Maps: A Hurricane of Confusion!

Maps are used all over the world and, while they can be helpful to many people, one rarely stops to consider how different maps might affect one’s understanding of the world around them. No one really asks, “who was this map made for?” or “how might this map change if it were made in a different region of the world?”. While maps can be extremely helpful and useful, they make assumption about viewers’ basic knowledge which could hinder their perspective on the world and their understanding of the issue being portrayed. For example, weather maps assume that their audiences have a basic understanding of how to read maps, their details, and the information they intend to present.

A discussion of maps and their usefulness or relevance is inherently a discussion of power. We see it in global hierarchies and government: the people with power dictate what gets portrayed, when it gets portrayed, and to what extent. When one thinks of who has the power when making a map, they usually think the cartographer would, and to a certain extent that is correct. But, who has the power over the cartographer? Their boss(es), the government, people with more economic and social power. This involves the idea of dominating power, where it presents the interests of those in a specific class, race, sexual orientation, gender, ability level, socio-economic status and so on. This is the same issue with weather maps. The creator of the map has a certain agenda and a certain set of information they need to get across, which may not be the most beneficial for some viewers due to differences in power dynamics. This simulator shows the extent to which power affects our understanding of countries (specifically the size of countries) around the world. The map in figure one, from this Washington Post news article, shows a perspective of the US, Canada, and other countries’ possible trade routes through the arctic ocean that was previously not considered. It shows that a map’s center can drastically alter how it is read and the audience it was made for.

FIGURE 1     

 

Maps of natural disasters often play into the idea of global hierarchies and the power dynamic that goes with them. There have been many crises (whether natural disasters or other) that would not get reported in the US news. Is it because those events and people aren’t important? Kind of, yes. If these catastrophes have no influence or impact in powerful countries no one in those countries would hear about them. The only reason people in China or Russia, for example, would hear about what is happening in the US is because the US has an impact on their economies and societies, and vice versa.

Hurricanes are serious and sometimes even fatal natural disasters, but can the map of a hurricane’s path affect how viewers respond to the severity of the storm? Hurricane Florence is set to travel up the east coast this week, but some of the maps showing the path of the storm are misleading, and confusing. For example, the map in figure two from the Boston Globe shows probabilities of wind speeds for the storm. At first glance, someone in Pennsylvania or West Virginia would assume that the storm would not hit their area. However, the map in figure three, from the same Boston Globe article, shows the storm Covering most of Pennsylvania, all of West Virginia and parts of states even further out than those.

FIGURE 2

 

FIGURE 3  

 

                 While it makes sense for these maps and maps of other weather events to be from the perspective of those it is affecting, sometimes the perspective the map was made for (or the map’s center) can influence its accuracy. For example, the map below in figure four is a map of the same storm as shown above. This map from a BBC news article makes many assumptions about who the viewer is and their knowledge of certain places. If someone from the US was looking at this map, they would only be able to see that it would hit the middle of the east coast. It also assumes that every person knows how to read military time, which is not always the case. The information in this map is not communicated clearly and would not be very helpful to someone concerned about the storm. Additionally, it would impede someone’s understanding of the storm because, with the lack of information, the scale, size, and strength of the storm cannot be determined. It fails to address the other side effects of the storm that the islands experienced, like wind speeds and harmful waves.

FIGURE 4  

 

                 Some might argue that these maps are perfectly accurate for what they are made for. The first map does show probable wind speeds for certain areas from Tuesday 9/11 to Sunday 9/16. However, the conditional information that is needed to understand the map is not clearly presented and would easily be looked over by someone who did not know how to read it. The second map, one could say, is perfectly accurate as well, and that the relevant information is clearly displayed in the image. At first glance though, one would look at the map and assume the differing colors are a representation of wind speed or rain fall predicted for that area, but, the colors show an area’s probability to experience prolonged winds of thirty-nine miles-per-hour winds or greater. Along with those confusing elements, both maps are lacking a distance scale. Instead, they use latitude and longitude markings, which would be helpful to those who know how to read that. This relates back to map-makers making assumptions about who is going to be reading the map and what they know. Someone could also argue that the last map shown is an accurate representation of the position of the hurricane depending on time. However, the distance scale they used requires a sort of measuring tool for someone to know the distance the storm is from the coast at a certain time. Through the exploration of these maps, I’ve found that many cartographers assume their audience already knows how to read maps perfectly, but in the situation of natural disasters, these assumptions and biases can be confusing and even dangerous.

