In an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (April 2013, Volume 4, Issue 1) Danny Dorling and I looked at the global geography of wealth. The map that I created for this feature displays data published by Forbes Magazine in spring 2012 (updated annualy). For 2012 Forbes counted 1153 billionaires across the globe (this figure includes families, but excludes fortunes dispersed across large families where the average wealth per person is below a billion). The total wealth of the billionaires was US$3.7 trillion – as great as the annual gross domestic product of Germany. Top of this league table is the US with 424 billionaires (or billionaire families), followed by Russia (96) and China (95). The following cartogram animation shows, how the distribution of billionaires and the distribution of their total wealth compares. Although there are only small changes between the two maps, it is quite apparent that the wealthiest in the wealthier parts of the world accumulate slightly higher shares of wealth than those living in the emerging economies such as China (though this may be some of the less worrying inequalities that exist globally):
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Looking at similar data collected by WealthInsight (extracts published in the Guardian newspaper) – which published more detailed statistics on the geographic distribution of 521 of the wealthiest billionaires – we can see that the plutocrats’ global city of choice is Moscow with 78 billionaire residents, followed by New York City (58), Hong Kong (40), and London (39). The most attractive place for foreign wealth appears to be the United Kingdom with 15 different nationalities represented in the richest of the rich there. This tops even Switzerland (14 nationalities) and the United States (9).
Much of the wealth of billionaires is held offshore and their wealth is the tip of an iceberg of hard-to-tax personal assets. In a recent Tax Justice Network report (pdf), James Henry estimated the overall global offshore financial assets held by the world’s richest to be between US$21 trillion and US$32 trillion (out of the total global wealth, estimated at US$231 trillion). Nearly half of these offshore assets are owned by the world’s richest 91,000, just 0.001% of the global population.
The distribution of this wealth is a story of extreme inequality. For each billionaire there are millions of people who can only ever dream of such wealth – the ratio is only slightly smaller in the richest countries of the world: in the USA one billionaire can be found for every 740,000 people, while in India one billionaire is found amongst every 26 million people.
Over time the inequalities in the distribution of global wealth have become ever more polarised. According to a 2006 study by the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER), half of all global household wealth was owned by the richest 2% of adults. The poorer half of the world’s population owned just 1 per cent of the global wealth between all of them. Their distribution is the reverse image of the wealth maps shown here.
But it is not only wealth inequality that becomes very apparent in these numbers. The gender gap is large among the rich: Of the countries with more than 10 billionaires, Sweden is the most equal. But even here only 27% of billionaires are female, followed by Germany (20%) and Brazil (19%). Russia, home to the second largest number of billionaires, only has one woman in the ranking, and the USA is not much better with only 10% of the country’s billionaires female. 37 of the 59 countries shown here have no female billionaires at all.
In the face of unprecendented occurences of extreme weather, loss of species, and pollution, it is clear that climate change is affecting our planet. We cannot afford to wait any longer to act. This quote from the Earth Day 2013 website outlines the theme for this year’s Earth Day campaign which runs under the motto Climate change has many faces.
As the Earth Day campaign points out, the stories of the impact of climate change are extremely diverse: “A man in the Maldives worried about relocating his family as sea levels rise, a farmer in Kansas struggling to make ends meet as prolonged drought ravages the crops, a fisherman on the Niger River whose nets often come up empty, a child in New Jersey who lost her home to a super-storm, a woman in Bangladesh who can’t get fresh water due to more frequent flooding and cyclones.”
All these tales have one thing in common: They are a story of our impact on planet Earth, but equally of the impact of a changing planet on human’s lives. Our species has become one that is not just living in the natural environment, but is one factor that changes the environment to a level that no other species did before. This is happening to an extent that geologists discuss whether this can be seen as a new geologic era. Nobel Prize laureate Paul Crutzen started promoting the idea of the so-called Anthropocene, a concept that has now left the scientific world and is increasingly entering the public debate regarding issues of global sustainability and humanity’s impact. Anthropocene.info is a project initiated by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) that aims to “to help visualize and better understand humanity’s geographic imprint in recent time.” Not only is it important to find better ways of understanding the complex interrelations of humans and their natural environment, to which visualisation can contribute, but also is it important to create a public understanding of issues relating to the challenges connected to global change.
Here is one example of a more challenging view existing knowledge that demonstrates how changing the view can make us rethink the way our natural environment is shaped. According to research by the US National Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, “[t]he strongest hurricanes in the present climate may be upstaged by even more intense hurricanes over the next century as the earth’s climate is warmed by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Most hurricanes do not reach their maximum potential intensity before weakening over land or cooler ocean regions. However, those storms that do approach their upper-limit intensity are expected to be slightly stronger in the warmer climate due to the higher sea surface temperatures.”
