As people in Europe, the U.S., and the rest of the developed world live longer and procreate less, their countries are steadily declining. Some projections suggest that, worldwide, there will be half as many children under the age of 15 as there will be adults over age 60. Fewer kids means shrinking populations, an aging populace, and economies burdened by health care and pension obligations.
Meanwhile, developing countries such as China, India, and parts of Africa are primed for population booms. "China is very much geared up to become a future magnet for attracting world skills," says Sarah Harper, director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing at the University of Oxford in the U.K. "It’s estimated that by 2030 the brain drain will reverse, moving from the U.S. to China. So if you are a bright university student, you won’t go to work for a biotech company in Boston but for a bank in Shanghai."
Harper has been studying aging populations for quite a while, but a few years ago she realized that although many researchers were predicting what might happen to different countries as their populace grew collectively older, no one had taken the impacts of climate change into account. "My colleagues and I began to look at the effects of climate change. And the more we looked, the more we saw nexuses of how these came together," Harper says.
In new research she describes a Northern Europe that, as a result of a changing climate, will be attractive enough to entice skilled migrants to choose locations such as France, Germany, England, and Northern Italy over the heat sinks and increased flooding that is predicted to occur in Asia. These migrants include refugees moving out of environmentally challenged areas, as well as skilled workers leaving developing countries—such as those in an increasingly warm and flooding Asia—who are looking for a profitable place to set up a new home. And that increase in skilled workers could be enough to save the flagging economies of Northern Europe.
Europe also has a leg up over the U.S. "There will be a huge demand for global skills, and Europe and the U.S. won’t be able to cherry-pick skilled workers the way they have in the past. But Europe won’t be as challenged with climate change," Harper says. The U.S., however, may not be so lucky. "The evidence is that the U.S. is going to be very environmentally challenged, and it won’t be able to compensate for its reduction in attractiveness as Asia grows."