Climate Change will Create World’s Biggest Refugee Crisis” litter the contemporary mediascape. The Guardian, in the aforementioned article, suggests that “tens of millions of people will be forced from their homes.” This is a moderate estimate; in the extreme end, there is Vice with the headline “Climate Change Will Create 1.5 Billion Migrants by 2050 and We Have No Idea Where They'll Go” painting an apocalyptic scenario. In response, the first global movements have begun to protect the image of the climate migrant. In a very recent landmark ruling in January 2020, the United Nations human rights committee has declared that it is unlawful for governments to return migrants whose livelihoods are threatened by climate change.

 

The Syrian civil war has been linked to climate change as well. The Syrian civil war began as Arab Spring-inspired pro-democracy protests that were met with violent repression. This was the catalyst for further escalation. What sparked the initial discontentment? From a climate change lens, the narrative points to the drought from 2006 to 2011. This was the most severe in recorded history and decimated the livelihoods of the rural population. The drought led to a rural-urban migration, increasing competition for resources, and leading to conflict that took on an ethnic dimension.

 

This has not gone without scrutiny. Other researchers have pointed to policies of economic liberalization that cut rural subsidies and ultimately put farmers in debt. Government policies have led to the rural-urban migration in this narrative. It is beyond our scope to recount the play-by-play of academics in their boxing ring. It suffices to say that migratory events are complex and multi-factored. Climate change is undoubtedly an important consideration, but there is no First Cause when it comes to migration. A critical view on other migratory factors like internal politics and wealth concentration in urban areas allows a more nuanced perspective on contemporary migrations.

 

In the discourse of the climate change migrant in the West, there is mixed in an image of anxiety and fear. How will the West survive the flood of climate migrants? However, the West is far from a stoic Atlas that carries the burden of global migrations on its shoulders. The case of Syrian refugees presents a poignant demonstration.

 

Despite popular political narratives, most Syrian refugees have been relocated outside of Europe. As with other migrations, most of the migrants were displaced internally. Seven million of the 13 million are still within Syrian borders. In terms of international migration, there are roughly 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey, 950 thousand in Lebanon, and 670 thousand are housed in Jordan. Germany accepted 593 thousand Syrians, and this is followed by Iraq with 252 thousand. While this may not be representative of all migrations, the case of the Syrian migrations seems to suggest that not all roads lead to Europe.

 

As a conclusion, what are the drivers of future migration, and what are the consequences? In response to popular narratives, the article answered in the negative: climate change is not the Prime Mover in migration, and one must be aware of the erasure of other migratory factors when this occurs. Migrations in the future will not overwhelm the West. As with contemporary migratory patterns, one will expect internal migrations to occupy a large portion. External migrations will be distributed throughout the region, and will not be concentrated solely in the West.  

 

© Kevin Jae 2020

Tags:  immigration  migration  population 

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What are the drivers of migration in the past?

Posted By Kevin Jae, Friday, February 14, 2020

Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the drivers of migration in his second post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Migration is an overdetermined phenomenon. Unlike a science experiment, we are unable to identify a series of dependent and independent variables to construct a predictive framework. As with many complex, real-world problems, we can turn towards history for inspiration. History may not repeat itself in perfect imitation, but the present moment often sounds out like a variation of the past. With a patient ear, we may be able to detect a melody, a theme, a musical structure - this will help us better understand and contextualize migration in the contemporary world. The melodies of the pre-historic past are too faint to hear out. With this in mind, we can listen to the migrations of the past century for our purpose.

 

Migration can be roughly categorized into migrations by push factors and by pull factors. This conceptual framework separates the migrations that happen by necessity (the push factors) and the migrations that happen by choice (the pull factors). Push factors include poverty and military conflict. In these cases, migrants find the prospects of the unknown better than the present circumstances before them. An example of the former are the two million Italian migrants travelled to the United States in between 1900 and 1910. One case of the latter is the Vietnam War and spread Vietnamese diasporic populations all across the world. Pull factors include voluntary, long-term immigration for a better life and short-term movements of skilled labour across national boundaries. The former are immigrants to Canada and the latter are expats. However, whether migration happens by push factors or by pull factors, in none of these situations was migration a predictable and foregone conclusion. The historical circumstances that provide the impetus for migratory desires are elusive and they escape hard predictions. One must maintain constant vigilance to multifarious trends. The future is constantly being shaped and reshaped.

 

Historical circumstances are only one part of the dialectic. Migration does not happen in a vacuum: there is always a political and institutional structure that facilitates and guides the flow of these migratory desires. The German gastarbeiter (guest worker) program in the mid-20th century was created to address labour gaps, leading to the Turkish migration to Germany. One purpose of the European Union was for the creation of a free market for capital flows and labour. While history provides the drivers of migration, the political and institutional framework of the present moment directs to where migrants are driven.

