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History of Migration - General

Human history is one of changing environments, caused either by nature or human over-exploitation, forcing migration to lands with greater resources. From small to large scale migrations, humans have moved from region to region following whatever opportunities a dynamic resource base and climate offered. 

By far the largest example of forced migration due to environmental decline (and the war and civil strife which accompanies it) was the prolonged wave of European migration to the Americas.

Despite the hardship and very high mortality rates involved, the terrible and worsening conditions in the home countries made the risks seem worthwhile.

Emigration to the Americas had a huge impact on Europe:

  • it relieved the population pressure on Europe by about 30%
  • it also provided a backflow of food and raw materials
  • new higher yield crops, corn and potatoes
  • alleviated pressure on failing domestic resource bases
  • provided a market for European manufactured goods

Migration takes place at the expense of indigenous peoples.  The New World Amerindian population was reduced by between 90% and 95% (50 million to 90 million people) over 2 centuries through:

  • disease
  • slavery
  • war
  • displacement from their traditional lands onto more marginal lands.

There have not been large, fertile and empty landscapes on earth for over 5000 years.  After the settlement of New Zealand by Polynesians around 1000AD, there have been no uninhabited lands of any significance left.

Immigration played a crucial role in the colonization and settlement phase of Canadian development.  In purely demographic terms, immigration had far less of an impact than high native birth rates* but at certain critical times – settlement of the prairies - gave strong support to the achievement of national goals.

The impetus for migration begins with disasters in the home country and ends with disasters for the indigenous populations of the destination countries.  Migration has been romanticized by a very financially biased press as a heroic adventure, and the compelling trials and triumphs of many individual migrants cannot be denied. 

However, migration takes place only with intense pressure in the home country. To get an idea of the conditions in Europe in the 1600s - the start of the migration period, there is no better reference than Geoffrey Parker’s superb but chilling book “Global Crisis”. In it, Parker details the reasons for the disintegration of social coherence and the impact this has on human lives and the political structure.

Compare the background of climate change, population pressure and failing crops in “Global Crisis” to those exact conditions today generating the conflict and misery in the Middle East and Africa.  We humans must love societal collapse because we keep on repeating it.

Migration is not a solution to world problems nor is it something to be promoted.  Rather migration stands as a barometer of the severity of structural problems which must be addressed if the world is to achieve sustainability and peace. 

* the French-speaking population of Quebec, started with approximately 10,000 immigrants 300 years ago and is now close to 5 million.  Other European settlers, although not as prodigious, did generate robust population growth.  Net emigration to the United States and abroad has been substantial in the past 150 years.

 

Human history is one of changing environments, caused either by nature or human over-exploitation, forcing migration to lands with greater resources. From small to large scale migrations, humans have moved from region to region following whatever opportunities a dynamic resource base and climate offered. 

By far the largest example of forced migration due to environmental decline (and the war and civil strife which accompanies it) was the prolonged wave of European migration to the Americas.

Despite the hardship and very high mortality rates involved, the terrible and worsening conditions in the home countries made the risks seem worthwhile.

Emigration to the Americas had a huge impact on Europe:

-       It relieved the population pressure on Europe by about 30%

-       it also provided a backflow of food and raw materials,

-       new higher yield crops, corn and potatoes

-       alleviated pressure on failing domestic resource bases.

-       provided a market for European manufactured goods

Migration takes place at the expense of indigenous peoples.  The New World Amerindian population was reduced by between 90% and 95% (50 million to 90 million people) over 2 centuries through:

-       disease

-       slavery

-       war

-       displacement from their traditional lands onto more marginal lands.

There have not been large, fertile and empty landscapes on earth for over 5000 years.  After the settlement of New Zealand by Polynesians around 1000AD, there have been no uninhabited lands of any significance left.

Immigration played a crucial roll in the colonization and settlement phase of Canadian development.  In purely demographic terms, immigration had far less of an impact than high native birth rates* but at certain critical times – settlement of the prairies - gave strong support to the achievement of national goals.

