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Daily RC Article 129

Population Shifts: The Osmosis Analogy and Global Immigration Challenges


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As the world’s ranks swell, population shifts have emerged as a major global challenge with potentially catastrophic implications. Endless debates over immigration rights have failed to produce the faintest hint of an acceptable solution. So perhaps an alternative approach would be to factor in an underlying basic law of chemistry. At the risk of gross oversimplification, what if we saw the flow of populations as the human equivalent of osmosis?

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In high-school chemistry we learned that, in a container of water divided into two halves by a semipermeable membrane, uneven concentrations of salt resulted in movement of water from the more dilute side to the side of greater concentration. The greater the discrepancy in solute concentration…the greater the force to equalise the concentrations. Now imagine the world as a giant vat subdivided into a number of smaller containers (nations) separated from each other by semipermeable membranes (borders). Instead of salt, provide each container with differing amounts of food, shelter and essential services. In this scenario, population flow from nation to nation will be a direct function of the degree of difference of goods, opportunities and hope.

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This shift of populations isn’t just an ethical or metaphysical dilemma to be resolved at the level of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. It isn’t about the right to own land and enforce borders, or the relative worth of individuals versus groups. Instead, the pressures driving immigration should be seen as natural and unavoidable – like chemical reactions; from that perspective, a reduction in the gradients would be the only possible long-term solution.

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Sadly, most policymakers focus on how to best perpetuate the imbalance. The most popular and immediate reaction is to decrease the permeability of the membranes separating countries. But beefed-up border security or the erection of theoretically insurmountable walls does not take into account the enormous power of desperation.

The present immigration crisis could have been predicted long ago (and, perhaps, better addressed) by acknowledging that, in addition to incendiary socioeconomic disparities, future population shifts will be fuelled by two accelerating trends: the asymmetrically greater birth rate in less affluent regions of the world, and the impending migration away from areas most affected by climate change.

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…Of course, there are myriad other factors influencing the flow of populations, but without a dramatic redistribution of goods and opportunities, as well as serious attempts to control or reduce global population and an all-out effort to restrain climate change, we can expect worldwide population shifts to only increase. The stakes are high, and the necessary measures draconian and immensely unpopular with those in charge. It is easy to divert attention by arguing over the degree and maximal location of upcoming population expansion and climate change, but cherry-picking data is beside the point. When a patient has a serious illness confirmed, it is futile to keep repeating the lab tests in hopes of a different result.

Arguments for the rights of nations to control their borders are a huge step in the wrong direction. We need to take a hard look at the disruptive dynamics of inequality. If this simple fact of chemistry (that lesser flows to greater) can’t penetrate the predominantly impermeable minds of policymakers, welcome to a world of escalating chaos.

The article compares global population shifts to osmosis in chemistry, emphasizing how the flow of populations mirrors the movement of water in a semipermeable membrane. It argues that policymakers should view immigration as a natural consequence of disparities in resources and opportunities, advocating for a reevaluation of border control strategies and addressing socioeconomic inequalities to resolve the impending crisis of population shifts due to socioeconomic disparities and climate change.
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