Is Climate Change Important? You Decide.

“Trump Withdrawals the US from the Paris Climate Agreement”. You may have seen this news headline a lot over the past year. But what exactly is the Paris Climate Agreement? And why did the United States withdraw from it? It’s been a little over a year since Trump withdrew from the Climate Agreement, and his decision is still met with a lot of criticism and skeptics. But did he make the right choice? I believe in climate change and feel that the United States should take part in the Agreement. Scientists and critics would agree with me, but let’s review the facts that will allow you to come to your own conclusion.

The first step to understanding the Paris Climate Agreement is understand what exactly climate change is. Global warming is another popular name for climate change. Climate change, “refers to the rise in average surface temperatures on Earth”. The huge controversy surrounding climate change is the argument about whether or not climate change is man-made. Certain politicians, including United States President, Donald Trump, have stated that they “Don’t know that it is man-made”. However, many reputable scientific research companies have publicly released data proving that climate change is man-made, including NASA. The graph below shows the extreme effects that climate change has had on the atmosphere in the past 50 years. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is one of mane greenhouse gases that has extreme negative effects on the atmosphere, thus creating global warming. As shown on the graph, the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen exponentially.

NASA

The Paris Climate Agreement is an agreement adapted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC. This agreement, “unites all the world’s nations in a single agreement on tacking climate change for the first time in history” (BBC). The main key element of the Agreement is that it aims to control global temperatures and keep them from continuing to rise. The graph shown below is an estimate of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on temperature. The graph also serves as a prediction of what could happen if the Agreement is not implemented. The red portion of the graph shows the current direction the global temperature is headed in if the world doesn’t change its ways. The part of the graph marked “New pledges” is what the UNFCCC predicts will be the outcome of the Paris Agreement if completed.

Vox

As shown by the graph, the climate agreement could have a huge effect on average global temperatures. But why are global temperatures so important? The Paris agreement aims to keep global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius. A few degrees warmer? No big deal, right? Wrong. Scientists believe that if the world’s global temperature rises “Beyond 2 degrees, we risk dramatically higher seas, changes in weather patterns, food and water crises, and an overall more hostile world” (Vox). The earth simply can’t handle the amount of greenhouse gases that humans are producing. In order to stop global temperatures from rising, the UNFCCC looks to “limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100” (BBC).

Still not sure if climate change is really worth worrying about? Statistics have been released that show that the effects of climate change are already being experienced globally. Have you noticed that the summers are getting warmer, and the winters are getting colder? Have you heard about or experienced any record setting hurricanes or other natural disasters? All of these things are direct effects of climate change. The National Climate Assessment Reports predict that future effects of climate change will continue for hundreds of years, and include continued rise in temperatures, frost-free seasons will lengthen, precipitation patterns will change, and we will experience more droughts and heat waves (NASA). These changes increase risk for extreme storms, droughts, floods and wildfires, which will ultimately put millions of lives at risk every year.

In class we talked about what has changed since Trump withdrew from the Paris climate deal a year ago. While the article states that, “despite the uproar over the Paris withdrawal, it’s notable that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are hardly set to explode and the country is still slowly moving toward lower greenhouse gas emissions” (Washington Post). However, the article also states that it’s still early and certain new policies that are in progress of being passed including “Trump rollbacks and weakened fuel efficiency standards for cars, if those come to pass, could certainly lead to increased carbon dioxide emissions. One analysis by the Rhodium Group suggests they could add over 100 million tons annually by the year 2035 because of an auto standards rollback alone” (Washington Post).

In conclusion, climate change is definitely real and man-made, and the effects of it are already being felt. The entire world was shocked when President Trump withdrew for the Paris Agreement back in 2017. Although the true effects of the United States’ withdrawal from the climate agreement are yet to be seen, one thing is for sure: very little is going to change unless the “second largest global emitter of greenhouse gas” is willing to lead the charge. While the scientific effects of the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement are yet to be seen, the worldwide confusion of where the United States stands on climate change is evident. I believe that the United States needs to commit to the Climate Agreement. It is scientifically proven that the world will not be inhabitable if humans continue with the recklessness that is being seen right now. The planet is suffering from our reckless behavior, and the United States needs to join the Paris Climate Agreement in order to unite with other nations in an effort to save our planet.

Externalized Costs: A Capitalism Crisis

Global capitalism has allowed giant businesses to control the economy of the world. It has made it possible for companies to expand their businesses to multiple parts of the world through globalization. Globalization has allowed American businesses to move overseas to manufacture their products at lower costs. It has made it cheaper for businesses to manufacture, produce and sell products at a price that allows them to maximize their profit. Have you ever bought something for a very low price and realized it was from a foreign country all the way across the world? How is it so cheap if it has traveled all the way from China? Global capitalism and externalized costs have made it possible for companies to sell their products at cheap prices while still maximizing profit. A major example of this can be seen in McDonald’s signature Big Mac. How exactly does a huge company like McDonalds get their products to the lowest retail price possible? The answer: externalized costs.

Externalized costs are how companies make profit. They minimize their spending by cost externalizing, which is basically a fancy term for the company offloading “indirect costs” on society or the environment. The easiest way to think about externalized costs is to think of them as effects caused by businesses when they “cut corners”. Externalized costs of capitalism tend to be hidden from the public eye. Companies hide their externalized costs because most of the time, the truth would be detrimental to the reputation of their business. Some major externalized costs of global capitalism include pollution, taking advantage of people and poor working conditions in other countries, cruelty, and health care.

Marion Nestle is an author for Food Politics, where she published her article, Food is Cheaper Because Costs are “Externalized”. Nestle’s article explains the externalized costs that go into bringing the crops from the field to the dinner plate. Nestle breaks down externalized costs into four categories: human costs, environmental costs, safety costs, and health care costs. The article explains how costs are externalized in each category and how it negatively impacts certain aspects of life. Below is an image representing the external costs of a McDonald’s Big Mac as explained in the article, Each Time McDonalds Sells a Big Mac.

As the image shows, a big mac from McDonalds costs more than its retail price of $4.56. The image breaks down McDonald’s externalized costs into health care, subsidies, environment, and cruelty. This image is a great example of externalized costs because it points out that the true cost of a Big Mac is $12, however, the hidden externalized costs of McDonald’s company allows them to get the retail price down to $4.56.

Pollution is another huge example of an externalized cost. Pollution is an externalized cost because instead of dealing with waste in ways that are environmentally friendly and sustainable, companies are getting rid of their waste in the cheapest ways possible in order to maximize profit. Examples of this could be a company dumping their waste into a nearby river instead of spending money to have it disposed of properly. The article, Talk About Externalized Costs, talks about this issue. As pointed out by the article, “[Businesses] are shoving a whole range of costs – from pollution to climate change to water depletion – onto communities around the world”. It is estimated that the world’s top corporations, “contribute $2.2 trillion in environmental damage”. Other forms of pollution, such as waste from shipping packaging, use of gasoline, plane emissions, etc. are also forms of externalized costs and are extremely detrimental to the environment.

Another example of an externalized cost is taking advantage of people and poor working conditions in other countries. Businesses move their factories overseas in order to take advantage of the minimum wages in other countries. A prime example of this comes from the article, I Lost My Hands Making Flatscreens I Cant Afford. In the article, Rosa Moreno explains how both of her hands had to be amputated due to a work related incident. She was working with dangerous machinery six days a week, for $400 a month. The work she was doing involved extremely dangerous machinery, but she had no choice, she needed to support her family. Could you imagine working 6 days a week and only making $400 a month? I couldn’t. It’s not livable, which is why the government of the United States implements things such as minimum wages. However, other countries don’t have these laws implemented, so workers in these countries work for a few dollars a day. Being that there isn’t a minimum wage implemented, American businesses move overseas to take advantage of workers in foreign countries. Why would American businesses run their factories in the United States where in some states, minimum wage is as high as $11 an hour, when they could go overseas and pay their workers less than a dollar an hour. Below is a cartoon that brings to light the horrible working conditions of sweatshops in other countries of the world.

The tag of the t-shirt points out the cruelties of sweat shops, making it known that some of the externalized costs include “sweat and blood”. The bottom of the tag notes that the t-shirt was made in Pakistan, which only adds to the point of the article that the t-shirt was produced in a sweat shop. Another article that talks about these sweatshop conditions is, American Businesses Taking Advantage of Sweatshop Labor, on The Channels. The article goes into depth about the harsh and cruel working conditions in factories in other countries and talks about how much American businesses are profiting from sweatshop labor.

To be sure, some people disagree that externalized costs are a bad thing. Some arguments for externalized costs are that it keeps the economy flowing. It is argued that without externalized costs making prices cheaper, that people wouldn’t be able to afford all of the goods they need, and thus, will stop spending money. However, if businesses became less globalized, and began producing products solely in their country of origin, theoretically, minimum wage would increase, so that the consumers can afford the products.

 

 

Globalization: Good or Bad? It’s Up to You!

Globalization is the spread of business on an international scale. There are different arguments as to when globalization can be dated back to, some say globalization can be traced on a smaller scale all the way back to the B.C.E time period, while others say that certain turning points in the world’s economy such as the industrial revolution or colonization was the true beginning of globalization. Globalization can be seen as a “double edged sword”, meaning, it has both positive and negative consequences. Perspective is a huge component on someone’s outlook on globalization. Looking at globalization through multiple perspectives allows us to better understand the effects it has on us and the world around us. All in all, globalization is both good and bad for society. It works in ways that bring us together while always pulling us apart.

Globalization works to bring the world together because it spreads certain entities such as cultures and technological advances. The world forms bonds through these advances. For example, globalization has led to the mass spread of technology. People in developed nations now view things like cellphones and computers as necessities. Could we go without them? Sure. Do we want to? No. The spread of cellphones and other technologies has led to a rise in social media use and the connection to the world via the internet. The internet is now the main form of communication for most people. The news is available at the tap of a button and other forms of informative technology, such as social media, connects people to other people across the world in a matter of seconds. Another way the world becomes closer through globalization is through the spread of culture. The spread of culture allows people to take part in another nations culture, through things like food, clothing, and traditions. This spread of culture would not be possible without globalization.

While globalization can be viewed positively, it can also be viewed negatively. At the same time that globalization can be seen bringing the world together, it can also be seen dividing us. One of the strongest dividing forces of globalization is the impact it has on wage gaps and worldwide income inequality. Globalization has been proven to make the wealthy wealthier while not benefiting the middle class. This uneven benefit from globalization has led the wage gap to increase worldwide. An article, written by the U.S. News, cites reports from the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center states in their report that, “Our finding that recent globalization trends have increased U.S. inequality by disproportionately raising top incomes represents an important step forward,” (US News). The income of the top 1% has been seen to continuously rise while the income of the lower 99% continues to stay at a near constant rate. Below is a graph that shows the distribution of the household income in the past few decades. As you can see, although globalization has been on the rise for the past few decades, the lower 99% of household incomes have not seen much benefit, if any from the spread of globalization.

Distribution of Household Income

The inequality seen in wages is similar to the inequality seen in developing countries and underdeveloped countries. As the developing countries continue to benefit from free trade and globalization, the underdeveloped countries continue to struggle. Neil Godbout, a writer for the Times Colonist, writes that, “The majority of the world’s masses have not benefited from open markets and free trade, unless the definition of benefit is creating a small ultra-rich global class holding an increasing amount of the world’s wealth and forcing billions of people in developing countries to abandon their fields and rural lives for mega-city shantytowns.” (Times Colonist). Below are a compilation of graphs that show the global income of 1800, 1975, 2015. These graphs show how globalization has led to the rise of some continents’ increase in daily consumption per capita, which is a direct result of globalization.

Global Income Graphic

As you can see from the shifts in the graphs, major developed countries such as North America and European nations, can be seen dominated the right side of the graphs in 1975 and 2015. Also pictured in the graph are nations in Africa and Asia/Pacifica that have been left behind, for the most part, towards the lower half of the graph during in 1975 and 2015. This skew in the graphs shows the inequality of developing countries and shows how globalization, which has largely increased in recent decades, has hugely impacted developmental inequality in nations around the world.

In class we watched a documentary that discussed Walmart’s globalization and the positive and negative impacts it had on the world, and more specifically, the impacts it had on the working-class citizens of the United States. The metaphor of the double-edged sword was a huge proponent of this documentary because the dateline documentary did a great job of getting multiple perspectives and opinions. The documentary showed how the globalization of Walmart positively and negatively affected the people of the United States. The positive effect was seen in reduced retail prices for the consumers, while the negative effect was low wages and loss of jobs.

A person’s perspective on Globalization depends on their position in society. Are they a CEO of a major retail chain or are they your average middle class store worker? If you are an average middle class citizen, you may like globalization because it lowers the retail prices of the products you buy. However, if you work in the retail business you might hate globalization because the cheaper the product, the easier it is for the company you work for to lower your wage because you can “afford to live” on cheaper wages because products are cheaper. So, globalization, is it good or bad? My answer: it’s all about perspective.

 

Where Exactly is Afghanistan? Help, I’m Lost!

Maps are a very important supplement to a news article. Maps allow the reader to attach a name of a country to a place in the world. Most average civilians don’t know where every country in the world is, so having a map in a news article is an easy way to enhance an article. A large majority of people are geographically illiterate; meaning, they have no idea where anything is located on the globe. As reported by US News, “nearly three-quarters of eight-graders tested below proficient in geography on the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress”. These statistics can be seen in the image below.

Many article writers forget this when they are writing a story about various different countries. It is important to use maps as supplemental tools to an article because it is one thing to understand the news story, but a whole different task to understand where the news story is taking place. Although maps are important supplemental tools for an article, they are only useful if they properly represent the information in an article. Using a combination of both large scale and small-scale maps in an article is the best way to properly inform a reader while supplementing the information in an article.

Large scale maps are a great way to show relative location. Large scale maps can often seem “zoomed in” as they are usually focused on a small area. Relative location is, “a description of how a place is related to other places” (National Geographic). For example, Bucknell University’s relative location is Central, Pennsylvania. A great map to show its relative location would be a map zoomed in that shows all of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, small scale maps are a great way to show relative distance. Relative distance, “is a measure of the social, cultural and economic relatedness or connectivity between two places” (Study.com). Small scale maps are great tools when looking at relative distance because they allow a reader to see what other important places, or places they have a personal connection with, are in the surrounding area. Sticking with the Bucknell University example, a good map to show the relative location of Bucknell University might be a small-scale map that shows the entire east coast.

Fighting rages on in Sar-e Pul, killing dozens. But where exactly is Sar-e Pul? Could you find it on a map? What about Afghanistan? The British Broadcasting Corporation or BBC recently wrote an article about the violence in Afghanistan. The writers first talk about the problem in Afghanistan, explaining that militants are attacking Sar-e Pul province in Afghanistan, which has already led to at least 17 deaths in the last 24 hours.  The militants are members of the Taliban regime who are currently at war with the Afghan government. The writers then go on to explain the reason for the fighting and the implications it has had on Afghanistan as a nation. Later on in the article, the writers include a map of Afghanistan, which points out the capital of Kabul and the province of Sar-e Pul that is being talked about in the article. On the lower right-hand side of the map is a tiny, smaller scale map that is zoomed out to show Afghanistan’s location in relation to other countries in the eastern hemisphere.

The map of Afghanistan is essential to this article. Without the map, it would be impossible for even a well-informed person to know where the province of Sar-e Pul is within Afghanistan. However, the map is not useful for people that are not well-informed geographically. The writer used a tiny map to show the small-scale view of the world in order to show where Afghanistan is in relation to other countries. However, the tininess of the map, and the fact that it has no labels renders it almost useless. It would be very hard for even a person that is well versed in maps to be able to see where Afghanistan was in relation to other countries using the tiny map given. Also, the fact that the tiny piece of the world map that is used isn’t labeled makes it practically useless in itself. What good is it to know where the country is geographically if you don’t know where it is in relation to other countries?

A classic argument as to why a map is not necessary in a news article is that the reader should already be knowledgeable about the topic/topic location, or that the reader can simply look up a map on their own time. While these are two fairly valid points, I disagree. It is not reasonable to assume that all readers will be knowledgeable about the geographic location of the place they are reading about. Geography is not a very popular topic in school systems. Although most people who graduate from school will have basic geographical knowledge, formal in-depth geography classes are not likely.  Most adults would probably not be able to correctly label the 50 states in the United States, let alone label a map of the Middle East. The second argument that a reader can just simply look up a map of the news topic is also unreasonable. Most readers won’t stop to realize they have no clue where something’s geographical location is unless you present them with a map that they’ve never seen before. The goal of a news article is to inform readers of things they aren’t aware of. So, in doing this, why not inform them of background information of the event, such as where the country is located. Also, the internet is not always a good place to look for geographical answers. There are a lot of manmade errors but also computer errors as well that mistakenly misrepresent the world through maps. Good examples of these mistakes can be seen by CNN in the article, CNN Map Errors, by the Washington Post. Other errors in online map sources can be seen in this article by wired.com, Nicaragua Accidentally Invades Costa Rica, which explains how a google maps error caused the accidental invasion of Costa Rica by Nicaraguan forces.

As you can see, the internet is full of errors. In order to save the reader from being misinformed, and to enhance the article, writers should always include small-scale and large-scale maps to their writing. It is equally important to be informed of what is going on in the world, as well as where it is going on.