The Ever Growing Population

The world’s population has grown trifold in the last 100 years.  From 1.5 billion in 1900 to 6.1 billion in 2000, it seems as though we won’t ever stop growing.  It’s no secret that our population has been growing these past decades, but it has reached a point of danger.  With the world’s population growing at such an alarming rate, natural lands and habitats are being knocked down to make the extra space.  While the destruction of natural lands is horrible, people are suffering from starvation, overcrowding, unemployment, and much more. We need to fix our overpopulation problem if we wish to survive on a finite planet.

Overpopulation is a large problem looked at by many scientists around the world.  Of these scientists, geographers are among the most abundant group. Geographers have many jobs beyond map making, especially human geographers.  Human geographers study the spatial organization of human activities on earth, ranging anywhere from economies to demographics. Geographer’s are well rounded scholars, especially concerning population.  Geographers use data they find to creates maps, such as the one shown below:

This cartogram shows the entire population of the world in 2015, labelling each country and stating their individual populations.  Maps like this one are crucial to solving our overpopulation problem, as they show where overpopulation may occur.

While conventional maps have their obvious benefits, more detailed cartograms have added perks in more problematic cases.  These could range anywhere from disaster relief to overpopulation. In our case of overpopulation, cartograms with population data are extremely helpful like the one above.  This map directly shows how overpopulated the earth truly is. As you can see, nations of similar size have drastically differently sized populations. For example, the US has almost 3/2 the population of Brazil, yet it is only ⅛ greater in size.  This is a direct example of how overpopulated nations have become. This causes a chain reaction of overpopulated cities that turn into crowded poor slums. These overcrowded slums then suffer greatly from disease and sickness in addition to hunger and starvation.  As a result, these innocent people are suffering from a problem that we can’t seem to solve.

Maps aren’t just created with one point in mind.  Maps are created for various purposes under numerous disciplines, and work in many ways.  The age of simple navigational maps is over. Nowadays maps come in all forms, from digital to nautical to cartograms.  In particular one new style of map making has separated itself from the rest. GIS, or geographic information system, is a new modern form of map making.  GIS involves using a computer to create a database of information gathered through tests, and then applying that information towards an online interactive and purposeful map.  GIS maps are created for an audience with a purpose. As one article states, “GIS technology also allows to “dig deep” in a specific area with many kinds of information. Maps of a single city or neighborhood can relate such information as average income, book sales, or voting patterns. Any GIS data layer can be added or subtracted to the same map”.  What makes GIS mapping so revolutionary is that it allows you to add or take away mental information from a physical map. This is extremely helpful when researching a particular situation among different locations and finding their similarities.

With new advances in modern technology many people rely on the internet as their source of maps.  The most commonly used digital mapping system is now Google maps. These new digital maps allow you to easily find precise locations the fastest ways possible.  The only problem with this mapping system is that, as all modern technology is, it is susceptible to human error and hacking. This has lead to many problems, and even in some cases, international disputes.  As stated, “In 2010, Nicaragua blamed an accidental invasion of Costa Rica on incorrect Google Maps information” (Turner 2).  These simple map mistakes have lead to big problems for many people. In addition to the Nicaragua-Costa Rica dispute, Google Maps has repeatedly had the wrong address for Mount Rushmore, sending tourists some 13 miles away from the actual location.  These problems are ones that must be fixed if we continue to rely on these digital mapping systems, such as Google Maps. As society becomes more and more modern, so do our everyday tools. Maps are just one example of this social modernization, and the apparent problems with them aren’t a good sign.  Society needs to make sure that everyday tools are reliable and ready for continuous use.

Maps are one of the most used tools in history.  As humans evolve, so do their tools, leading to the creation of new age maps.  These range anywhere from simple digital maps to revolutionary GIS maps that allow the creator to engage multiple variables into one map.  On the other hand, there are also cartograms that show generally problematic events in the world. Overpopulation is just one of the many world problems cartograms show, as they label exactly where the population may be in excess around the world.  The various types of mapping systems all work for a specific instance. Maps are used in many ways, but modern technology has allowed us to create purposeful maps to help the world.

