drought-02TNDiaspora has become a Megatrend. It’s a word historically used to describe the scattering of people from their homeland. In more recent times it has come to mean an involuntary mass dispersion. The expulsion of Jews from Judea in biblical times, or the more recent slave trade that brought Africans to the US would be classic examples. The ongoing mass migration from Syria and North Africa to Europe is perfectly described as a diaspora.

The United States has a few internal examples in the last century. The Okies fleeing the dust bowl of the 1930s, and the population of New Orleans fleeing the damage of hurricane Katrina can properly be counted as a diaspora. It might well turn out that the next American diaspora will be waves of people from California and the southwest moving to wetter and friendlier places.

It has been suggested that climate change is at least partly responsible for the current European migrant crises. Syria had its worst drought in historical times from 2006 through 2011. Like the western US, Syria and other parts of the middle east have had periodic droughts for centuries. There is some research, none of it absolutely conclusive, that global warming made this particular cycle worse than normal. As agriculture collapses, Syrian farmers move to the cities, along with thousands of Iraqis fleeing war. There are no jobs, and no social network to take care of these people. Naturally, they are not happy, things are bad. Not bad enough to create the 4 to 6 million displaced people that Europe now has to deal with. But the stage is set. Now, add war, Islamic fundamentalism and a series of disastrous political decisions, and you have a genuine crisis.

Europe now has a serious problem, and we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg. As these people settle through Europe, they will concentrate is areas where their language is spoken. Trying to integrate these people into European society is going to be extremely difficult. There will not be jobs. Most of the ones that find some kind or work will be at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. There is also likely to a backlash as many Europeans consider the migrant invaders who are an economic burden.

The single thing that’s really scary about the European situation is how fast it went from seeming manageable to a catastrophe.

Is it possible that the US could someday have to deal with a diaspora? In the 1930s the US had a population less than half what it is today. Also, the economy was in transition from an agricultural to an industrial base. The west could absorb at least part of the population fleeing the dust bowl. In the end, the dust bowl lasted from 1934 to 1939, and was followed by World War II which returned the economy to full employment.

If the drought in the west continues, and virtually all research suggests it could last for 20 years or more, millions of people could be forced to move. We do have some advantages though. We could build massive desalinization plants to provide water to the coasts. It’s expensive, but we know how to do it. The US is still a wealthy country and we have social services to better deal with the displaced. We’re not likely to see waves of refugees like Europe. In the US, it’s more likely to take place over a longer period of time, and we have fewer language issues to deal with.

Dust Bowl Migrants

The east coast of the US has its own problems to deal with. This week, it’s record rainfalls and flooding in the Carolina’s and up the eastern seaboard. As sea levels rise, and there is more moisture in the atmosphere, this pattern will persist. In the longer term, millions could be displaced by rising sea levels in the US alone.

I can see a few additional problems on the horizon. People who live in western wildfire regions have learned hard lessons about the cost of insurance. Make claims for the second or third time in 20 years and insurance becomes impossible for middle class people. Low lying areas in the east are likely to suffer the same fate.

Another issue is work. The US is not going back to a manufacturing economy that employs millions of factory workers. It’s certainly possible, even likely, that more manufacturing will be done in the US, but these new factories will be highly automated. It’s going to be a major challenge to continue current levels of employment. For displaced people, finding work will be extremely difficult.

Add this up, and there is the potential to wind up with millions of displaced Americans who have lost everything, and are now in a position where returning to their original standard of living is virtually impossible. It’s a bad situation, but the US has been through difficult times before and has found solutions.

The scary scenario is an inherently unpredictable problem to our south. It could be started with drought or storms, the result of, or made worse by climate change. There are several countries that are already unstable due to crime, political unrest or a failing economy. Additional heat and Megastorms are not going to make things better.  Now we’re talking about a few more millions fleeing an untenable situation in their homeland. It’s all but certain they will flee to where they’ve found refuge before, the US. They will come in numbers similar to what we’re seeing in the middle east diaspora today. And it could come on top of an already difficult situation in the US. As migrant populations have done before, they create communities within our existing communities, they preserve their language and customs, and some will form new criminal empires. There will be no jobs, or much hope of future jobs for them.  Is it reasonable to expect them to be docile?

For the US, the good news is that we get to see the prequel in Europe. Let’s hope the Europeans teach us how to handle an American diaspora with grace

“My parents, who travelled from Odessa, shortly before the 1914 war, were part of a vast migration of Jews fleeing Tsarist oppression to the dream of America that obsessed poor men all over Europe. The tailors thought of it as a place where people had, maybe, three, four different suits to wear. Glaziers grew dizzy with excitement reckoning up the number of windows in even one little skyscraper. Cobblers counted twelve million feet, a shoe on each. There was gold in the streets for all trades; a meat dinner every single day. And Freedom. That was not something to be sneezed at, either.

But my parents never got to America.” Emanuel Litvinoff


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