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America’s Four Great Migrations & the World They will Transform

The 4 Great Migrations, a column by Charles M. Blow in Feb. 23, 2021 issue of the New York Times is a fascinating and troubling delineation of four major migratory waves destined to wash over America in the next 50 years. Blow lists four environmental and demographic trends already well under way. 

As temperatures and sea levels rise with climate change, millions of Americans will be forced to seek cooler, less flood-prone regions to resettle in. How many millions depends on how quickly we humans curb the emission of heat-trapping gases produced by burning coal, oil, and natural gas which are driving the global heating and sea level rise. 

A second wave is both environmental and demographic. Immigration from especially Latin America since 1965, together with their children and grandchildren, have contributed 55% of America’s growth in population from 193 million then to 324 million today. That total is expected to rise to 441 million by 2070, with 88% of the increase due to immigrants and their descendants. There will be more Asian Americans than African Americans, and there will be twice as many Latinos as Blacks. The political implications will be profound.

Cities have long been magnets for rural and small town youth. That trend is accelerating. Millennials in greater numbers than previous generations are seeking the excitement, entertainment, and employment opportunities that cities offer. 

Blacks, who fled the oppressively segregated South in the Great Migration that lasted from 1915 to 1970 for the relative freedom and opportunity of Northern cities, are increasingly moving back to the South, abandoning the now aging, rusting, and deindustrialized Northern metropolises. 

Blow doesn’t speculate on how the confluence and interplay of the four great migrations he delineates will play out, presumably leaving that mind-game for another column. Given his length constraints, he’s entitled to punt that huge topic. So will I for the most part, although I will hazard the guess that it will be tumultuous. Inevitably there will be externalities, foreign events impinging on and shaping America’s course. There could be one big nuclear war, ending it all, or many small civil and regional wars. There will be booms and busts, and probably more pandemics.

A lot depends on how bad the climate gets, how high the seas rise, how often  tropical storms devastate coastal regions, how many regimes topple under the influx of climate migrants and the pressure of failed crops and rising food prices. There are many who predict apocalypse, but the climate crisis can be managed. However, we have left it so late that even if we mount a concerted gobal effort, the stresses we have unleashed by our profligate combustion of fossil fuels will shake the mighty edifice of civilization we humans have slowly and painstakingly erected since we left Africa long ago. If civilization crumbles, America would not be immune. It could lose its way and its democracy. The US could descend through autocracy into anarchy. 

Yet America’s and humanity’s descent into a maelstrom of chaos is not inevitable. The human experiment need not fail. The species that put men in the moon and landed a rover softly on Mars can achieve incredible things when it summons its collective will. Mankind has nearly made Earth uninhabitable for itself and much if nature. We must now subsume our many fears, differences, and animosities in order to collectively preserve the only home most of mankind will ever know. If humankind can organize, innovate, and cooperate to accomplish that, surely Americans can adjust to and assimilate its ever-changing components, spatial locations, and power relationships through a uniquely American process of transformation to evolve a vibrant, diverse, panracial,  panethnic, pangender, pansexually-oriented, panreligious, urbanized, truly democratic society. 

Si Dios quiere. In shah Allah. If God wills.

image: San Antonio area residents in line at a food distribution center on Sunday. A winter storm in Texas left millions without power or running water.Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times

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