'Battlefield maps' show continent under attack from hostile invaders.
- Maps aren't objective. And migration maps aren't innocent.
- Consciously or not, their content and form can confirm anti-migrant prejudices.
- Alternative mapping options are available – but perhaps the answer isn't a map at all.
Don't believe the map
Satellite picture showing a scirocco blowing desert dust across the sea from Libya to southern Europe. Most of the irregular migration into Europe takes place across this part of the Mediterranean, either from North Africa to Italy or from Turkey to Greece.
Image: NASA, public domain
One map can say more than a thousand words. That's why we shouldn't believe all they're telling us. See, maps have a problem. They appear neutral, objective, authoritative. But that's exactly all that they're not. Each map reflects the many choices the cartographer has made, consciously or not, both in terms of content and form.
And so, without us even noticing it, maps can confirm bias, entrench prejudice and perpetuate injustice. Take for instance the topic of migration, guaranteed to raise the volume of the after-dinner conversation at any party. In a recent article, Dutch news website De Correspondent argues that the cartographic depiction of migrant flows into Europe reinforces the negative attitudes many Europeans have towards migrants.
The Frontex map
Illegal border crossings at the EU's external borders in 2019: just under 142,000 (down from around 150,000 in 2018 and almost 205,000 in 2017). Most came in via the Eastern Mediterranean route (83K, up from 57K in 2019), followed by the Western Mediterranean route (24K, down from 56K), the Western Balkan route (15K, up from 6K) and the Central Mediterranean route (14K, down from 23K). Relatively minor routes: the Western African route (3K, up from 1K), the Circular Route from Albania to Greece (2K, down from 5K), the Eastern Borders route (700, down from 1K) and the Black Sea route (2, up from zero).
Image: Frontex - Risk Analysis for 2020
Here's a map taken from the 2020 annual report by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, showing the illegal border crossings into the EU for 2019. As part of the official report on illegal immigration, this map is the source of many others in the European media.While it may seem nothing more or less than a factually correct cartographic representation of objective data contained in the report, De Correspondent argues that there are several things wrong with this image.
- The arrows are reminiscent of battlefield maps, suggesting that Europe is under attack. This is aggravated by the use of the color red, which signals danger.
- The arrows are huge – larger than some countries. This homogenises a diverse group of people, and inflates the perceived size of the issue.
- The 'straightness' of the arrows indicates a clear purpose; but most migrants experience a much more circuitous and dangerous path, not always concluded successfully (or alive).
- The title refers to 'illegal border crossings', not mentioning that migrants hardly have legal means of entering the EU.
This all serves to affirm certain preconceptions about migration into Europe: the continent is being flooded by a huge influx of hostile aliens. "It's no coincidence that political parties opposed to migration use maps like these in their communication," the article states.
Red map vs. blue map
The blue map tries to confer the same information as the red one, without confirming the underlying biases.
Image: De Correspondent, reproduced with kind permission.
Can maps confer the same information without confirming those biases? De Correspondent took the Frontex map and translated it into its own house style; and then produced a kinder, gentler alternative:
- The colour is a more soothing blue rather than the aggressive red.
- The map's new title ("These are the routes via which irregular migrants reach the EU") no longer focuses on the illegal aspect of the entries.
- The military-style arrows are replaced by circles.
Thinking beyond the map
Number of migrants reaching Europe via the Mediterranean. The numbers have been declining since 2015.
Image: De Correspondent, reproduced with kind permission.
Perhaps a map is not the right way at all to present information on migration, De Correspondent argues. Here's another illustration: a simple bar chart, showing the number of irregular border crossings for each of the preceding six years. Following the dramatic refugee influx of 2015, that number has gone down significantly and consistently for each of the following years.
This offers a radically different perspective on the same reality – and one less likely to be reproduced by anti-immigration parties.
For more background (and more maps), see the original article at De Correspondent (in Dutch), which was based on an article in the journal Mobilities: The migration map trap. On the invasion arrows in the cartography of migration (in English).
Strange Maps #1045
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The complacent majority needs to step up and call for action on climate change.
- Climate change is often framed as a debate that has split society down the middle and that requires more evidence before we can act. In reality, 97 percent of scientists agree that it is real and only 3 percent are skeptical. A sticking point for some is the estimated timeline, but as Columbia University professor Philip Kitcher points out, a 4-5 Celsius temperature increase that makes the planet uninhabitable is a disaster no matter when it happens.
- In this video, 9 experts (including professors, astronomers, authors, and historians) explain what climate change looks like, how humans have already and are continuing to contribute to it, how and why it has become politicized, and what needs to happen moving forward for real progress to be made.
- David Wallace-Wells, journalist and New America Foundation National Fellow, says that the main goal of climate action is not to win over the skeptical minority, but to "make those people who are concerned but still fundamentally complacent about the issue to be really engaged in a way that they prioritize climate change in their politics and their voting and make sure that our leaders think of climate change as a first-order political priority."
Pew Research Center data shows that most people think diversity improves lives in their countries.
A glance at news headlines could lead one to believe our world has lost to tribalism and hate. In just the last few years, we've seen white supremacists march openly in American streets, extremist forces target cultural sites serving as reminders of humanity's shared heritage, places of worship terrorized, minorities blamed and assaulted over myths about novel coronavirus's origins, and leaders propose a myriad of attempts to reject refugees and migrants.
This is a part of today's reality, but it's worth remembering that news headlines aren't a trend analysis. They are a collection of reports and instances that tell only one side of our story—often the scariest and most extreme part.
Far from being pushed to the fringes, cosmopolitanism and the ethics of diversity may be enjoying a heyday according to Pew Research Center data from 11 emerging countries.
