Inequality and Sustainability

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“We should … dethrone the idea that maximising the growth in measured prosperity, GDP per capita, should be an explicit objective of economic and social policy.”
Adair Turner, Chair of the UK Financial Services Authority, 2007

Today I gave a talk at the meeting of the Sustainability Knowledge Alliance and the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) of the UK Parliament at the British Academy in London. The event aimed at discussing the relationship between growing inequality and sustainability. As the meeting’s announcement explains, “in so many ways inequality is a backdrop to many features of modern political, economic and social arrangements where structures of self-reinforcing power and influence combine to buttress non-sustainability. We see this in the lobbying for the perpetuation of a carbon economy, in the promotion of the “war on terror”, and in the huge biases built into the interweaving connections between business, politics, regulation and consumerism.”
In my talk I explained how inequality and a consumption correlate. I looked at the issue mainly from a global perspective, using evidence that Danny Dorling and I compiled to find out to what extent inequality and (un)sustainability correlate. The following series of charts give in insight into how the level of inequality and a range of indicators related to consumerism and consumption compare:

Inequality and the ecological footprint
Inequality and the ecological footprint Continue reading

Ebola epidemic (update)

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As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, affecting multiple countries in West Africa”. Since the first map series published here in August, an additional 5367 cases and 2294 deaths have occurred, resulting in a total case count of 7492 and a total number of deaths of 3439 for the current outbreak according to the most recent updated published on October, 3rd. These significant changes change the shapes of the cartograms published six weeks ago, not least because the current outbreak exceeds all previous Ebola cases counted since 1977, as the following maps show using the most recent data:

Cartogram visualisations of Ebola virus cases
(click for larger version)

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Germany’s Population Growth and Decline

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Some time ago I have published an analysis of the changing demographies of Germany on this website (see also the map at the end of this post). I used the data from this analysis to develop some further cartogram visualisations that put the increase and decline into the focus, showing how heterogeneous these trends are evolving spatially in Germany. The following maps show gridded cartogram transformations of population change in Germany in which each grid cell (representing an equal physical space) is resized according to the total estimated population increase (right map) or decline (left map) in the period of 1990 to 2010. They show, how population patterns chances in the first two decades after reunification:

Cartograms of population changes in Germany between 1990 and 2010
(click for larger map)

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Displaced lifes: Escaping conflict, violence and disaster

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Every minute eight people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror.” This is the background to the UN General Assembly’s decision to declare June, 20th as World Refugee Day. As the UN estimates, about “43.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced due to conflict and persecution” by the end of 2011. This includes several groups of people, categorised in refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, stateless persons and returnees. The following two maps put a spotlight on the geographic distribution of two of these groups. The first map visualises data on displaced people from a recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). The organisation estimates figures on people who are internally displaced “caused by conflict, generalised violence, human rights violations and natural hazard-induced disasters”. The cartogram shows the countries of the world resized according to the total number of internally displaced people there, adding up to 33.3 million according to IDMC’s report:

Map of internally displaced people in the world
(click for larger version)

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China’s gender gap: Man-made problems?

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CHINET“In recent decades, the world has witnessed the enormous economic, social, cultural and political development of China. As the most populous country in the world, China’s transition process influences directly one fifth of the world’s population and indirectly almost all the rest of the world. Chinese economic activities cover the whole globe, Chinese living overseas constitute the largest diaspora, and China’s political and economic influence is significant. On the other hand, China and its government face many challenges, as Chinese society as well as the environment are affected by these massive processes.” These challenges were the theme of a Conference on the Socio-Economic Transition of China at Palacký University in Olomouc (Czech Republic) where the opportunities and potential threats for China are discussed from an interdisciplinary perspective organized by the CHINET (Forging a scientific team and international networking in the field of Chinese Studies) project.
Part of that was an invited contribution which I prepared in collaboration with Adam Horálek of Palacký University. Our talk titled ‘Mapping Perspectives of Changing China’ presented a global as well as national context to the topic, framing China’s socio-economic place in the globalised world and highlighting some of the trends that started transforming the Chinese society considerably over the past three decades. While the most recent Census is not yet available in larger detail, we focussed on an analysis of some key aspects of the previous Census in more detail (and also discussed the quality and reliability of data from official statistics there).
The following map showing the gender gap was part of our slides (see below) and stands for one of the demographic challenges and existing tensions in the contemporary society. These are not only characterized by the changing age structures (with very distinct geographic patterns of ageing populations), but also by the considerable imbalance between the male and female population in most parts of the country. According to the most recent 2010 Census, this was at 1.18 males per female, and thus increased to the already high ratio that was stated 10 years before. In some regions, there are now over 130 men for 100 woman, with the fear (and sometimes reality), “that the excess will lead to increased sexual violence, general crime and social instability” (quoted from the Guardian). It is very much a man-made problem as in the early 1980s the ratio was at 108:100 and therefore only slightly above the natural rate, after which the 1979 introduced one child policy started having an effect that we see in its full extent today. This map, showing the sex ratio on an equal population projection (a gridded cartogram transformation where each grid cell is resized according to the total number of people in an area). It reveals, that the surplus of men is common throughout the country, while the opposite (a considerable surplus of women) is true for very few of the populated spaces in China (such as in the Shenzhen area of the Pearl River Delta where female migrants are the majority of workers under precarious employment conditions).
The authorities appear to become aware of the emerging problems, and according to the Guardian article, China’s “new Five Year Plan sets an ambitious target of cutting the ratio to 112 or 113 by 2016″. For the time being, the pattern in this map remains prevalent and puts pressure on a society that is feeling the full impact of China’s transformation to a new global player over the past decades.