 

On a more fundamental level, political and institutional structures define the discourse of migration. Above, migration was separated into those by push factors and by pull factors, but even this is an artificial categorization. Intolerable political and economic circumstances may push migrants away from the home country and pull them to one that will improve their situation, but there is no moment when migrants by necessity transform into migrants by choice. Participants of the German gastarbeiter program may have left because of a lack of economic opportunities and because of their desire to earn higher wages. Politics and clever framing play a significant role as an intermediary force. Additionally, institutions, whether national or international, provide the larger structure for migration. Even when migrants do not use these formal frameworks - by crossing illegally, for instance - these transgressions are negatively defined by the established institutional structure. Migration and migrants are ultimately a political category for analysis.

 

What are the drivers of migration in the past? Above, two separate dimensions that drive migration are discussed. The first are the historical circumstances that create the impetus for migration. While we can make careful conjectures about latent migratory events, one must be nimble and open to multiple possible futures. The second is the institutional and political structure. The institutional and political structure fundamentally defines the discourse of migrants and migration. Through it, migratory desires are directed to a tangible destination.

 

© Kevin Jae 2020

Tags:  Canada  migration  population 

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Thank You for Eating

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Monica Porteanu has written her fourth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, she explores food security amid massive population growth. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Unless a major pandemic, war, or other disaster happens, the world population is projected to grow from about 7.5 billion today to a number in the range of 10 billion by 2050.

How would such growth be possible when, even today, there are large regions in the world struggling to provide basic needs, such as food to its population? This significant question is not only on the minds of many but also a strong focus for many organizations.

As a result of the abundant discussions, approaches, and actions, food has become a substantial political issue and one that is interconnected with multiple other even more significant debates. Major disputes that come to mind relate to the environment (e.g., habitat loss, soil degradation) and climate change. Resource (e.g., water, land) usage
and rights are equally important. More complications are brought onboard by international development, global trade, health epidemics, and societal problems (e.g. access to basic food, poverty, education and literacy, rising middle class in developing nations and their changes in taste and consumption). Last but not least, corporate
interests, food lobbies, and technocracies also add to the list of significant debates related to food.

It comes as no surprise that such a complex and disjointed food system is profoundly struggling. Estimates indicate that the global society wastes 24% of the food produced for human consumption, 28% of people overeat, whilst 28% of individuals are malnourished.

Some can afford to take the problem in their own hands by embracing various movements such eating local, following a specific diet (e.g. paleo, gluten-free), preoccupation with ingredients and nutrient factors, etc. And then there are the “foodies” with appetites for sophisticated ingredients, food designs, experiences, and entertainment.

On the other hand, those who can’t, scramble to find affordable options, which, many times comes in the form of fried, processed, loaded with salt and sugar food, thus continuously increasing health and other societal issues. How to tackle them?

Futurists imagine what food nutrients, gardens, and farms might look like several decades out. Activists have started talking about the Big Food, as an analogy to Big Tobacco. This is not a coincidence at all. After all, paraphrasing Hippocrates, food is medicine. Similar to how tobacco has generated severe health conditions, so does the current corporate and industrial food paradigm.

Consistent and persistent anti-smoking national policies have been hugely successful in North America, where the smoking rate is at an all-time low. How did we get there? As WHO points out, there are six measures responsible for the progress: “(1) monitor tobacco use and prevention policies; (2) protect people from tobacco use; (3) offer help
to quit tobacco; (4) warn about the dangers of tobacco: (5) enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship; (6) raise taxes on tobacco.” These measures have been implemented over several decades, resulting in the decline in smoking rates in adults from over 40% to about 15%. Can we imagine what a similar reduction in diet-
related diseases (e.g., obesity, heart disease, diabetes) would mean if similar food policies were implemented?

For countries like Norway, such imagination might already be a reality because of its recent introduction of a hefty tax on all sugary drinks, sweets and chocolate, chewing gum, and sweet biscuits. Other nations, such as France or UK have taken a timider approach by taxing only sugary/sweetened drinks. As a result, even Norwegians might still be able to satisfy their sweet tooth just by crossing the border.

In the meantime, when health gets personal, it hits you head-on and might change habits much faster. It has worked for many people. It certainly has worked for me in fighting cancer. It was two years ago, ironically, in the middle of an advanced Futures class when my own future was in question.

While it looks like I’ve beaten it so far, I credit this victory to a radical change in my approach to eating and drinking. It includes not only what, but when, how, and at what temperature, and learning how my body produces probiotics (and why they’re important), and exchanges energy with the environment. I also learned how little food I need if I get the essential nutrients. As a result, I am now exploring how I might grow what I eat indoors. As a starter, it looks like
even some veggies such as brussels sprouts are quite easy to grow. Sugar is not.

So, would a world void of sugar be possible? Furthermore, would a world in which the only food available is the one we grow at home be possible? What might that look like?


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  health  population  technology 

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