Why we should see migration the same way we see global warming

Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive at Lesbos, Greece. (Wikimedia)

My country of residence, Sweden, received 160.000 asylum seekers last year, mainly refugees from the Middle East. This was twice as many as in 1993, the former record year, when scores of people fled the war-torn Balkans. The people of this country are still more immigrant-friendly than most others. However, many now believe — some fear, others hope — the era of tolerance is over.

Two topics I happen to be reasonably versed and engaged in are climate and migration. My stances in these two matters make me understand the reasoning behind the arguments on the “other side” fairly easily, since these are located right across the sides where I stand — or rather the region where I find myself. Topics of this kind hardly allow for simplification into two “sides”. Still, my thoughts are often painted in black and white by mainstream debaters and labeled as ”climate skepticism” and ”migration naivety”. Therefore it’s no mystery to me that some engaged debaters testify they feel they have been silenced by an environment dominated by what is perceived as “politically correct”.

It’s more of a feeling than a true conspiracy, of course, but one shouldn’t underestimate the force of self-censorship. I have frequently noticed how findings which don’t confirm the established climate narrative are held back, while alarming pieces of news are given full scope. Likewise, much of the criticism towards an open immigration policy has been toned down, while the critique against those critical voices has been given larger leeway. In the former case I’ve felt frustration; in the latter case it’s been unproblematic for me to follow “etiquette”, because I’ve considered this to be reasonable. Also a journalist is a person with a world view of her own, believe it or not.

The concept of globalization has been sidelined lately, probably because it’s seen as worn-out. But it’s often precisely when a hyped phenomenon loses its prominent position in the public domain that it becomes real. The massive migration we’re experiencing is nothing but a very eloquent expression of globalization, and it’s not going to wane.

Meanwhile, we’ve all been taught that no environmental problem is more globalized than the enhanced greenhouse effect. My standpoint in that issue, without going too much into detail, is that what’s being done to take us out of our fossil dependency is excellent, but we should avoid panicking and throwing the baby — our drive towards prosperity for all — out with the bathwater, because warming is not going to happen that fast. Plus, Earth’s natural self-regulation, which used to be overestimated, is nowadays generally underestimated. Plus, there are some upsides to global warming, it’s not all drawbacks. Also, an orderly readjustment of the energy system will most probably entail a vitamin injection for the economy. But a certain amount of warming is unavoidable, which is why the principal story is the following: We will have to adjust to a somewhat higher global mean temperature. This isn’t possible to skip. We simply cannot get away.

We should look upon migration and border controls in precisely the same way. The nation state has been immensely useful (thank you for bringing us here), but now we’re molting. We are headed for a transparent world either we wish it or not. Most of us wish it, because we realize that a larger community carries a lot of beautiful promises, but a great many will rebel. Naturally, it’s not easy to rid oneself of a habitual world of watertight walls between physical, economic, cultural and gender-based categories, but to leave it behind will give us more freedom.

Thus, the question is not how our welfare system, based on the nation state, can be rescued and brought “back to normal” again as swiftly as possible after this refugee episode. For things are never again going “back to normal”, and the “episode” wasn’t a one-off, it was a precursor. Instead, the question is how all welfare states, with joint forces, ingenuity and trust, can modify and develop what has been achieved when protected social workshops no longer are possible.

In that respect we stand before a change as big as when money replaced trading goods, when medieval districts and landscapes were brought together under a single king or, to use a closer parable, when six, nine, twelve and eventually 28 European nation states decided to give up parts of their sovereignty in order to instead pool these parts and execute them as one in the European Union. Something similar will be needed on a transnational level in the coming decades, and our governments really ought to engage some of their most brilliant social engineers in figuring out how to do this without us becoming poorer and more violent again.

We need to adjust entitlements and benefits, maybe temporarily accept differentiated welfare systems, perhaps introduce overlapping welfare systems. In the long term we will have to globalize welfare and tax collection, tentatively by way of block chain technique and virtual currencies. We need to get better at speaking and understanding languages. Not least, we need to allow the dynamics of millions of human and cultural encounters to do the main job.

A minor deterioration for some group of people in some corner of the planet might, in some cases, be an unintended and temporary side effect of an improvement in the average global welfare level. Citizens of my country must unlearn to firstly see to what might be best for the barely ten million people who happen to be registered for census between the strait of Öresund and Torne river. Instead they should demand that the decision-makers they elect understand how to create shock-absorbers that can handle a world that’s making its presence felt stronger by the day. This insistent global presence has in fact been obvious for quite some time now. Every election campaign centers around national visions, but these visions burst every time due to far-away realities that suddenly also become close-by realities; be it job-killing industrial competition from Asia, a global financial crisis or a war knocking on the door in the shape of 160.000 asylum seekers.

An intrusive operating environment will continue to penetrate into the paragraphs, yes, between the very letters on the politicians’ agendas in the decades to come. The task they must address is by no means easy, since their formal mandate is still limited to the small patch of soil where their electorate lives (a thus cropped mandate stands out as increasingly unreasonable). But when was welfare building ever easy? It doesn’t matter anyway, for if we don’t want to rewind development 50 years, a further dissolving of borders is unavoidable. Just like a certain degree of global warming. The worrying nation state nostalgic may say whatever they want; they’re wrong. The task simply must be solved, and the sooner most of us understand this, the easier it will be, and the earlier we will be able to appreciate this mental upgrade.

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