Climate change is not the next generation’s problem to deal with, it is ours. If humanity cannot globally work towards stopping and reversing the damage being inflicted on the earth in the next few decades, the effects may be irreparable.
The dangers to the environment are numerous; reliance on fossil fuels, pollution of the world’s oceans, and the destruction of vast areas of forest and peatland are all issues which need addressing. There is however one issue one driver of climate change which is often overlooked; mass migration and its relation to industry.
One of the key effects of Globalisation has been an increase in international flows; Trade, Capital and Human flows have all increased massively in last twenty years. In Europe alone, the stock of international migrants increased from 49 million in 1990 to 72.4 million in 2013. This is not something which is going to go away anytime soon. 158 million people across the globe would move to the U.S. as their first choice with 758 million people globally wishing to migrate, mostly for jobs, according to a Gallup world survey.
How does this relate to the environment?
A human’s carbon footprint is heavily influenced by the country they live in and the access they have to affordable energy such as heating, lighting, car fuel or working in energy intensive sectors. In well developed nations the tonnes CO2 consumed per capita can be quite high. For example, in 2013 Ireland clocked in at 13 tonnes per capita compared to the EU average of 8.8 tonnes and the global average of 4.97. Ireland in fact came third highest in the EU in 2013, behind only Estonia and Luxembourg. This difference is especially striking when we compare this to the 0.48 tonnes used per capita in Nigeria.
Migrants who come from a low energy usage country to a high energy usage country will adapt and converge towards or even exceed the energy consumed in their adoptive country. For example, immigrants in the United States produce about four times as much carbon emissions in the US than they would in their home country.
Climate change is threatening to cause a vicious cycle of migration and destruction. Climate refugees flee environmental destruction in their own countries and move to nations will strong humanitarian records such as Ireland or Sweden, but will in turn increase their carbon consumption and contribute to the very environmental destruction they were escaping.
(Countries coloured red consume more carbon per capita than Ireland)
If Ireland wishes to take responsibility and act as an environmental steward it must consider the negative environmental effects of large-scale immigration from lower energy usage countries. It would be a far superior strategy to engage in environmental relief efforts in poor, low-energy usage countries, and help make them more liveable places for their own populations.
Naturally as with most environmentalist calls to action, these proposals may face resistance from the big business lobby who benefit from cheap labour and increased income inequality. However, this resistance could be vastly mitigated by the increasing amount of automation in the modern world. This automation reduces the need for cheap, low skilled labour, as well as being far more environmentally friendly towards the planet, as more can be produced with less input.
Automation also has the added benefit of allowing companies to relocate their factories much closer to their customers. Adidas has had great success with this model, with their Speedfactory, a highly automated facility located in Germany, producing personalised footwear both quickly and cheaply. In a business where fashion is everything, a spokesman for the company said that the nature of the factory allows the company to respond to market forces within days.
Not only does this style of factory make huge business sense, but it also makes great financial sense. Returning industry back to developed western nations lowers the need for international shipping, air, road, and rail freight – all major contributors to the world’s CO2 emissions. Highly automated industry returning to Europe would reduce the need for corporations to import low-paid workers and would reduce pollution in South and East Asia, where many western businesses own highly polluting factories that do not conform to western emissions standards. For manufacturing, there is no greener option.
Doing your part
There are many ways to help the environment, from small things like cycling to work rather than driving, to more involved initiatives such as volunteering in tree-planting initiatives, something which has been successful in Canada.
Besides avoiding fast fashion and unplugging your devices, I would also recommend adding to your repertoire of important climate actions things such as lobbying for restrictions of low-wage immigration and a return of industry to the West where it will have to conform to stricter emissions and pollution standards.