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The best place to live in 2050? Michigan, says globalization expert.

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A new book examining the forces shaping the future of global migration forecasts Michigan as the best place in the world to live in 2050.

How can the world collaborate to minimize temperature rise to save as many lives as possible? Even if all carbon emissions stopped today, the effects of climate change are already here, and humans need to adapt to them. Every place will need to adapt differently. Some places will fare better than others.

According to geopolitics and globalization expert Dr. Parag Khanna and his colleague Greg Lindsay, nowhere in the world looks more promising to be in 2050 than the state of Michigan.

That’s an academic assessment and not a personal one, Khanna stressed. He lives in Singapore and doesn’t have any ties to Michigan. “I think I've been to the state twice,” he said, “So I do this as a geographer and a political scientist.

Khanna’s new book, Move: The Forces Uprooting Us, sheds light on what it means for the Great Lakes region to become what he calls a “climate oasis,” and about the complex forces shaping the future of global migration.

Khanna’s forecasting is rooted not only in an analysis of climate effects, but especially in an assessment of human geography. What makes Michigan look good to him is not just its northern latitude and the abundant access to fresh water offered by the Great Lakes, but its economic promise and political situation.

“Even though, of course, climate models already were pointing in the direction of the Great Lakes and Canada, they could also just as soon point you to Russia. So how do you narrow down from there?” he said. “Well, you have to look at what are the geographies of political stability, economic opportunity, migration friendliness and a wide range of other factors.”

He predicts that Michigan’s trend of population decline will reverse, and he argues that smart infrastructure investments should both anticipate and encourage migration, both domestically and internationally.

“I'm taking that medium to long term view, we should remember the state is still losing people. And yet I have full confidence that [Michigan] will gain them.” 

“The fact that lots of people are moving to Phoenix right now and Austin right now and Miami right now does not mean that it's the right thing to do from an ecological standpoint. It's simply the right thing to do if you're an individual decision maker looking for low taxes and a sunny place,” he said. “But it doesn't mean that the climate can support it as climate change accelerates at the end of the day. The climate has its say, and we have to obey it.”

Khanna isn’t afraid to make a contentious recommendation, and noted he drew fire for a provocative hypothetical scenario he suggested recently in The Washington Post: “We're spending a billion dollars repairing power lines in Louisiana every year that are going to get destroyed in the next hurricane. How about we give everyone a plane ticket to Michigan?”

He acknowledges that Michigan, and the United States face political fractiousness that make cohesive long-term planning challenging, especially around issues of climate adaptation and immigration.

But, Khanna said that there are some goals and tactics that can generate productive discussions and actionable policy across party lines, citing bipartisan agreement on some kinds of infrastructure investment, interest “creating an enabling environment that unlocks more private investment,” and desire on both sides in “bringing supply chains back home.”

Khanna also encourages political thinking across state and national lines to unlock regional potential. Cities and states should think not only about the natural and human assets they have, he said, but also about the networks they’re a part of. “When we think about Michigan and infrastructure, we should be thinking cross-border as well as domestic...Detroit is the thriving midpoint of the Chicago-Toronto corridor, and Chicago and Toronto are obviously two of the greatest cities in the world. And here you are, right in between them.”

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Elizabeth Harlow is an Assistant Producer for Stateside.
Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 9 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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