The Next Great Migration | Sonia Shah

Summary of: The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move
By: Sonia Shah


Embark on a journey exploring the fascinating world of migration in Sonia Shah’s ‘The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move.’ Unearth the misconceptions around the concept of migration and how it has been perceived throughout history. Delve into the stories of Carl Linnaeus, the Father of Modern Taxonomy, and the implications of his research on human classification and race relations. Just as migration in the natural world has developed over millennia, discover how human migration has shaped our history and how it continues to impact societies worldwide.

The Nature of Movement

For centuries, people believed that animals were sedentary and didn’t migrate. This notion was popularized by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who believed that all creatures settled into permanent habitats after leaving the Garden of Eden. Even when evidence of migration was found, it was viewed as abnormal behavior. However, during World War II, radar technology was used to detect migrating birds, proving nature’s great mobility. David Lack’s theory answered the mystery of the “radar angels” and unveiled the truth that nature is always in motion.

Carl Linnaeus’ Classification & the Birth of Racist Ideas

Carl Linnaeus’ advancements in the two-name classification system for living species, which we still use today, also perpetuated racist ideas about human origins and helped European colonists justify their endeavors as superior to those of people from colonized areas.

Eugenicists’ Anti-Immigration Ideology

At the beginning of the 20th century, the United States welcomed immigrants with open arms, as seen in Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus.” However, two eugenicists, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn, opposed the idea of the “melting pot.” Eugenicists believed in a racial hierarchy, where specific positive qualities were inherited based on a person’s race. Grant and Osborn successfully lobbied the American government to implement stricter immigration laws, backed by their scientific and cultural arguments. However, their views were later debunked as unsubstantiated.

Anti-Immigration Sentiment in Nature

The anti-immigration sentiment of the early twentieth century extended to nature. There was widespread belief among scientists that new species would disrupt established ecosystems. This led to worry about “invasive” species taking over ecosystems around the world. The Nazis saw non-native plant species as a threat to German culture, while in Hawaii, botanists attempted to destroy “immigrant” species. However, they eventually accepted that the new plant species had found an equilibrium with the established flora, and a mixture of native and “alien” plants could live in harmony.

The Malthusian Legacy

In the 18th century, Thomas Robert Malthus suggested that allowing disease and poverty to take their toll on the poor was better than helping them, as he feared overpopulation. This idea influenced thinkers and led to harmful consequences such as anti-immigration sentiments and human rights abuses. In the 20th century, the event on St. Matthew Island, where the reindeer population overpopulated and died due to a lack of resources, led biologists to wonder if human overpopulation would lead to the same fate. Stanford professor Paul R. Ehrlich wrote a book called The Population Bomb, which promoted fearful ideas of population explosion and advocated for measures such as strict immigration control and sterilization. India eventually adopted Ehrlich’s recommendation, which led to deaths and human rights abuses. However, the fears of Malthus and Ehrlich were wrong as allowing prosperity for the poor caused a decline in birth rates instead of the expected overpopulation.

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