Does diversity improve lives?
The center surveyed more than 28,000 peoples across Columbia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Tunisia, Venezuela, Vietnam, South African, and the Philippines on their opinions of diversity within their borders. These countries were chosen based on their middle-income status, differing degrees of technology ownership, and high levels of migration (internal or external).
The survey asked respondents how they viewed increasing numbers of other races, religions, and nationalities and what effect that had on the quality of life in their countries. Additional questions were tailored to a country's unique demographics and circumstances.
For example, respondents in the Philippines were asked how favorably they viewed Muslims and Christians, while Tunisians were asked about Sunnis and Shiites. Others, such as Mexico and Lebanon, were asked about asylum seekers fleeing to their countries.
Pew found that "[a]cross the 11 countries surveyed, more said their countries are better off thanks to the increasing number of people of different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities who live there." A minority said the increase made no difference, and an even smaller minority said their country was worse off.
Lebanon and Jordan took in millions of Syrian refugees during the civil war, helping to explain their complex relationship with diversity in their borders.
When looking at results from individual countries, the picture becomes much more nuanced. A majority of respondents from India, Columbia, the Philippines, Kenya, and Venezuela agreed with the statement that increased diversity made their countries better places to live. Conversely, a minority agreed with the same statement in Tunisia, Mexico, Jordan, and Lebanon.
The reasons for these divergences seem to stem not only from deep historical divides but also current events. Lebanon, which held the most negative views of diversity among the eleven, took in an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, a massive influx for a country of around 7 million. Jordan too saw a massive wave of asylum seekers from the civil war; likewise, its respondents held that increasing numbers of different peoples made life in their country worse.
Mexico has also seen a surge of asylum seekers from Central American countries, yet its overall view wasn't as unfavorable as either Jordan or Lebanon. However, it was the only country in the set to have a majority hold that increasing ethnic and religious diversity made no difference to the quality of life. And about half those surveyed did hold negative views toward refugees.
But while current unrest in some regions has strained relations, it's not the whole story that refugees and migrants generate negativity toward others. Views differ widely.
Kenya, for example, maintains large refugee camps housing asylum seekers from Somalia and South Sudan, yet half of the country's respondents believed this multicultural status improved life in their country. And a majority held approving opinions of refugees.
Similarly, about half of respondents from Venezuela, Vietnam, and Jordan rated migrant and refugee groups favorably. Yes, Jordan.
Though a majority of Jordanians believe increasingly diverse peoples make their country worse, they nonetheless hold agreeable views of refugees. The researchers speculate this divergence may stem from the fact that Jordan hosts two large refugee groups—recent Syrian refugees and Palestinian refugees who have been in the country since the conflicts of the mid-20th century. They found that Jordanians who self-identified as Palestinians viewed refugees more favorably.
Getting used to each other
So, what leads to improved views of multiculturalism? According to Pew's data, those with the most positive views on racial, ethnic, and religious diversity were those who interacted most with these groups. More contact equaled more positive views.
In all of the countries, younger adults were more likely to interact with people of different backgrounds, and except for Jordan, they also held more favorable views of others. The same held true for those who attained higher levels of education.
This data mirrors another Pew survey in which researchers asked Americans their views on increased racial and ethnic diversity.
Around 58 percent of Americans said increasing numbers of diverse people would make the United States a better place to live. Only 9 percent said it would make the country worse, while 31 percent said it didn't make a difference. Opinions were split along partisan lines, with more Democrats viewing the statement favorably than Republicans.
But like the 11 emerging countries, Americans varied by age and education, too. Fifteen percent of respondents 65 and older believed growing multiculturalism made the U.S. worse—the highest of any age group. And 70 percent of college graduates saw diversity in a positive light, compared to 45 percent of those with a high school diploma or less school.
A future toward acceptance
These data suggest that the world hasn't succumbed to a new era of tribalism and hate. Far from it. The beliefs of cosmopolitanism and ethics of diversity are, in fact, spreading across many of the world's emerging countries and will likely increase as subsequent generations become more educated and integrated. That progress may be uneven, but it's real and measurable.
An appreciation of, even desire for, diversity won't end the tragic events that generate eye-catching headlines, but it can make our shared futures more manageable. As Kwame Anthony Apiah wrote in his book "Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers": "I am urging that we should learn about people in other places, take an interest in their civilizations, their arguments, their errors, their achievements, not because that will bring us to agreement, but because it will help us get used to one another."
The ability to interact peacefully and voluntarily provides individuals a better quality of life.
- In classical liberal philosophy, voluntary action says the scope of legitimate government authority is extremely narrow.
- While not all classical liberals agree on immigration policy, the question remains: What right does a government have to stop someone from moving to another country should they so choose?
- As an immigrant, himself, Georgetown University professor Peter Jaworski invites us to consider the freest countries in the world and examine the economic freedom and civil liberties their citizens enjoy.
Third on the Big Think 2019 countdown reveals this is what the world will be like if we do not act on climate change.
- The third most popular video of 2019 presents a frightening truth: The best-case scenario of climate change is that world gets just 2°C hotter, which scientists call the "threshold of catastrophe".
- Why is that the good news? Because if humans don't change course now, the planet is on a trajectory to reach 4°C at the end of this century, which would bring $600 trillion in global climate damages, double the warfare, and a refugee crisis 100x worse than the Syrian exodus.
- David Wallace-Wells explains what would happen at an 8°C and even 13°C increase. These predictions are horrifying, but should not scare us into complacency. "It should make us focus on them more intently," he says.
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming