Saturday, May 21, 2016

Is the present wave of migration going to get us to wake up to planetary reality?

The Remain camp has won the economic argument over Brexit, but the migration argument is still happening.

As things stand at the moment, the Leavers can claim that leaving would reduce migration, because no-one in their right mind would want to come live in a Britain in a deep recession ruled by Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Nigel Farage perhaps running the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

There is a simple Right-Left argument about migration, based on the Right saying "We don't want these foreigners here in our country", and the Left saying "Yes we do, they're fellow humans in need of help".

On top of this emotional reaction there is an economic argument, with the Right saying "They take our benefits, housing, services and jobs" and the Left saying, "They boost to our economy, they keep the NHS going, if services are stretched it is because of under-provision, not immigrant demand".

There is a weakness to this latter argument, because the young, economically active migrants who are being welcomed will turn into economically inactive senior people, so we will need yet more migrants to look after them.

There is also a Green component to this argument, which goes like this:
"No matter how much we love, like and sympathise with those fleeing war, dictators, poverty and environmental degradation, Britain is a small set of islands, already over its carrying capacity, and at 251 people per sq Km, the third most densely populated country in the EU, after Malta (1306/per sq Km), Netherlands (397), Belgium (352), and just ahead of Germany at 230".

I could draw fire from within the Green Party for writing the above paragraph, and get labelled as a right-winger. I am not a right winger. I recognise that Homo Sapiens is a social animal, and I totally reject authoritarianism as a way of running a country. Setting out facts accurately cannot turn a person into a fascist or a Conservative; it is just being accurate.

The Left deals with the carrying capacity argument by saying "It isn't the size of the human population, it is the amount they consume that matters, and we in the West consume more than our fair share". Which is true, but only partly true, because it is the case that if everyone on the planet had the best possible, greenest, most sustainable consumption pattern, the human population would still have to stop growing, for the simple reason that it is impossible to grow forever in a finite space.

Hans Rosling has a good point to make, which is that we need to move to a position where everyone has enough. But even Hans Rosling must accept that it is impossible to expand forever into a finite space.

The Left meets any worries about the carrying capacity of the UK by pointing out that migrants would still be consuming in their home countries, they have just changed the location of their consumption. Which is again true, up to a point, but in moving from a warm country to the UK, individuals will probably increase their consumption patterns, if only because they need more domestic heating than they do in a warm country.

The basic ecological facts that we face are this:
First, It is impossible to turn back the tide of human movement that  is taking place at the moment, and is likely to continue until we address the causes of migration, so we have to accept migration as the new norm.
Second, we must a long term view, and  should start looking at, and solving, the causes of migration, war, dictatorial and oppressive regimes, poverty, and environmental degradation, including climate change.

Cynics may say that is impossible, we have been trying for decades and look at us. But we haven't really been trying. We have been pretending to try, fiddling and verbalising, but we're not really serious about it. Why? Because the dominant right wing meme is "Why should we care about wars and regimes in far away places? Let's put Britain first".

The Right has got to understand that we live in a system where everything is interconnected. If they want to stop immigration, they have got to address conditions across the world, and addressing conditions does not mean dropping bombs on people, it means diagnosing ant treating systemic problems. When  the Right understands that the definitive solution to migration is not to withdraw from the EU and seal our borders (which would need a massive Naval task force in the Channel, picking up boats and returning them to the EU), but to work to address the causes of war, we could actually end up living in a happier planet.

So, looking on the bright side, the present migration crisis could be a turning point in human history, where we begin to manage ourselves in a more intelligent way.

More on this blog:
Migration: lets get to the source
What causes war
World Population


Clive Lord said...

Thank you Richard, a useful and balanced blog, though I suspect it will get attacked. I believe it can be strengthened by the Basic income principle, but that will make it even more controversial, because population limitation has to come into it.
For me the Basic Income is central to the answer to the causes of migration, poverty, environmental degradation etc. as follows
Once upon a time, human tribes lived where they did because there were sufficient resources. That worked as long as numbers were limited. The principle needed now is that everyone, everywhere has a right to basic needs, but numbers must be limited. No compulsion - no draconian measures, just as simple statement, like Richard's. Communities will be given the wherewithal for family planning, at the expense of more affluent countries.

Richard Lawson said...

Thank you Clive. Do you mean that if sending countries had BI there would be less pressure to migrate?

I agree that education, not coercion, is the only way to go. I had a piece about this in 2010.

David Flint said...

Richard, you say that "we ... should start looking at, and solving, the causes of migration, war, dictatorial and oppressive regimes, poverty, and environmental degradation, including climate change."

Obviously you are right and that's true whether 'we' means the UN, the EU, the UK or the Green Party. But that would be a long-term project - multiple decades in my view - even if the Green Party were to form the next four UK governments. As it is progress is impeded, even reversed, by a range of bad actors and fools, from Daesh to Murdoch via Farrage and Trump.

Meanwhile 'we' (the Green Party or HMG) have to take decisions in the world we actually inhabit. A world in which the UK is densely populated, in which wars (for which the UK carries a real responsibility) will continue to drive mass migration and in which many citizens of developed countries feel threatened by immigration.

Unless we (the sensible folk) find a reasonably humane policy soon power will pass to right-wing demagogues who will impose policies that may bring disasters of many kinds. We see the signs right across the world. We must find short and long term policies.