The impetus for migration begins with disasters in the home country and ends with disasters for the indigenous populations of the destination countries.  Migration has been romanticized by a very financially biased press as a heroic adventure, and the compelling trials and triumphs of many individual migrants cannot be denied. 

However, migration takes place only with intense pressure in the home country.  To get an idea of the conditions in Europe in the 1600s - the start of the migration period, there is no better reference than Geoffrey Parker’s superb but chilling book “Global Crisis”.  In it, Parker details the reasons for the disintegration of social coherence and the impact this has on human lives and the political structure.

Compare the background of climate change, population pressure and failing crops in “Global Crisis” to those exact conditions today generating the conflict and misery in the Middle East and Africa.  We humans must love societal collapse because we keep on repeating it.

Migration is not a solution to world problems nor is it something to be promoted.  Rather migration stands as a barometer of the severity of structural problems which must be addressed if the world is to achieve sustainability and peace.

 

* the French speaking population of Quebec, started with approximately 10,000 immigrants 300 years ago and is now close to 5 million.  Other European settlers, although not as prodigious, did generate robust population growth.  Net emigration to the United States and abroad has been substantial in the past 150 years.

History of Migration - Advanced

In a Perfect World

In a perfect world, when our ancestors slowly converted from a hunter gatherer society to an agricultural society, they would have maintained their commitment to a balance with nature.

In a perfect world, as the societies became ever more complex and stratified, leaders would have found a way to allow the society to progress without constantly increasing their power base by sheer population size.

In a perfect world, the Egyptians would have built a society on their understanding of the uniquely gifted circumstances in which their most critical resource of soil was replenished each year by the Nile floods.

In a perfect world, the Greeks would have broken the trap of what they recognised to be the cycle of population growth - resource decline - annual warfare.

In a perfect world, the Romans would have applied their abilities in science to the elimination of their reliance on slave labour and the establishment of a sustainable agricultural system.

In a perfect world, the European immigrants, who came to the Americas from over-crowded nations with masses of starving people, would have stepped ashore into what would have seemed like a treasure trove of unlimited resources with a burning commitment to never repeat the folly of resource overexploitation they were attempting to escape.

In a perfect world, the Polynesians who settled New Zealand would have maintained a healthy population of moas rather than hunting their main food source into extinction and subsequently sliding into cannibalism.

In a perfect world, the inhabitants of Easter Island would have upgraded and maintained the agricultural capability of their small isolated island instead of cutting down the last trees in a competitive demonstration of religious fervour.

In a perfect world, 21st century humans would use their unprecedented technical abilities to look back upon the patterns of human civilization and environmental decline and evaluate the health of earth in order to break the cycle of societal collapse on a planetary scale.  We would summon the same awareness the Greeks posessed and exploit our 3000 additional years of human experience to apply ourselves to sustainability with a sense of urgency.

In a perfect world, foreign aid would start with population stabilization and domestic policy would be based on consumption reduction not market expansion and eternal growth.

In a perfect world we would develop the technology of sustainability to replace the technology of maximum output. We would treat the earth as we ourselves would like to be treated, as a peer rather than a slave. We would see ourselves, not as frightened prey striving for dominance in a hostile world and demanding subservience from all species, but as the dominant species entrusted with the welfare and leadership of a all species on a small and fragile planet.

In a perfect world, we'd see ourselves as the problem and rely on ourselves for the solution.

History of Migration - Reference

Subject MatterSource

Population and Society
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Galton Institute

A review of the book Population Crises and Population cycles by Claire Russell and W M S RussellA review of the book Population Crises and Population cycles by Claire Russell and W M S Russell
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The Backbone of History : Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere
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Paul Chefurka

The World History Chart includes name and events from documented history, archaeology, theology and mythology dating from 4000 B.C.
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Consensus Statement from Global Scientists
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Millenium Alliance - Stanford

Demographic estimates of first nations populations from first arrival to Eurpoean contact
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CAID

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