Male to Female Sex Ratio in China
(click for larger version)

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The real size of Offshore Financial Centres

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Political InsightIn an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (December 2013, Volume 4, Issue 3) Jan Fichtner of the University of Frankfurt a.M. and I analysed the size of the foreign assets in the world’s largest offshore financial centres. All ‘offshore financial centres’ (OFCs) have one characteristic feature in common; they offer very low tax rates and lax regulations to non-residents with the aim to attract foreign financial assets. OFCs essentially undercut ‘onshore’ jurisdictions at their expense. The main beneficiaries are high-net-worth individuals and large multinational corporations that have the capital and expertise required to utilise OFCs. Beyond its geographical connotation the phenomenon of ‘offshore’ represents a withdrawal of public regulation and control, primarily over finance. Some important OFCs are in fact located ‘onshore’, e.g. Delaware in the USA and the City of London in the UK. However, historically many OFCs have literally developed ‘off-shore’, mostly on small islands.
OFCs as defined by Zoromé (2007) are jurisdictions that provide financial services to non-residents on a scale that is excessive compared to the size and the financing of their domestic economies. The graphic shows combined data on securities (Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey by the IMF) and on deposits/loans (Locational Banking Statistics by the BIS) at the end of 2011. Capturing the two by far most important components of financial centres allows a reasonable approximation of the real size of OFCs while avoiding double counting. The larger the size of the circles on the map, the more foreign financial assets have been attracted to the particular jurisdiction. The vast majority of the almost US$70 trillion foreign financial assets are concentrated in North America, Europe and Japan. Areas with assets below $US50bn are not shown for their relative insignificance in the global context.

Offshore Financial Centres

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The Human Planet: A modern Mappa Mundi

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A mappa mundi [...] is any medieval European map of the world. [...] To modern eyes, mappae mundi can look superficially primitive and inaccurate. However, mappae mundi were never meant to be used as navigational charts and they make no pretence of showing the relative areas of land and water. Rather, mappae mundi were schematic and were meant to illustrate different principles. The simplest mappae mundi were diagrams meant to preserve and illustrate classical learning easily. The zonal maps should be viewed as a kind of teaching aid—easily reproduced and designed to reinforce the idea of the Earth’s sphericity and climate zones” (cited from Wikipedia).
What would a mappa mundi of our times look like? A modern equivalent of such a map would have to focus on those spaces of our planet that we have a less vivid imagination of than the physical shape of the world that in medieval times was a much less familiar view than it is today. The following gridded population cartogram generated over the whole surface of Earth could be such a contemporary depiction of the world. It divides the world into equal spaces of population realigning the map view to show the human planet in a similar way as mappae mundi showed the world centuries ago:

Equal population projection map of the Earth's land and water surface
(click for larger version)

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The Space of Climate Change

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Earth Day 2013In 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:

Gridded Cartogram / Map of Tropical Storm Intensity
(click for larger version)

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Earth at Night

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Earth HourIn 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:

Equal population projection map of the Earth at Night
(click for larger version)

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Global Spaces of Food Production

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Global Spaces of Food Production
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

A Lonely Planet

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How to Land a Jumbo Jet‘How to Land a Jumbo Jet’ is the catchy title of a little book published by Lonely Planet a couple of month ago. The book is a “visual exploration of travel facts, figures and ephemera” and a “visual guide to the way we live, travel and inhabit the globe”. Edited by the British graphic designer Nigel Holmes, the book follows the increased interest in information graphics that started to flourish yet again with the increasing availability of ever growing amounts of data. Continue reading

One world, many faces: A brief look at map projections

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Map projections are a crucial issue for the worldmapper project because the maps (respectively cartograms) are basically some sort of reprojection of the world, although in a different way than the usual projections used in cartography. Rather than trying to solve the conflicts of distortion when drawing a three dimensional surface on to a two dimensional area (be it a screen or a paper map), the worldmapper cartograms distort our image of the world on purpose and show each country in proportion to a specific topic.

Worldmapper map using different projections

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Aye & naw: Scotland’s referendum mapped

55.25% of the votes cast at last week’s independence referendum in Scotland were ‘No’ according to the Electoral Management Board for Scotland (EMB), meaning that Scotland stays a part of the United Kingdom. While the results have been mapped all across the media (I recommend Olli O’Brien’s interactive map for that one), I haven’t come across and cartogram visualisation so far. So here we go…the missing map of the Scotland Independence Referendum 2014: The first two maps show a cartogram of the Scottish Local Government Areas resized according to the total number of votes cast at the referendum. The colours on top of the maps show the (remarkably high) turnout on the left map – apart from Glasgow (75%) and Dundee (78.8%) was above 80% in all areas, figures unseen in any democracies in recent years (compare this for example to the turnout at this year’s European elections or at last year’s general election in Germany). The map on the right shows the share of votes going to either side of the campaign:

Cartogram the outcome of the Scottish Independence Referendum 2014
(click for larger map)

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So you think you know about the United Kingdom?

For those not living in the United Kingdom it sometimes is a bit confusing what this strange little island next to Europe is all about. There is the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and there are England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is Westmister, but also Holyrood and the Welsh and Northern Irish Assembly. A lot of confusing responsibilities for such a small island.
The following series of maps shows the United Kingdom and its different countries in a series of population cartograms and explains the different countries that it consists of. Continue reading