Where Half the World Lives

With the world’s population now around 7.5 billion, and projected to grow by another 4 billion or so within a century, one could be forgiven for imagining the world as already swelling to the brim with people.

Yet as the following map designed by Max Galka shows, much of the world is fairly empty, and will likely remain so given the pace of urbanization (wherein more people live and work in less land). 


That means roughly 3.75 billion people live in an area constituting just one percent of the world’s total landmass. Continue reading

How the World Will Look in 2050

According to the latest estimates by the United Nations, within the next three decades, the world’s population will increase from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion. By the end of the century, it will rise by another 2 billion, although at a slower rate than in the previous two centuries.

The following infographic from The Economist provides a vivid depiction of how this growth is highly uneven, with Africa and Asia accounting for most of it.


Note how the U.S. will be the only developed country among the twelve most populous by 2050, whereas today more than half of the largest countries by population are in the developed world. Africa alone accounts for more than half of this growth, with its population projected to double to 2.5 billion. Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and largest economy, will overtake the U.S. with over 400 million inhabitants, despite being roughly twice the size of California. Continue reading

Latin American Attitudes to the U.S.

The United States’ relationship with Latin American has long been a fraught one, not least because the country historically regarded the entire hemisphere as being under its sphere of influence, subject to military interventions, orchestrated coups, and support for dictators.

But as The Economist reports, since the mid-1990s, following the end of the Cold War — and with it, most U.S. meddling — as well as the sweep of democracy and economic growth across most of the region, sentiments have warmed up quite a bit. Continue reading

Video: The Rise of Megacities and the Era of “Connectography”

Humanity’s rapid and unprecedented rate of urbanization and connectivity is leading to the emergence of a truly globalized society. Goods and services, social relations, cultural products, ideas and values, and people themselves are transcending political and geographic boundaries like never before.

Needless to say, this trend is impacting every facet of human life, portending a future in which existing national borders — the kind we’re accustomed to seeing in every map of the world — fail to capture a new pan-human community. Indeed, the nation-state as we take for granted today may not exist at all.

Granted, such claims come with plenty of caveats. The world still far from abandoning the forces of nationalism, religious extremism, ethnic chauvinism, and basic parochialism, to say nothing of the technical challenges that remains; arguably, such sentiments have only grown stronger in some parts of the world in recent years.

In any case, there is no denying that whatever challenges or reversals lie ahead, the world is not what it once was, and today’s concept of a nation-state dominated international order is longer adequate for capturing the reality of our global society. Parag Khanna brings this to light with an interesting new TED Talk that explores the emergence of megacities and the subsequent erosion of geographic and political barriers — a dramatic shift he refers to as “connectography”. Check out the twenty minute video below, or read the transcript here. Continue reading

Understanding Russia

As an almost life-long Russophile — despite not remotely having any roots or personal connections to the country or its people — I have always been fascinated by Russian culture, society, history, and politics. For better or worse, few nations have had so much presence and influence on the world stage, and while my love of all things Russia certainly does not include its government or foreign policy, I recognize the importance of better understanding this still relevant — some say resurgent — global power.

Over at Foreign Affairs (one of my favorite international relations journals),  explores Russia’s long history of trying to achieve greatness, defined “by soaring ambitions that have exceeded the country’s capabilities”. It is equal parts tragedy and glory, with every victory coming at great cost (the defeat of Napoleon and Nazi Germany), and every instance of power and global status being tenuous (the perennial political and economic stagnation of the Soviet period throughout the Cold War).

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What’s Across Your Coastline?

While at the beach or otherwise facing the ocean, have you ever wondered what lies beyond the horizon? Of course, we all now know that there is just more of the rest of the planet (well, most of us anyway). But who exactly is facing you on the other side of the water?

Eric Odenheimer was apparently wondering the same thing when devising the following seven maps, brought to you (with some great tweaks and additions) via the Washington PostThey are as beautiful as they are informative, helping to place Earth’s spatial distribution in perspective. (As a resident of Miami, Florida, United States, I had no idea the disputed territory of Western Sahara was my “oceanic neighbor, so to speak).

