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American Exodus: Climate Change and the Coming Flight for Survival

by Giles Slade

The past decade’s catastrophic climate change events, from Superstorm Sandy to the return of 1930s-style dust storms across the American Midwest, are catalogued in this new book, which argues that a huge migration of environmental refugees from south of the border is headed Canada’s way. But while American Exodus contains some provocative information, the book’s uneven style, repetition, and air of desperation prevent it from obtaining the authoritative mien the subject matter deserves.

Written by self-described “recovering academic” Giles Slade, who explored technological issues in The Big Disconnect and Made to Break, this jeremiad chronicles significant changes from drought and desertification in Mexico and the American Southwest to storm surges and rising ocean levels affecting the Eastern seaboard. Slade does a good job fishing up historical tidbits about prior climate-induced migrations and catastrophic weather-related disasters, from heat waves (the leading killer among natural phenomena) and tornado clusters to flash floods and wildfires.

Unfortunately, the story often feels like it’s being told in a vacuum. While acknowledging that economic collapse is often associated with climate change, Slade does not provide sufficient analysis of the various economic and social factors (such as free-trade agreements) that contribute to the Global South’s degraded environment. His discussion of the loaded term “environmental refugees” – and the accompanying analysis of how, exactly, such individuals (estimated by the UN to number 25 million) will find a safe place to land – lacks clarity, and could lead some readers to fear, rather than welcome, the uprooted and displaced.

The author’s proposed solution to the problem he raises is disappointing as well, calling for colonization of the far north in preparation for the flow of migrants. Canada’s northern indigenous population, also facing climate-induced lifestyle changes, appears not to have been consulted.

Slade’s sometimes flippant tone, extraneous personal stories, obscure cultural references, and pedestrian interjections – “Please believe me when I say, I am not happy about this” – tend to detract from his message. While it is entirely possible to sympathize with his intent, the author’s approach is ultimately disempowering both for its dire sense of inevitability and lack of practical, accessible responses.