Our obsession with sovereignty is inhibiting the global mobility we desperately need
The three salient facts of human life on Earth today are that we are about to number 8bn people, we face enormous demographic imbalances between the old and the young, and climate change is upon us.
This calls for nothing less than a new human geography. We must shift away from the sovereignty that dictates our distribution across the planet towards a more dynamic equilibrium that favours collective human survival and productivity.
Since the 1970s, the global fertility curve has flattened. Where once we feared runaway overpopulation, the news that we will cross the 8bn milestone next week now seems almost anticlimactic. Some parts of Africa and south Asia remain densely populated but, even there, fertility is plummeting. No country was spared the twin “baby busts” of the global financial crisis just over a decade ago and the Covid-19 pandemic, whose total economic impact on fertility is still to be seen.
On top of that, climate change sounds the death knell for fertility, with almost half of the world’s youth expressing concern about having children for fear of the apocalyptic hellscape they may grow up in. Once our children stop having children, “peak humanity” is just around the corner.
And there’s little reason to be confident that the usual proportion of those 8bn of us alive today will make it to the mid 2030s, when current forecasts suggest we may hit 9bn. Covid, conflict and climate change could hasten our demographic demise. The pandemic has already claimed just over 6.5mn lives. Conflicts and state failure from Myanmar to Syria to Ukraine to Venezuela have killed and displaced millions of people in just the past decade, stunting entire societies. And we have witnessed mass deaths from heatwaves that stretch from Canada to India — all before the world heats up to levels that are now considered inevitable.
It is a tragic irony that the majority of young people — the demographic future of our species — are trapped in sweltering geographies from the Horn of Africa and the Levant to south and south-east Asia. A failure to offer them a means of escape will accelerate ecocide on a scale that ultimately impoverishes us all.
Dr. Parag Khanna is a globally renowned thinker, author and keynote speaker. He is the Founder & CEO of Climate Alpha, an AI-powered analytics platform that forecasts asset values to future-proof global real estate, and Founder & Managing Partner of FutureMap, a data and scenario based strategic advisory firm.