MIGRATION: Pete McMartin: Historic human tsunami likely in Canada’s future – OPINION

There will be climate refugees in the millions — if not the hundreds of millions — fleeing to countries where life is still tolerable.

Author: Pete McMartin –: Aug 20, 2021 – Vancouver Sun

New refugees arrive at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Quebec, August 5, 2017. The stadium has been turned into a shelter for hundreds of refugees who have flooded across the Canada/US border in recent weeks. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on August 4 promised that his government would redouble its efforts to handle the influx of migrants illegally entering the country from the United States to seek asylum. / AFP PHOTO / Geoff RobinsGEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

PHOTO: A flood of refugees arrive at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Photo by GEOFF ROBINS /AFP/Getty Images

In December 2020, The New York Times ran a piece headlined, “How Russia Wins The Climate Crisis.” Its theme was stark, as apocalyptic visions usually are.

The Times foresaw a future in which climate change will remake the world’s geopolitics as well as its environments. There will be climate refugees in the millions — if not the hundreds of millions — fleeing to countries where life is still tolerable.       

Like, for instance, here.

“Take, for example, Canada,” the Times article suggested. “It is flush with land as well as timber, oil, gas and hydropower, and it has access to 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water. It has a stable, incorrupt democracy. And as the climate warms, Canada will move into the ecological sweet spot for civilization, benefiting from new Arctic transportation routes as well as an expanded capacity for farming. But there are only 38 million people in Canada, and Canadians are dying at a faster rate than they are being born.

“This is why a group of Canadian business executives and academics have called on their government to turn the country’s immigration system into a magnet for the planet’s most talented people, hoping to nearly triple Canada’s population by 2100.”

That is, in 80 short years, there is a plan to expand Canada’s population to over 100 million people. For most Canadians, who identify with the country’s pristine and sparsely populated vastness, the thought of those millions flowing into Canada would constitute not just another wave of immigration, but a human tsunami that would inundate the idea of Canada itself.

The group of Canadian business executives and academics to which the Times story refers are known as the Century Initiative, whose 34 members are some of the smartest and most accomplished people in Canada.

On the group’s website, each member’s curriculum vitae groans under the weight of myriad university degrees, visiting professorships and charity work. Its membership also appears to have been designed by demographic woke-ness, divided as it is almost evenly between men and women, the requisite number of Indigenous representatives and people of colour. There are CEOs. There are lawyers. There are quasi-government operatives whose appointments to multiple federal and provincial committees make it difficult to decide exactly what it is they do. There is a senator and a former ambassador, but there is, significantly, not a single elected politician among them. I could not tell if this was by design — so as to maintain the image of non-partisanship — or by distaste.

The group’s vision, it argues, is mathematically irrefutable: For Canada to maintain its prosperity and place in the world, it will have to increase its population significantly to “reduce the burden on government revenues to fund health care, old age security, and other services. It would also mean more skilled workers, innovation, and dynamism in the Canadian economy.”

The bulk of those 100-million-plus citizens would live in, as they see it, a circuit of interconnected urban mega-regions. By 2100, Toronto would grow to 33.5 million. The Calgary-Edmonton corridor would grow to 15.5 million. Vancouver would grow to just under 12 million. In Vancouver’s case, confined as it is by geography, one wonders where all these new citizens will live, and the answer, of course, is in little boxes stacked on top of each other — while, presumably, more spacious private reserves will be set aside for the likes of the members of the Century Initiative in West Vancouver, Whistler and possibly a space station orbiting safely above the rabble.

I jest. Sort of. But I do agree with the alphas of the Century Initiative that significant, historic population increase will be in Canada’s near future.

Unlike the Century Initiative, however, I don’t foresee that this growth will be managed or planned for.

Climate change will drive a huge increase in our population, and this increase will consist not of immigrants, at least in the way we used to identify immigrants, but of refugees.

The estimates of the number of refugees that climate change will produce vary widely, but all of the estimates are alarming. In 2018, the World Bank forecast that desertification in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia will generate 143 million more climate refugees by 2050. The United Nations International Organization for Migration predicted there could be as many as one billion environmental migrants by 2050, although the most cited figure in studies was 200 million.

And last April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office released data showing that since 2010, 21.5 million people had been displaced by climate-related disasters. With future sea rise, habitat loss and higher temperatures, that number can only grow.

Think of the humanitarian pressure, not to mention the diplomatic and military stresses, put on Canada to harbour those refugees.

There are, for example, almost 40 million people in California, more than the entire population of Canada. Where do we expect many of those 40 million to go once temperatures threaten crops and water supplies (as they already are), or when sea rise threatens its coastal cities, or when pressure from climate refugees along its own southern border reaches a breaking point? Many will go north, as I expect many Americans along the entire length of the Canada-U.S. border will. Some, the wealthy, will buy their way in — as they already are — and some will be recruited for their skills. The majority will be driven by desperation, and there will be expectations among the global community that it will be the duty of Canada — as one of the world’s larger lifeboats — to accept them.

And therein lies the tension between what I see as Canada’s two possible futures — the tension between allowing the world in or keeping it at arm’s length.

Either way, we may not have a say in the matter.

Pete McMartin is a former Vancouver Sun columnist.   mcmartincharles@gmail.com


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