Parag Khanna: Where on Earth will people live in the future?

Recorded atApril 26, 2022
EventTED Membership
Duration (min:sec)18:42
Video TypeOriginal Content
Words per minute214.28 very fast
Readability (FK)50.97 difficult
SpeakerParag Khanna
CountryUnited States of AmericaIndia
DescriptionAmerican political scientist

Official TED page for this talk


From the return of nomadic living to a climate-disrupted world, author and global strategist Parag Khanna has some predictions for humanity. Get a fascinating glimpse at the future as he tackles an urgent question: Where on Earth will eight billion humans live in the uncertain times ahead? (This conversation, hosted by TED current affairs curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers, was part of an exclusive TED Membership event. Visit to become a TED Member.)

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:03 From the standpoint of human geography, why we live where we live in the world, it's actually driven by a fairly categorically organized set of variables.
200:15 Those variables are colliding, but you can actually segment them.
300:19 Demographic imbalances: the gap between young and old.
400:22 Young people move to countries where wealthy aging populations need them.
500:26 That's been happening for generations.
600:28 Political upheaval: civil wars, international conflicts, such as we're witnessing right now, but of course, the 20th century had a lot of these as well.
700:35 So large refugee flows, for example.
800:38 Economic dislocation, like financial crises, when we have those people move away from areas that have become deindustrialized, for example, like the Rust Belt of the United States or Southern Europe.
900:49 Technological disruption.
1000:50 That can be AI and automation, forcing you away from the place where you had a stable job.
1100:55 But it could also mean Zoom.
1200:57 You can live anywhere, do this call, do your job from anywhere.
1301:00 So positive and negative.
1401:01 And of course, climate change, which is actually the original driver of where we live, and it's coming back.
1501:07 It was the driver of where humans have settled for hundreds of thousands of years, and now it's changing.
1601:13 And if you take all of these together and multiply it by the connectivity, all of the infrastructure that we have built to enable human mobility, you get a world in which we’re going to use that capacity for mobility, and we're going to have mass migrations potentially on a scale we've never seen before.
1701:29 And that's what I want to dive into a little bit right now.
1801:33 So let's start with the climate angle.
1901:35 This map actually shows you the present distribution of the world population.
2001:38 This is it, all of us, you, wherever you are, you are a pixel on this map.
2101:43 There's eight billion pixels here.
2201:45 Now, watch what happens, tragically, as climate change advances and as what is called the suitability of a geography changes, in other words, the suitability for human habitation and survivability.
2301:59 Now, what you just saw happen is an animation that reflects what’s called the Suitability Index, derived from measurements of temperature change.
2402:08 There's obviously many other climate-related factors as well, rising sea levels, among others.
2502:13 But this is strictly based upon temperature.
2602:15 And red doesn't mean you cannot live there, but it means that it's becoming decreasingly suitable for human life, whereas green means that relative to how it used to be, it's becoming more suitable for human life.
2702:27 Now, this is the greatest irony in the entire world today.
2802:31 I can think of no more profound paradox that we've ever encountered than this.
2902:37 Think about what I showed you before.
3002:39 Most of the human population lives in places that are basically turning red.
3102:44 The places that are green right now on your map are places that are depopulating.
3202:49 Less and less people as a result of old age and mortality and low fertility rates.
3302:56 So the rich countries of the world, the United States, Canada, Europe and so forth, Russia, Japan would actually be declining in population, Russia most certainly is, were it not for immigration.
3403:07 This is what we have to solve.
3503:09 This is the profound challenge.
3603:11 In one picture that's worth millions of words, this is the world that we seem to be headed towards.
3703:17 We need to figure out how eight billion people reside on this landmass.
3803:23 The territorial area on this map is 150 million square kilometers.
3903:26 There are eight billion of us.
4003:28 Where do we go to optimize our own survival as a species?
4103:32 And because of the lines that are missing on this map, the borders, this becomes a lot more difficult than it would be if we could simply wander wherever we wanted to the way we did when we were populating the continents over the last 100,000 years.
4203:47 Now, over the last 30 years, this has been a stable migration arrangement in the world.
4303:53 The largest number of people moving within and across regions is documented for you here.
4403:59 And it's people within the former Soviet republics, so Ukrainians to Russia, Russians to Ukraine.
4504:04 Now Ukrainians out of both Russia and Ukraine.
4604:08 South Asians moving to the Persian Gulf countries.