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In Less Than a Century, Humanity Will Number 11 Billion

It is widely known that the world population is growing at a rapid rate. Following over 200,000 years of existence, modern Homo sapiens reached one billion only in the 1800s. But since then, our numbers have increased with unprecedented rapidity, growing more than seven fold.

Courtesy of Wikimedia.

After passing the 7 billion mark in 2012, the world population is projected to hit 8 billion in just a decade. And according to the latest U.N. report, biggest growth spurt in history is yet to come: by 2100, the population is projected to hit more than 11 billion. That is around 6 percent higher than earlier forecasts. Continue reading

Where 5 Percent of Humanity Lives

Talk about perspective. The red area of the map, which is centered on Bangladesh and three states in India, is home to 5 percent of the world’s population — the same percentage of humans highlighted in the blue area.

In other words, as many people live in that red blotch as in everything shaded blue, which includes much of the Northern Hemisphere, huge chunks of South America and Africa, and all of Australia and New Zealand. The area in white thus represent the remaining 90 percent of humanity. Talk about uneven population distribution.

For further perspective, consider that Bangladesh, which makes up most of that red area, numbers close to 159 million people, all living in an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Iowa; by contrast, the world’s largest country, Russia, has a population of 144 million people in an area that is nearly double the size of the U.S. (more than 10 percent of the world’s total landmass).

Although such high population density no doubt places a strain on the environment — especially since most fast-growing and populous states are typically poorer and less developed — the map’s creator, Max Galka, offers a more encouraging take. As he told io9.

If anything, I see South Asia’s dense population as a positive thing. It is very efficient economically, socially, and environmentally for people to live in dense population centers. And a movement out of rural areas into cities is a trend that is happening everywhere in the world, even in India and Bangladesh. So in that sense, they are ahead of the curve.

Indeed, if East Asia and Western Europe are any indication, dense populations combined with adequate public investment in infrastructure can be highly efficient in everything from energy use to commuting time. Though the lack of living space is an obvious drawback, that is arguably more than compensated for by lower energy costs, reduced pollution, etc.

Of course, that assumes that urban areas are effectively planned out and managed. As cities around the world begin to swell, especially in fast-developing countries like India, Bangladesh, China, etc., there will no doubt be a lot of debate and experimentation in search of the best way to organize society.

For a breakdown of the data, visit Galka’s website here.

The United States’ Fascinatingly Uneven Population Distribution

It is easy for us Americans to underestimate just how big our country is, both geographically and demographically. At a little over 320 million people, only China and India (each with over a billion inhabitants) have larger populations. And in terms of territorial size, only Russia, Canada, and (by some measurements) China are bigger.

Along with Japan, the U.S. is the only developed country with over 100 million people, and also among the few developed countries to be so big territorially; only fellow Anglophone nations Canada and Australia are both highly developed and fairly large by global standards. The norm is for most industrialized societies to be small or medium range in population and size.

The sheer sense of living space is all the greater when one realizes how unevenly distributed the U.S. population is. The following maps by dadaviz user Jishai, obtained view Headlines and Mental Floss really help to put these things in perspective. Though lacking the sort of international comparisons I started off with, they should how vast the disparities are even within the U.S. itself. Take note that for every map, the red and orange represents roughly equal population sizes.

Unsurprisingly, most of the biggest counties are concentrated among the top ten states in terms of population. Which leads to the next map. Continue reading

A History of the World in Maps

The Atlantic has brought to my attention a book that definitely piques my interest as both a map aficionado and history buff: Jerry Brotton’s A History of the World in 12 Mapswhich catalogues maps that reflect key periods and developments in the human understanding of the world. You can learn a lot about a time, place, or culture by the sorts of maps it produces.

And setting aside their historical, these maps are absolutely beautiful. They may not be the most elegant or accurate, but there is something visually intriguing and deeply appreciable about humanity’s efforts to understand this big and difficult-to-grasp world of ours.

From the works of the father of geography, to the latest satellite-graphed maps, here are just some of the cartographic endeavors that span civilizations across centuries (courtesy of The Atlantic). Continue reading