How Will Our Next Generations Deal With Climate Change? Parag Khanna Has the Answers
How will future generations cope with the threat of rising sea levels, droughts and other climate disasters? Will geographical borders still exist? How has the pandemic re-defined our future? Celebrated author and international relations specialist Parag Khanna explores these questions and more in his latest book, Move: The Forces Uprooting Us, where he posits that the next generation is going to be a nomadic one, one of the reasons being the threat of climate change.
The book, says Khanna, is a continuation from his 2016 bestseller, Connectography. The global strategist explains, “It’s just one stream of consciousness that an editor has cut off and said, you’ve written 750 pages, please stop. So this is a sequel to Connectography, which was about global connectivity, infrastructure, supply chain and to some degree mobility. But it’s also about connectivity as a philosophy—the fact that we are all connected to each other, and there is more mobility than ever before. It was a book about what is called functional geography, and how we use space.”
We chat with the former Tatler Singapore cover star about key takeaways from the book.
How would you define and explain this nomadic attitude that people are adopting today?
Parag Khanna (PG): What really thrived in the pandemic is what I call mobile real estate, which is at the high end, like a private jet or a yacht, or a luxury camper van or a 3D printed house that can be put on the back of the truck and moved around countries in Europe. You can park there. You can live there.
I’m not saying that old people are going to do that. I like to say that the book is like Nomadland for the human species. The movie Nomadland gives the false impression that they’re doing so voluntarily. Most elderly people who live in camper vans are very poor and have no pension or anything.
But for young people, it is voluntary. Young people are like, ‘why does my house have a mortgage? What if I lose my job? What if there’s a tropical storm or a cyclone? Why would I have that debt? If I buy a really fancy trailer van or a 3D printed house, I can literally move it around. If the storm comes, I move, and switch my job.’
And I believe that that’s not only smart because you’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, but you are mobile, and you’ve bought a climate resilient asset. It’s a deeper, unintentional manifestation of the human biological fight or flight response.
Did the pandemic change your findings?
PG: The pandemic has simply accelerated my thesis. The book was done before the pandemic, which ended up delaying it for a while. And I was glad we did, because the momentum is just building up on this issue, like nomad visas. Because now we have more data about nomad visas, a huge theme in my book is about citizenship for sale.
Optionality is the keyword. I think young people prize that optionality because they don’t trust governments. The degree of trust in government has plummeted, except for a couple of Asian countries like here.
Would you say that your book posits an end to geopolitical borders in the future?
PG: All of my books are obsessed with borders and geography. We have more borders now than ever before in history: 200 sovereign nations and countries because people only feel secure with their tribe. By creating more borders, people feel stable to lay claim on their land, like when the Serbs are out of Croatia and vice versa. But the next thing that happens is that you get more borderless as people cross them to enter with passports. Borders make good fences and make for good neighbours.
Once you have your stability, you question how is one to survive. ‘I need food and water. I need energy. I need people and labour. Where am I going to get them from?’ We’ve all broken ourselves up into tiny countries, [and realise that we] need more globalisation and trade.’
I think that survival is [also] young people commuting and moving is the cure for loneliness. During the pandemic, online dating went through the roof. Ten or 15 years ago, only 10 per cent of marriages began with online dating. Now it’s 60 per cent in America. These are all manifestations of the human survival instinct.
We need to bond. We need to connect to cure loneliness. We need to procreate. We need to have financial stability. We need climate resilient areas to live in. How do you answer every one of these questions? There’s a one-word answer. It’s that you move. You’re in a place that sucks. Just go. Movement is the single most human thing.
Wouldn’t you say this is an escapist mindset that people are adopting?
PG: In Singapore, people are always asking: what’s your exit, where’s your exit, where will you be. Everyone is having that conversation, and it’s definitely not a Singapore-only conversation. It’s everywhere on earth where we’ve been locked down. It’s so deeply psychological. Even when you live in a tropical paradise, you still have that conversation because people have cabin fever or they’re worried about effects of lockdown in business. You will have the young people who say, ‘Hey, I can remote work now, so I’m going to go live somewhere cheaper.’
You said you started thinking about this issue 20 years ago. Did your stance change after having kids?
PG: Yes and no. I worked in the youth unit of United Nations in the 1990s, where we were promoting youth causes at the government level, and holding summits all over the world. Teenagers like me were literally being flown around, and [we had to be] acculturated and acclimated. So this is a book about that.
Get a copy of the book here