 

How Bad Are the Wildfires in California? 

By looking at the map below one would never be able to guess that California is currently experiencing one of the worst fire seasons in the United States’ history. The map to the left only shows the fires as small icons, hence preventing the map from depicting the true severity of the 18 wildfires burning around California.

Since the beginning of 2018, California has been devastated by 18 major wildfires. According to a CNN article by Madison Park, 3 of the top 30 largest wildfires California has ever experienced are currently burning at this moment. Furthermore, the state is experiencing some of the hottest temperatures on record and this year’s rainfall is expected to be 50-70 percent below the average. In total, the flames have burned 500,000 acres of land and the fire season still has months left. This indicates that the wildfires will only get worse, causing experts to think that 2018 will beat 2017 for the worst fire season in California’s history. If you look at the map to the right, it shows the California wildfires of 2017, when compared to the map of 2018, it is clear that the 2018 California wildfires are already much worse than those of 2017.

Denis Wood, a cartographer and professor wrote a book called Rethinking the Power of Maps. In the first chapter; Maps Blossom in the Springtime of the State Woods says that “maps give us, reality, a reality that exceeds our reach, our vision, the span of our days, a reality we achieve in no other way”.  This passage means that as humans we use maps to understand what we cannot physically see. Map makers must make accurate maps to provide the audience with a reliable depiction of what is happening in other places around the world. However, the map above does not provide an accurate depiction of what is currently happening in California. The map was created for people living in California and the rest of the United States to view and use; however, if someone were to look at the map they would only see 18 icons. Because each of the icons are the same size, the severity of the fires is not accurately represented. Furthermore, it makes the fires seem small and confined to those circles which again is not the true condition of California. The wildfires in California have engulfed more than half a million acres of land, while each fire is a different size and are at different levels of severity. This map shows them all as the same. The map also displays 17 uncontained fires and only one contained fire based on the different color icons. This provides the viewer with inaccurate information about the status of the fires. According to an article on the northern California wildfires each of the fires are contained in some degree. For example, the Mendocino Complex fire which started at the end of July is now only 5% contained while the Carr fire is completely contained. The map again generalizes all of the fires and labels them as contained and burning while most of the fires are somewhere in between.

Overall the map of the California wildfires provides an inaccurate representation of what is happening in California. But would viewers ever question the accuracy of the map? In an article by The Washington Post it was stated that people do not question the accuracy of Google maps, despite the fact that there are many errors on Google maps. Similarly, with the map of California no one is going to question whether the information is correct. The article continues to say that our species trust in Google is completely unsafe and unjustifiable. As humans we tend to trust the information we are given; however, when it comes to our safety we should be relying on accurate information. For those living in California the map above does not provide accurate information about the dangerous wildfires which could put thousands of people in danger. Since the beginning of the 2018 fire season tens of thousands of California citizens have been evacuated. If a California resident were to google a map of the wildfires, and saw the one above, they would not know how close the fires are to them or the seriousness of the fires. On a different note, if an organization wanted to send help to California and saw the map above, they would not be able to tell which areas needed help the most.

Overall the map above does not accurately provide information about the wildfires in California. This is because the map is drawn in a way that displays each of the fires as an icon of the same size, rather than using size to show the differences between fires. The only difference in the fires is that some are labeled as contained. In reality each of the fires are burning at a different size and each are a different level of contained. This brings up another point made by Denis Wood, the power of a map. According to Wood, people underestimate the power of a map, and that the power of the map is still waiting to be unleashed. He even goes as far to say that “many of the maps they’re making are extraordinary and powerful”. This is true, the maps we make hold more power than we may realize. The map of California for example holds the power to show viewers how dangerous and just how server the wildfires really are. Wood believes that it is the mapmakers have a responsibility to provide accurate information because of the power maps hold. As a society we do not question that what we see on maps could be inaccurate, as a result Woods is right, maps do hold a power that we have yet to recognize.

