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Monday, June 27, 2022

Review: The Next Great Migration

 The Next Great Migration is a book about migrations. It's written by an immigrant herself, and starts off with a great story:

My grandmother used to cry when she heard that, in America, her son washed the dishes after dinner. In the flat she’d raised him in, dishwashing was a job for the day laborers, who crouched on their haunches on the slimy tiled floors of the common washing area and slept on thin rough mats on the terrace. (kindle loc 359)

I remember my parents telling me that their family would visit the USA and then nix any thoughts of moving there when they realized that domestic help was so expensive that essentially nobody had any. 

To my surprise, the book covers animal migration as well as human migration, with large chunks of the book about the historical view of migrations as expressed by scientists. I learned that Carl Linnaeus, the inventor of the scientific naming convention of science used since the 1800s, fundamentally considered migration impossible --- he viewed that God created all species in situ, and that migration was an aberration.

As a result, scientists had a blind spot regarding long migrations, and it wasn't until the invention of radar before scientists realized that long distance migrations were a reality, and happened frequently:

Dragonflies migrated from the eastern United States to South America, flying hundreds of kilometers every day. Tiger sharks, assumed to be permanent residents of the coastal waters around Hawaii, turned out to travel thousands of kilometers out into the sea. Scientists’ assumptions about their provincialism, a shark researcher from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology said, “were completely wrong.” (kindle loc 3685)

Similarly, of course, we know a lot now about human migration and how the Polynesians colonized the islands of the pacific using skills that are pretty much lost today.

 What the book doesn't cover in detail is in its title, about how climate change will drive the next great wave of migrations. That migration is alluded to, and the author definitely is pro migration, and frequently laments that treatment of human migrants and refugees. I'm an immigrant myself, so I understand where that sympathy is coming from. On the other hand, democratic societies that ignore the desire of existing citizens to limit the influx of people can end up being unstable, and it's beyond the scope of the book to cover that, so she doesn't cover the much more important political story, except to state:

The researchers found that the antimigrant politician found his greatest support among people living in places experiencing a rapid influx of people who’d been born elsewhere. The states that Trump won were not especially diverse. The diversity indexes in those states were lower than the national average, ranking in the bottom twenty of the fifty states. But in the counties that Trump won, the low diversity index is changing rapidly, rising nearly twice as fast as the national average...In the United States, nearly a third of us are less than one generation removed from an act of international migration. Every year 14 percent of us move from one part of the country to another, crossing borders into states with different laws, different customs, and different dialects, some of them as distant from each other as New York City and Casablanca or Cartagena...Almost 25 percent of people in France, nearly 20 percent of those in Sweden, and 14 percent of people in the United States estimated that immigrants receive twice as much government support as natives—which isn’t true in any of those countries. (kindle loc 4629-4692)

All in all, I enjoyed and can recommend the book, but it left me mildly dissatisfied.

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