4704:11 Latin Americans moving north into Central and North America.
4804:16 Europeans within Europe and so on.
4904:18 This is what’s been steady flows, if you will, of people over the last 30 years.
5004:23 But the next 30 years won't be exactly the same.
5104:26 And that we, again, don't have a map for, there isn't even really a historical precedent for that kind of movement across regions, across continents, as we might see.
5204:36 Now, the second demographic factor here is our overall world population.
5304:41 All of this is happening at a time when, instead of the world reaching 15 billion people, as some predicted in the 1980s and 1990s, instead it could well be that our world population never even reaches 10 billion people.
5404:55 So I call it peak humanity.
5504:57 Fertility is declining.
5604:59 Again, note the mismatch.
5705:01 The wealthy countries of the north are the ones that are shrinking in population, whereas young countries of the South and the developing world still have very large, young populations.
5805:10 And we need to find ways to correct that mismatch if we want to have a global population that is sort of, you know, stable and willing to reproduce.
5905:21 Not that we want to have a population surge, but we don't want to crash either.
6005:26 We need to think about how young people can cope with climate, with geopolitics, with the economic pressure, and live in places where they can still produce a sizeable next generation of people.
6105:37 What's happening right now is that young people aren't having any children.
6205:41 And that's going to actually lead to a very steep population crash in many ways.
6305:46 So this got me thinking about how young people think.
6405:49 And this forms a big part of the argument of the "Move" book, because when we, and I don't mean we as in every one of you, but when people who are say, my age or older, Gen X or, you know, baby boomers, we speak very confidently in this sort of, you know, plural pronoun, you know, as if our views represent the views of people in the world.
6506:09 Young people in cities who don’t have children who are struggling, that’s the future of humanity.
6606:15 It’s the present and the future of humanity.
6706:18 And I'm interested in the things that we can do to make life better for those people, because they are the present and the future of our species' population.
6806:28 And they do think very differently from previous generations.
6906:31 They're not loyal to nationality, they're more interested in certain sets of values.
7006:35 And those values, that have been very well documented, are the right to connectivity, a sustainable world and mobility, their own right to be mobile.
7106:44 In fact, this is the most mobile generation in the history of the world, because not only do we have the tools, the physical infrastructure to do it.
7206:51 But again, the things that have pinned people down primarily are home ownership and having children.
7306:57 But if people don't own homes and don't have children, then they are by definition quite mobile, especially if they're not even loyal to their home country for the sake of it.
7407:07 And so where will young people go is a very important question that I'm trying to answer.
7507:11 What are they looking for?
7607:13 Places that offer opportunity, work, particularly professional opportunities, educational opportunities, a decent quality of life, political stability, climate stability, the basic things that you would expect.
7707:25 But we need to be clear that countries need to retrofit themselves, retool themselves, to try and attract and provide those kinds of environments for young people.
7807:34 And that's where young people are going to want to go.
7907:36 And countries, I believe, are going to be engaged in a war for young talent, to attract those young people as they are aging.
8007:44 So there is a road map for us to untangle ourselves from this dilemma of geopolitical fragmentation, a climate-stressed world, a declining population, youth that are insecure.
8107:56 What are we supposed to do?
8207:57 Well, the thing is, you know, we can't predict the future, but we can make scenarios.
8308:02 So I've constructed these four scenarios along these axes of more or less sustainability and more or less mobility.
8408:10 And the truth is that all of these are visible today.
8508:12 We are in a world where regions like Europe act like fortresses.
8608:16 They're investing in their own sustainability, but they try to ward off migration.
8708:20 We live in a world that's medieval, a world that is conflictual, in which people are thrust into survival mode of hunter-gatherer lifestyles.
8808:28 When there is a drought or when there's a flood or they're fleeing civil war and conflict and they're trying to cross borders like the US-Mexico border, trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, where countries are engaged in land grabs and water wars to acquire resources.
8908:42 But we also live in a world where there are countries like Canada, which is opening itself up, that's bringing in hundreds of thousands, about 400,000 new migrants every single year, one percent of its population.
9008:53 There are a couple of European countries that are realizing that they need to do this as well, and are kind of changing their tune around immigration.
9109:00 And they're trying to do so in a sustainable way, focusing on building affordable housing, decarbonizing their economies, or at least reducing emissions and so forth.
9209:07 The fact is that all of these scenarios are happening at the same time.
