Recent news has been depressing. A break-all-records heat wave in Europe. A drought in India that has people saying forty percent of the country’s population may have no access to drinking water by 2030, and parts of India may get too hot for humans to live there.
There’s some hype in that. The media love bad news. But even if the situation eases next year, or the year after, climate change is real. The droughts and heat waves will return, and they will get worse.
There are solutions for India, ranging from getting serious about water conservation to desalination of seawater to towing icebergs from Antarctica. All are expensive, and the need for freshwater is huge—India has a population of 1.339 billion (2017), a significant fraction of world population.
Will such solutions be enough? We can hope so, but if they are not, a large portion of India’s population will face a stark choice: die or move.
Fortunately, some parts of India are still wet. Many people will be able to move within the country. But the destination zones are already occupied. There surely is not room for everyone.
So where will they go?
If the U.S. were facing similar problems, President Trump would surely be talking about annexing Canada. And Canada does not have enough of a military to do anything about such a move.
Do the Indians have neighbors they might annex? There’s Pakistan. It’s already occupied, of course, and it’s well armed, even with nukes. Southeast Asia is geographically smaller, it’s already occupied, and it too is well armed. But maybe.
Africa? Despite the continent’s own problems, India might well see it as offering an answer. It’s certainly spacious enough, parts of it are still wet, and I don’t think its collective militaries could do more than slow down an invasion. And an invasion it would be. India has enough shipping to haul large numbers of troops and refugees across the Indian Ocean very quickly.
The next question is how the rest of the world would react if they tried it. India’s chief opponents are Pakistan and China; its allies include Iran and Japan, and at least sometimes the United States.
Who would defend Africa? Many European nations have historical and economic interests there, and the EU and the African Union have a partnership agreement.
That is quite a lineup for a World War III fought in India, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. If it came to that, the death count would probably be considerably greater than if the Indians just stayed home.
We could help. As I noted above, there are potential solutions to the lack of water. For instance, solar heat can be used to power desalination, and the U.S. Department of Energy is funding research into better methods. Such methods would be helpful not only in India.
Heat can be controlled indoors if there is electricity for air conditioning. That takes money. Outdoors is another matter, so it would be crucial to move crops and livestock indoors as much as possible. Greenhouses and barns are easy to build. But again, money.
And money. And more money.
We should have started spending on preventing global warming years ago, when it was obviously on its way.
But even if we have to spend trillions helping India survive, it will be better than spending trillions on World War III.
Note that India is by no means the only place whose people may be looking for new homes in the not-too-distant future. We’re already seeing people fleeing Africa and the Middle East for Europe, and Central America for North America. What they’re fleeing is mostly political chaos rather than environmental disaster. But the latter is going to play an ever bigger role. Bangladesh will be facing heat and flood. Australia heat and drought. Rising seas doom many island states and will affect every nation with a coastline.
That old Boll Weevil Song is
going to gain new life.