‘The idea of migration as a national security threat seeped into the public’s attention and incorporated itself into the world’s foremost international security organisations,’ writes Sonia Shah. In The Next Great Migration, she traces this mentality – that migration is fundamentally something to be feared – back to its routes in dubious scientific literature.
Interweaving stories of scientists’ attempts to understand the movements of both wildlife and Homo sapiens, she demonstrates that flawed and biased science, which for so long held that certain people and species belong in certain fixed places, fed into every day consciousness. In doing so she uncovers how shockingly racist works quickly became the mainstream political views that persist today, whether those views concern the appearance of ‘non-native’ plants or ‘non-native’ people.
The reality, she says, is quite the opposite. Drawing on examples from the animal kingdom, be it checkerspot butterflies, migratory birds, or tamarind trees, she demonstrates how extraordinary migrations over huge distances can and have benefited us all. What’s more, movement is a hard-wired instinct for so many species, including our own. In some of the most fascinating parts of the book Shah explores the evidence as to why this is and what it all means.
Shah concludes by arguing that a new approach to migration is possible; that borders can be softer and we can learn not to fear newcomers. Apart from a few examples of wildlife corridors, she is light on detail here. While she is certainly persuasive that such a world would be a good one, whether it could ever happen is sadly less believable.