Monday, February 23, 2009


The Washington Post has an amusing article on today's front page about "ecomigrants" -- people that move locations due to environmental factor. The first character we meet in this story is some guy that moved from the DC area to New Zealand because he is so petrified about global warming:
Adam Fier recently sold his home, got rid of his car and pulled his twin 6-year-old girls out of elementary school in Montgomery County. He and his wife packed the family's belongings and moved to New Zealand -- a place they had never visited or seen before, and where they have no family or professional connections. Among the top reasons: global warming.

...Fier, 38, a computer security professional who used to work at NASA, said he thought hard about the risks of global climate change. He knew moving to a new country would be difficult but thought that the dangers of staying in the United States were worse. Several years ago, he drew up a list of countries and studied how they might fare over the next century. He examined their environmental policies, access to natural resources and whether they would be safe from conflict. He decided that New Zealand would offer a comparable quality of life, has an excellent environmental record and is isolated from global conflicts by large tracts of the Pacific Ocean. Its tropical, subtropical, temperate and arctic zones also offer a variety of "bioenvironments" as a hedge against the vagaries of climate change.

..."I am not going to predict how the climate might change and how it might affect New Zealand," Fier said. "But quite honestly, I feel in 100 years, one of my daughters is still going to be alive and this planet is going to be a mess. If I didn't have two daughters, I would not be doing this."
What a wacko. This guy should be filed away with the survivalists that moved to Idaho in the 1980s to escape from inevitable nuclear war or in the 1990s because of the Y2K non-problem. Instead he is profiled on the front page of the Post. I guess it makes for great copy but it is absurd in the extreme. In any case it gives some insight into why politicians like Obama carry the DC area so easily.

The article goes on to suggest that Fier may not be alone:
New Zealand's environmental credentials are no secret: Nearly half of all skilled migrants to the country cite its "climate or the clean, green environment to be a main reason" for moving there, according to a survey conducted by the nation's Department of Labor.
That's great, but it would be a real mistake to think that New Zealand has suddenly become some mecca for immigrants. According to statistics provided by the country's government, New Zealand's net migration of 3.3 per 1,000 population is actually surpassed by the U.S. at 3.5. Even Greece ranks higher at 3.8.

The article uses Fier as a symbol of a larger problem, with tens of millions of ecomigrants claimed:
By choice or necessity, millions of "ecomigrants" -- most of them poor and desperate -- are on the move in search of more habitable living space.

There were about 25 million ecomigrants in the world a little more than a decade ago, said Norman Myers, a respected British environmental researcher at Oxford University. That number is now "a good deal higher," he added. "It's plain that sea-level rise in the wake of climate change will inundate the homelands of huge numbers of people."

In Bangladesh, about 12 million to 17 million people have fled their homes in recent decades because of environmental disasters -- and the low-lying country is likely to experience more intense flooding in the future. In several countries in Africa's Sahel region, bordering the Sahara, about 10 million people have been driven to move by droughts and famines.
First off, let's examine how significant this problem really is. Let's be generous and say that the number of ecomigrants has doubled over the past decade from 25 million to 50 million. Out of a global population of 6.7 billion that means that such migrants are 0.7 percent of the people on this earth. That hardly seems like a calamity.

Next, look at the countries that are discussed -- Bangladesh and the African Sahel region. What do those countries have in common? They are all dirt poor. This is likely because they are also economically repressed (Bangladesh's ranking in the latest Economic Freedom of the World Report: 108 out of 141). Indeed, the article mentions ecomigrants leaving because of famine, but no country in the history of the world with a free market has ever suffered a famine.

Even if you accept the argument that global warming is real and inevitable it makes a good argument for capitalism and free markets. It is no coincidence that those countries with the cleanest environments also tend to be the richest among us. Furthermore, if you are concerned about devastation that may be wreaked by global warming then you want to live in a rich country where more resources exist to ameleriorate the effects (New Zealand per capita GDP: $26,610). In a rich country like the U.S. for example rising sea levels can be combated by building sea walls. A lack of fresh water can be addressed by desalinization plants, a luxury others may not be able to afford.

If you want to save the world, or save yourself, promote policies that promote wealth. In short, get rich.


Anonymous said...

So, get rich is your solution to overpopulation, global warming, environmental degradation, and any other eco-hazard coming our way?
If countries start being unable to feed there people, they will not sell food to you just because you have money.
Perhaps getting rich on green tech?

Colin said...

"So, get rich is your solution to overpopulation, global warming, environmental degradation, and any other eco-hazard coming our way?"

Pretty much. Richer countries have fewer children, so that takes care of overpopulation. Rich countries are better positioned to both address any deleterious effects of global warming if it occurs and poor countries have much more significant environmental degradation than rich countries.

In fact, the New York Times last month noted that the rain forest is growing back at a rapid clip in a number of countries because people are giving up subsistence farming and moving to the cities. This is but one example.

"If countries start being unable to feed there people, they will not sell food to you just because you have money."

This has never occurred. Further, if you are rich you can afford to employ more efficient farming methods that boost yields. If there is more demand for food we will see expanded crop production.

"Perhaps getting rich on green tech?"

Perhaps. If it makes economic sense I say go for it. If I can power my house for cheaper with solar or wind than coal I am all for it.

dan said...

It's not an AMUSING story sir. It's the future. Get used to it. See my polar cities predictions here, as reported in the NY Times last year. More to come soon.

Tufts 1971

Tom's Trip said...

While "get rich" might not be the answer, neither is running away to New Zealand. Mr Fier is a fool, and the Post article is a mishmash of horrible analysis, illogical argument, and silly speculation.

On the other hand, Mr Fier is making a good move for the sake of his daughters. Heck, if I had two daughters, I wouldn't want to live in Montgomery County, either. But frankly I'm petrified of somewhat simpler things - like getting shot, or having my house robbed.

And as for "It's the future"? It COULD be - but not from the frothy piece of fiction foisted on the front page of the Post. I'm as much a believer in GW as the next guy, but the Post article is beyond ridiculous. It's an insult to critical thinking.

I moved from DC to rural Missouri because because I prefer the solitude of the country over the city, detested commuting on I-66 every day, and like to see the stars at night. Does that make me an "ecomigrant", too?

Cheers, Colin. Well done.

Colin said...

Thanks for the kind words Tom.

Elizabeth said...

Could you please provide a citation for the claim that "no country in the history of the world with a free market has ever suffered a famine"? Amartya Sen's traditionally misinterpreted statement is that "no substantial famine has ever occurred in any country with a relatively free press." The free market association, however, I've never heard.

Colin said...

Hi Elizabeth, thanks for your comment. Please find my response here: