Migrating at the End of the World Migrating at the End of the World
The road from Austria to Italy. Photo by Aleksei Morozov

Migrating at the End of the World

Natalia Domagała
time 22 minutes

In some parts of the world, fires regularly rage through the forests. In others, drought grips entire cities. Hurricanes and floods hit still more regions, eroding coastlines. And as climate change continues to make entire swaths of our earth uninhabitable, it will require us to adapt. Not only to a physically changing world but to a population escaping to better climes. 

In an interview with Natalia Domagała, environmental journalist and author of Nomad Century, Gaia Vince, discusses how climate change will cause widespread migration, what steps we can take to adapt to fast-changing populations, and how migration can actually prove beneficial for both immigrants and the countries that take them in. 

Natalia Domagała: In your most recent book, Nomad Century, you state that migration will save us because it is migration that made us the way we are. Why did you decide to focus on migration and what attracted you to approaching climate change from this angle? 

Gaia Vince: Most of my career has been spent looking at the relationship between the human systems that we create through cultural evolution, and the earth systems: the climate, geography, and the geology of our planet. Recently, we’ve been changing this in such a fundamental way that we’ve pushed ourselves into the Anthropocene, the age of humans. I’ve seen this firsthand and my first book looked at how humans at the frontline were responding to the challenges caused by climate change that was very much underway. Even though it wasn’t recognised by many of the Northern and Western nations, its impacts and extreme events were already felt in the Global South. It was a conversation about mitigation and adaptation, to raise the awareness that this is going to happen further north. Now that’s changed. Obviously, we are already experiencing climate change here in Europe, in the United States, in the “rich world.” But, although our leaders have started talking about mitigation and reducing emissions, and there is a little bit of conversation happening about adaptation, nobody is talking about something that I’ve already witnessed, which is that for large parts of the world, and large populations, the conditions over the next century will become too extreme.  

There will be no way to adapt, people will have to move, but we are not talking about it at all. So this book was born out of frustration, but my last book was really about how did we get here, to the situation where humans are the most dominant force and have changed the planet? That’s the story of our cultural evolution from a tropical African ape to a species that now is dispersed across the planet. We live everywhere, from the Arctic to Antarctica, from the deserts to the tropics, from marshland to coastland–we are even in space, in the International Space Station. That is a story about our migration and the historic migrations that our species has taken over the last two hundred to three hundred thousand years, in various ways through our networks, and how it made us the very successful species that we are. We are in this state at the moment where the idea of lots of people moving is terrifying and seems very abnormal. And yet, that is what has created the species that we are, so it’s about trying to bring those two together to say: don’t panic, let’s talk about how we can manage this. Because we can, we do have choices. 

What are the drivers of that human displacement that will make parts of the planet unlivable, possibly sooner than we think? 

I call them the four horsemen of the Anthropocene: fire,


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Sourdough bread, fermented herring, blue-veined cheese: the list of victuals enjoyed by people in various parts of the world includes many fermented, slightly spoiled, soured, or rotten foodstuffs. 

Milk, vegetables, fruit juices, sometimes even meat. Over the course of hundreds or even thousands of years of culinary exploration, we have tried to ferment, or “spoil in a controlled manner,” just about anything. Never by ourselves, of course—we couldn’t do it without fungi and bacteria, the alchemists of the micro-universe. 

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