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Map of World Population, Year 1AD, 1500AD, and 2000AD; and some questions.

September 15th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“The Worldmapper Team” has recently released some astonishing cartograms, illustrating various aspects of humanity on this planet. Cartograms are land maps usually with some demographic information expressed on them. Their maps are fascinating to look at, because they help expand our imagination and allow us to ask some profound questions without feeling silly. Of particular interest to me were the world population maps, and for reference, here is year 2000 (which should be familiar as India and China are the two largest populations):

Worldmapper Population Cartogram (Map 2) © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan). Sourced under Creative Commons License.


We are so used to the modern sense of nation states, so does it mean population are confined to their political borders forever? China has the one child policy (though relaxed for minorities), and I can see population growth being controlled there. What about for countries like India? What about for any country on the map having out of control population growth such that the land confined by national borders can no longer sustain?

It is commonly known the most effective way to combat climate change is to reduce the birthrate for humans. Well, how do we achieve fairness on the question of birthrate between countries? How should this issue be framed?

Population Year 1AD

The map above is Year 1AD – 2000 years ago. This is how The Worldmapper team captioned it:

The population two thousand years ago is estimated to have been 231 million. At this time North and South America were sparsely populated, as was Asia Pacific. The estimated population of New Zealand was zero. Southern Asia, Northern Africa, China and Southern Europe (parts of the same land mass) had relatively high populations. Colder Northern latitudes tended to have lower populations.

The territories that now encompass the Ganges, Tigris, Yangtze, Nile and Po rivers were the most populous.

Many people think that India’s and China’s population growth were a modern phenomenon. But in fact, these two countries have always had disproportionately large populations since ancient times. If anything, North American population actually grew at an astronomical rate in modern history, as you will see in the next two maps. I think it is indeed fair to refer to India and China as ancient civilizations. Is there anything inherently different about India and China given this fact?

By 1500AD (map below), India’s and China’s population proportionately remained steady. Everywhere else seems to have bulked up. Look at Japan, Europe, and North America.

Population Year 1500AD

Fast forward another 500 years, and we are looking at 1960 below. Of course, around 1960, the world had just came out of two world wars; World War 1 and World War 2. Compare Europe’s map for Year 1500 and Year 1960. Europe had a decline. And, that’s not surprising given Europe took part in both wars. But, look especially at North America and South America. The U.S. and Brazil, especially, went throw a very rapid expansion during these few centuries.

Population Year 1960AD

Click over to the World Mapper web site, you will get to see the projected population in year 2300. We are at 6 billion now. By 2300, the U.N. estimated human population will reach 9 billion. That raises all sorts of questions.

Will this planet be able to sustain that many people? My pessimistic guess is that humans are going to fight each other to death if resources become scarce and technology cannot create abundance. Ultimately, land-mass is critical, because that dictates how much sun and energy will be bestowed on the inhabitants (okay, assuming fossil fuel runs out eventually). Hence I raised the question above – will national border be maintainable under scarce resource conditions?

There is a race against time too. As populous nations like India and China grow economically, their citizens will want to consume more. Is it sustainable if they consume at similar rate to their developed country counterparts? If the ‘average’ must converge somewhere in between, then developed nation citizens will be pressured to reduce consumption. It is not a one way street – where the developing nation citizens are forever expected to live on lowered standards.

How many real friends does planet earth have?

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