9309:11 It's incumbent on us to shape the direction that the world goes in or that the regions that we live in go in, in the future.
9409:19 Geography is what we make of it.
9509:21 You know, we have the tools at our disposal to build a different model of civilization.
9609:27 And for me, that rests on two principles or two things that you can do.
9709:31 You are either moving people to places where there are resources that are abundant so they can survive, or you're moving technologies to people, to the places where they need them.
9809:40 You're doing one of those two things.
9909:42 If you're not doing one of those two things, you should think about how much you're helping the future, if you will, and the people of the present and the future.
10009:50 The second is, I obviously advocate for mobility as a human right.
10109:53 That doesn't mean that we tear down all borders.
10209:55 It means that we create systems where the mismatches between old and young, labor shortages and labor supply, sustainable and unsustainable locations is corrected.
10310:04 And we can do that, but we don't.
10410:07 We obviously have to think beyond sovereignty, therefore to stewardship of the global commons.
10510:11 We have to pre-design these habitats of the future, which is to say, thinking about allowing people to be perpetually mobile as they need to be in response to geopolitics, in response to climate change, but do so in a way that doesn't trample upon the environment.
10610:27 Whitney Pennington Rodgers: TED Member Kim has a question.
10710:29 Kim asks, "Immigration to the US seems impossible.
10810:33 How do we shift the attitude towards welcoming immigrants here in the US?"
10910:37 And their question is US-focused, but I think this can apply anywhere.
11010:41 How do we shift the attitude everywhere to welcoming people into borders?
11110:46 PK: It is a universally relevant question, especially again, in the developed, mature Western economies and societies that have had a lot of friction and a lot of backlash and caution about large-scale immigration, at least in the last, say, 10, 15 years.
11211:03 And that's the US, Canada, you know, Western European countries, Japan, all of them are changing to some degree.
11311:10 The question is how rapidly?
11411:11 You know, Canada really stands out as a country that's welcoming in, as I mentioned before, you know, 400,000 people a year, one percent of its population, as a target growth.
11511:20 But the US, you know, as bureaucratic as it is, as contentious as it is, and the fact that during the Trump years, immigration began to decline and then because of COVID, you know, became even harder.
11611:33 But let me tell you something very special about America.
11711:36 This year, according to a congressional delegation I just hosted in Singapore, the US will probably have one million new migrants this year.
11811:44 One million.
11911:46 I want to be absolutely clear.
12011:47 No country on Earth goes from 200,000 to one million overnight by design.
12111:54 And that's America, right?
12211:56 So everything that's not gone well in immigration can be fixed and positively overcompensated by the kinds of reforms that are underway today: H-1B reforms, refugee reforms, skilled migration reforms, digitizing immigration, carrying over a certain, you know, frozen quotas from the past.
12312:15 All of these things are actually happening.
12412:17 Should it have happened years ago? Yes.
12512:19 Should it be happening faster? Yes.
12612:21 Should immigration policy be done in a way in which we focus on the shortages in our labor force, which are so many?
12712:28 We're hurting our own economy by having such a slow immigration process.
12812:32 We should have done all of this a lot earlier and to a larger degree, and this would have depoliticized immigration.
12912:39 So it's been to our own detriment.
13012:41 But can America actually fix these things faster than than we, you know, very rightly, cynically, especially if you've been on the wrong side of the immigration story and you've failed to cross a T on a form and it sets you back like, two years, you know, you're rightly angry and cynical about it.
13112:57 I mean, I'm an immigrant myself, I didn't move to America till I was six.
13213:01 I remember becoming a citizen, I know my parents sweated that paperwork, I watched them do it.
13313:06 But these things can be fixed and no one can fix it like America can, that's for sure.
13413:11 So there's a lot of hope in that.
13513:13 And again, European countries are changing.
13613:15 Germany brought in, you know, more than a million, again, not by design, not intentionally, but think about the Syrian refugee crisis.
13713:22 More than a million people arrived in Germany.
13813:24 A lot of them have stayed.
13913:26 More are coming now from Ukraine.
14013:28 And they've managed their politics to fend off, you know, right-wing populist parties.
14113:35 They have a center-left coalition right now.
14213:37 So Canada, the US, Germany, the UK, despite Brexit, it's easier to move to the UK today than during Brexit.
14313:43 I’m not sure people realize this.
14413:45 Because they again have had massive shortages in nursing and truck drivers, you name it.