The Deceiving Nature of Maps

In today’s day and age, most people get their news online and use digital maps rather than the old-fashioned globes that now only seem to appear in school classrooms, if even at all. While this might be more convenient and useful in the technology driven world, it causes problems that most people don’t even think about. The distortion of size, shape, or area of countries (or entire continents in the case of Africa) can really change the way people think about certain places and how much they care about events going on in these places.

For example, in the article from class where the Ebola outbreak was discussed, people in western countries who see the news more than others didn’t care as much as they should’ve. The news outlet labeled Nigeria wrong and made it look like it was a landlocked country. However, it actually has one of the most popular airports in all of Africa in Lagos and it’s also on the coast where there are multiple trade patterns that go in and out of ports on the coast of Nigeria every day. Once the people that were previously uneducated about the location of Nigeria found out where it really was, they cared more about the Ebola outbreak knowing now that the odds of it leaving the country were higher.

More recently, new sources of formic acid have been discovered in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The map from the image  above shows the concentrations of the acid, where it’s distributed and distance from the coast. Although I’m not sure where the large concentrations are coming from, I do know that this acid is corrosive to the skin and it’s something people should care about when they decide to plan tropical vacations surrounded by high concentrated areas. Although the information on this map is clear and it seems to demonstrate the issue, there are some major problems with it. It hinders the understanding of the issue because of the center they chose and the size of Africa. The center should’ve been the Pacific Ocean because that’s where the highest concentration is. With the larger section of red together in the center, it’s more likely that it’ll attract the attention of readers and hopefully expose the issue at hand. Also, Africa looks smaller than it’s, as it does on many maps, but this time it affects the understanding of the issue because the red section is along the coast and the coast is a lot longer than it looks on the map. In cases like this, with something dangerous to people, it’s important that maps are accurate and represent the issue at hand.

Furthermore, social media in relation to the maps online plays a very large role in how people view issues around the world. Related to the article about the formic acid in the oceans, there is another article about the formic acid in the troposphere layer of the atmosphere. This article talks about how often this topic of the effects of the troposphere or the formic acid is talked about in social media, how it’s “trending”. There are only four news outlets that are talking about this issue and it was only blogged about and tweeted about by one. This could be a result of the maps made by the makers that do not show the true level of concern that this issue deserves.

Moreover, similar to the activity from class, this article discusses the importance of the size of countries and how they are distorted by the maps. Due to the fact that people do not use globes anymore, as mentioned before, it’s imperative that the maps online are accurate and give a realistic ratio of size relative to one another so problems are not blown out of proportion, or on the other hand, they are taken seriously when they should be. In addition to the continent of Africa that always seems to be made too small on maps, the two countries that are affected the most are Greenland and Antarctica at the poles. While they are not that big, they seem to be much larger on digital maps because the poles are stretched out along the edges of the map. This matters because since the beginning of learning about countries, geography and empires being formed thousands of years ago, size has always been an indicator of power in the world. The bigger the empire was, the more power they had. Of course, it’s not the only factor and today more indicators matter, like how strong the economy is and the medicine and technology they have; however, size is still relevant. Arguably the most powerful countries right now are China and the United States and they are definitely not small countries. Map makers need to keep that in mind when distorting the size of the countries, it affects their view to other people, especially kids learning this for the first time in school.

Some people might argue that the common distortions of maps (size, area, shape) aren’t important when in reality it’s just to understand the location of the countries, continents and oceans. They would say that it’s more important to understand what goes on in the countries. However, this is an invalid argument because there’s no way to truly understand what is going on in a country if people can’t understand the size of the country for population density and relative distance to other countries for trading and more economic reasons. Maps are the key to understanding the interconnected global economy.

Contrasting from the last article, another article that was talked about in class was the map that was so accurate that it fit into a globe when it was folded up. This shows the other side of the issue previously talked about and demonstrates how helpful it is to have an accurate map to teach students and to use in general to understand the relationships between countries, trade and different economies. Something interesting about this map is that it doesn’t have the same center that maps usually have. Maybe that’s the key to an accurate map because the Earth is round so why do people keep making the same flat map with distorted sizes? It doesn’t need to be a rectangle like they have been.

 

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.