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Human worlds

  • Written by  Benjamin Hennig
  • Published in Mapping
Human worlds Benjamin Hennig
02 May
2015
Humans have touched every part of the world. Or have they? Benjamin Hennig uses maps to explore

The effects of humans on the global environment are perceived to be so significant by some scientists that there is a currently running argument that as a species we have become a major driving force in environmental change on a par with the forces of nature. It is this rapid impact that has led some geologists to unofficially name (but not, as yet, officially recognise) this very recent period of Earth’s history as the Anthropocene.

Putting criticism and disputes over the geologic validity of this idea aside, the effects of human population and economic development as part of the processes of globalisation influence the natural environment as much
as the natural environment previously determined the existence of human life across the globe. The major communication and transport infrastructure links that shape the human planet form one part of our footprint.

The information of an interconnected world redrawn in the above map was assembled by Globaïa, an organisation which raises awareness concerning the global changes that characterise the Anthropocene. The individual layers that emerge in the image show built-up areas and the light pollution of cities (white/yellow over land), roads (green), railway lines (orange) shipping routes (white/blue over sea), pipelines (red), transmission lines (blue) and submarine cables (yellow over sea).

hennigImage: Benjamin Hennig

In this gridded population cartogram the most populated areas get most space (reducing the depopulated areas), re-projecting the layers of human action and interaction accordingly. The cartogram puts a special focus on the dense network of links within the areas where people live. Rather than being a mere image of densely built up areas with a clutter of infrastructure, this map highlights some significant differences: The distribution of lights from the brightest cities where all the global connections merge dominates the wealthier parts of the world. In addition, areas such as the east of the United States show a complex cobweb of all other elements displayed in the map.

The African continent is characterised by having far fewer communication lines and even far less railways than many other parts of the world. Similar characteristics emerge in the shipping routes, giving an indication of the unequal connections of global trade routes and the imbalance of the underlying patterns that have such a high impact on the planet’s resources.

The human impact affects the entire planet, but for a large part of the world’s population the planet is far less a global village than a one-way street that channels its resources such as oil or gas to the spaces that are the real worlds of the Anthropocene.

Benjamin Hennig is a senior research fellow in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. He is involved in the Worldmapper project and maintains the visualisation blog www.viewsoftheworld.net.

This article was published in the May 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

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