This is relevant due to the impact of more frequent flooding and cyclones on humans mentioned earlier. So where are these spaces where this is relevant. We know from historic records where there are tropical storm tracks, and the emerging pattern on a normal world map may be familiar to some of us (see here). But what if we change the perspective and focus on the actual areas that have the highest density of tropical storm occurrences. Using the records from 1945 to 2008, this intensity can be turned into quantities which are suitable for visualisation using the gridded cartogram technique. The following map shows a gridded cartogram of tropical storm intensity visualised over land based on a 0.25 degree grid. The larger a grid cell, the more tropical storm activity has there been over the past >60 years, indicating where the most affected areas of tropical cyclones (with a sustained wind speed of ver 40 mp/h) has been and how the climate patterns shape the world in a highly relevant issue of the Anthropocene:
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World military spending for 2011 is estimated to be over $1.7 trillion at current prices, and has come to a relative stagnation after it has been steadily rising in recent years. As summarised on the Global Issues website, “the 15 countries with the highest spending account for over 81% of the total; The USA is responsible for 41 per cent of the world total, distantly followed by the China (8.2% of world share), Russia (4.1%), UK and France (both 3.6%).” The data cited here comes from the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute who use publicly available data sources for its reports. Military expenditure is defined as “all current and capital expenditure on: (a) the armed forces, including peacekeeping forces; (b) defence ministries and other government agencies engaged in defence projects; (c) paramilitary forces, when judged to be trained and equipped for military operations; and (d) military space activities. Such expenditures should include: (a) military and civil personnel, including retirement pensions of military personnel and social services for personnel; (b) operations and maintenance; (c) procurement; (d) military research and development; and (e) military aid (in the military expenditure of the donor country). Civil defence and current expenditures on previous military activities, such as veterans’ benefits, demobilization, conversion and weapon destruction are excluded.”
SIPRI’s long term observations show how the decrease in military spending following the end of the cold war in the 1990s slowed down at the turn of the century, and has significantly been rising again over the last 10 years – now exceeding the levels of the 1980. A major impact on these figures has the revival of military spending in North America, as the regional breakdown of the data shows. Compared to that, the rise of Asia appears much less significant than one would expect, although the region is clearly gaining importance (see an interactive graphic of the data on the Guardian datablog).
The following cartogram uses the latest available figures of military expenditure from the 2012 update of the database, completed by own estimates for the missing countries. It shows the estimate absolute expenditure in current (2011) US$ for the year 2011:
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George Osborne’s autumn statement on the government’s budget rekindled the ongoing debate about the fairness of the coalition’s spending cuts. How does it look like if you take a look at the richest and the poorest parts of society? In an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (December 2012, Volume 3, Issue 3) Danny Dorling and I plotted the geography of the wealthiest of the wealthy in the United Kingdom in comparison to poverty.
The map that I created for this feature displays the distribution of the top 1% of the wealthiest 1% according to information published by the agency WealthInsight, one of the companies trying to gather information on this part of the publication that is a prime target for exclusive marketing. Displayed in the map are data on people with assets in excess of US$30 million and where they have their prime address registered in the UK. The extent of the data is very limited because WealthInsight releases data for only 20 UK cities and regions based on postcode areas (Northern Ireland is a single postcode area which is why we did not correlate that data with Belfast’s overall population). Here we have superimposed that data on a population cartogram of the country, drawing circles with an area in proportion to the numbers of super-rich (in red) over people living in each city (in blue). Where they overlap, the circles turn into a purple colour. Where there are more super-rich people than population alone would predict, there is an orange ring around a purple core, as shown around London. Where there are fewer super-rich than the population of a city might predict, there is a blue outer-ring, as around Birmingham. The underlying map shows the distribution of poverty in the UK in five shades of grey.
Cities such as Leeds, Birmingham and Nottingham have fewer super-rich than might be expected – partly because they are not especially affluent urban centres but also, most probably, because their postcode does not include nearby areas such as the North Yorkshire stockbroker belt or the Cotswolds. Aberdeen, in contrast, has some multimillionaires: beneficiaries of the oil boom with an Aberdeen postcode who live some distance from that city. With Manchester it is hard not to speculate that a few extra footballers may have tipped it over the limit.
