Every community and all the infrastructure on Earth has been built with the expectation that past weather conditions will be broadly similar to future and present ones. Rapid climate change of the kind we are creating thus sets up a situation where what we have built in every place is less and less suited to the conditions that will exist there. In the most extreme cases, places where people have long inhabited will cease to be able to support a human population. An increased flow of individuals out of a territory as conditions worsen could give way to the need to relocate entire populations.
This is the starkest and most immediate concern for low-lying island states, such as the Marshall Islands:
The depressing long-term solution, as in Mr Tong’s last resort, may be to move. The Marshall Islands hopes to renegotiate its post-colonial ‘Compact of Free Association’ with America, which expires in 2023, to ensure a permanent right of residence in the United States for all Marshallese. Tuvalu has no such option. Maina Talia, a climate activist, thinks that the government should take Fiji up on its offer of a home where Tuvaluans could practise the same culture rather than ‘be dumped somewhere in Sydney.’
Vexingly, the same conservative political forces that champion fossil fuels and refuse to accept the dangerousness of climate change are perhaps most defined by a closed sense of nationalism and opposition to immigration. Among other motivations, they are going to need to learn that if you want the global human population to stay more or less where they are, you need to keep the climate within the bounds that have supported those societies.