14513:50 So there's just two kinds of countries in the world, those that have realized they need more migrants and those that haven't, right?
14613:57 And those in the former category are the smarter ones.
14713:59 And they're going to come out ahead in the war for young talent.
14814:02 WPR: TED member Heidi has a question, "We've seen that governments and countries veer nationalistic and xenophobic when there are a flood of immigrants.
14914:12 How can we future-proof our democratic systems against this reactionary outcome?"
15014:16 PK: For one thing, you know, I don't posit that immigration itself, as in "let the people in," is some kind of panacea.
15114:23 I am a strong believer in assimilation.
15214:26 And one of the key things around future proofing is maintaining your kind of, national ethos, national identity, national culture.
15314:33 But culture doesn't mean the way things were for the last 400 years, and it's never allowed to change from that, right?
15414:41 That's a very archaic, you know, ethnically and sort of, chauvinistic approach to the issue.
15514:47 Culture is valuable.
15614:49 Culture evolves, culture changes.
15714:51 If you look at a country like Canada, again, multiculturalism is the identity of the country.
15814:56 The UK is changing its rules to make it easier to come in.
15914:59 That's a fact.
16015:01 It's a legal fact that you can now come into the UK without a job offer, without paying a security bond.
16115:07 We've got these massive immigration reforms.
16215:09 So, Japan, there have never been as many foreigners in Japan as there are today.
16315:13 So even in a place that we think of as very culturally insular, right, even there, you've got a large-scale migration.
16415:20 So there is zero, zero truth to the statement that the world is governed by right wing, xenophobic populists that are anti-immigrant.
16515:30 It is precisely the exact factual opposite of that, right?
16615:33 The important countries of the world are governed by pragmatic leaders that are recognizing the importance of large-scale immigration as part of their economic health and their social dynamism.
16715:44 That is how the important countries in the world are run today.
16815:47 That's the way they have been run for 75 years.
16915:50 If that weren't true, we wouldn't be having this conversation because, you know, all of us who are migrants wouldn't have migrated.
17015:56 We never would have been let in.
17115:58 WPR: There are some people who may push back on that, right, and say that, well, we still see struggles with inequality and that, you know, things are not fair and great for people who do come to those countries.
17216:09 And I wonder if there are specific things that you think could be done better even in those spaces, but that are really success stories that I think nations that are looking to invite people in can really take on to ensure that everyone does feel like they have a good life.
17316:27 PK: There are really good lessons learned, and this is not pie-in-the-sky thinking.
17416:31 This is one of the major areas of political social research, which is to say, what can we do?
17516:38 So if you look at smaller European countries like, let's say the Netherlands, right, they have a really strong language adoption policy.
17616:45 There is no way you'll get Dutch citizenship unless you've learned Dutch, for example.
17716:51 And Germany is making this clear as well in a much larger country, which is, you know, you definitely have to learn German.
17816:57 And I think that's actually pretty important.
17916:59 I don't seek to suppress people's original, you know, identities and their languages.
18017:05 But it is a fact that if you actually want to not be a burden on your host society, but actually be a contributor and be welcomed by, liked by, respected by all segments of the society that is your new home, you will do a much better job of it if you learn the language.
18117:21 And this is like, you know, the kind of thing we’d say, OK, well, can't we spend a few bucks on that?
18217:26 You know, how about we allocate some money to do some language training, and that would actually go a really long way.
18317:32 So jobs, skills, education, language, public housing.
18417:37 So, this is something that’s done in Singapore, where I live right now.
18517:41 You know, you've got universal public housing.
18617:44 And if we did more around affordable housing, that would diminish the inequality, and inequality obviously skews in many countries, in immigrant societies, towards the newly-arrived people who don't have the economic means.
18717:57 So well, we can fix that, right?
18817:59 I mean, there's a physical solution to inadequate public housing.
18918:02 It's called building more housing, right?
19018:04 And you know, if you look at places again, like Canada, the Netherlands, France, this is happening in Finland.
19118:12 Lots of countries are building lots more affordable housing and it's actually helping to change some of the local tensions.
19218:19 So these answers emerge not from pie-in-the-sky thinking, but from the real experience of real countries.
19318:25 And there are real policymakers and journalists and civil servants who have done these things.
19418:31 It's good news that there's really a pretty clear road map on how to do this and how to make people feel welcome and how to have everyone again, be better off.
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