Europe appears to be far from being a perfect union these days, with many countries suffering severely from high debt levels as a lasting legacy of the financial crisis that brought the slowly shifting economic equalisation between East and West to a halt. In a symbolic move the Nobel Committee made the decision to award the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. It reflects a plea for European Unity which is seen as a great achievement for a continent where countries had repeatedly been at war for centuries. The Committee argues that the EU “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe“. The European Union is a project to unite the population of the continent peacefully in all its diversity, a population which is shown in the following map. The map displays a gridded population cartogram of the EU27 member states without any borders drawn onto it. The map is as a reminder that here we really are all in this together regardless the place we live on the continent (and the islands surrounding it), instead of all against each other:
22 years after re-unification Germany has become an ‘accidental empire’ (Guardian) in Europe through its economic might. It is the largest economy in Europe and also happens to be the largest country by population. Germany has gotten into a political role that it seemed to be reluctant to take over ever since – in many regards the country is still seen as a reluctant power as Meier described it in a paper published in 1995 (today going much further than the role of the nation’s army). Post-unification Germany has been marked with many changes and the emergence of a reborn nation which stands in the centre of the future challenges of Europe. While the country struggles with a redefined role in Europe, its domestic challenges are appear equally tough: They are those of building a sustainable future for a rapidly changing demographic structure of society that is able to sustain a strong economic base. With a declining population, Germany may be smaller than France or the United Kingdom by 2060 if current trends were to continue (predicting future populations must always be seen with great caution – as some predictions from almost 50 years ago demonstrate quite well). Putting uncertainties about future trends aside, the question may also be whether a decline in population is a negative thing (and on the opposite, whether growing populations are bad either)? The pure numbers are less the problem, rather than the spatial and social implications that come with them.
Panic is never helpful for finding solutions, but look at what demographic changes are actually happening to find ways of dealing with it. The decrease of the fertility rate down to 1.36 children per woman in 2011 (according to the Federal Statistical Office) is already tackled with political measures (which may even already have first influences on the predicted trends as suggested by the MPG) and could lead to a changing trend – though probably not a reversal in the general trend of an ageing population (as reflected in the changing population pyramid of Germany). But most of the negative impact of demographic change in a spatial context have started with reunification in 1990 and lead to specific geographic problems that are the much more imminent for the country, as they led to a considerably changed population landscape:
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In the year 2000 there were approximately 15 million square km of cropland and 28 million square km of pasture which are represented in the two main maps. These are equal to 12% respectively 22% of the ice-free land surface. This is according to estimates of a study on the geographic distribution of global agricultural lands by Ramankutty et al (published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2008) who used a methodology of combining agricultural inventory data and satellite-derived land cover data to come to these figures (data can be accessed via Columbia University’s SEDAC). Continue reading
The upcoming annual World Malaria Day on the 25th of April is one of the most visible international activities to tackle the problem of a disease that today is mainly a problem on the African continent. Beyond that day, activists from public sector as well as from many private organisations have regular meetings to find solutions for a disease that UNICEF describes as both preventable and curable. Continue reading
While much of Europe has been denied a white Christmas, many of us were still having a white snow cover while the clocks went forward for ‘summer’ time this weekend. But although it appears that this winter is never-ending, it mainly comes very late this year. The coldest of temperatures and the main snowfall arrived in February and March, while the early winter months were even above average in some areas of central Europe.
Regular observations are collected regularly by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, which records data about the land surface temperature (i.e. “how hot the ‘surface’ of the Earth would feel to the touch in a particular location“, a different measure than the air temperature we see on the weather reports every day). This map shows the land surface temperature anomaly this March compared to the average temperatures from 1951 to 1980 projected on a gridded population cartogram where every grid cell is resized according to its total population. The projection used in this visualisation shows, how the world’s population was exposed to the temperature anomalies in the late spell of winter last month:
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In 2007 nature conservation organisation WWF initiated a campaign “encouraging households and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour to raise awareness about the need to take action on climate change” (Wikipedia). The campaign is called Earth Hour and always takes place at the end of March – this year on Saturday, the 23rd.
The Earth Hour campaign has motto of “uniting the world to protect the planet”, although certainly not everyone will join in switching off their lights at 8.30 pm to unite each time zone with a dark night sky (and there is criticism of campaigns like this). But the wealthier parts of the world will be the main focus, as large parts of the poor world live in relative darkness at night anyway. NASA’s composite satellite image of the world at night (as featured on this website before) that gives us an indication of where light pollution affects most of the night skies has just received an update recently. Earth at Night 2012 was published by the NASA Earth Observatory last December, promising nothing less that “It’s the end of the night as you know it; you’ll see fine.” The resolution and level of detail revealed in the data is stunning, so that I reworked my version of the Earth at Night in an equal population projection using a gridded cartogram transformation. The new gridded population cartogram of the Earth at Night gives an equally stunning insight into how human activity relates to the distribution of light at night, showing the already highlighted inequalities that became apparent in the old version of the map in even greater detail where large parts of the populations in Africa and also in some parts of Asia live in the shadows of the wasteful brightness of the wealthy world. The Earth at Night as seen by humanity – an image of an unequal world:
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