By James Mallinson
As we celebrate Earth Day 2022, we enjoy the opportunity to find new ways to visualize our world and the important information about it. Just today, Pascal Bornet (@pascal_bornet) posted this visualization of the world’s population density created by Tyler Morgan Wall (@tylermorganwall) via Twitter.
The image of the Earth from this perspective can reinforce concepts of which we were already aware – consider the “red hot” swaths of high population density through northern India, along China’s Pacific coast, and throughout southeast Asia. But it can also catch us by surprise by what’s not there – most of northern Canada and Russia’s Far East are gaping voids, and Australia can only be identified by the string of population centers creating an outline along its coasts. If you didn’t know that there was a continent there, you might think it was just a clustering of islands between the southern Indian and Pacific oceans!
Population growth and the dynamics of humanity’s interactions with the Earth yield a swirl of questions that researchers across multiple disciplines are working to answer, and geography is at the center of all of it. Humanity has managed to defy previous strongly-held beliefs about the limitations of growth, with the Earth’s population jumping from 2 billion people in 1927 to today’s estimated 7.9 billion, a near-quadrupling in under a century. The consequences of this massive growth in such a short time, from climate change to human migration to cultural conflict, aren’t nearly understood. We’re living in the middle of it, and it’s an enormous challenge to have an informed conversation about it while changes continue to happen and new data emerges on a daily basis. How humanity will navigate these challenges can continue to both fuel conflict and inspire innovation.
The American Geographical Society looks forward this Fall to giving some of our leading geographic thinkers a forum to discuss our collective future at our 2022 Fall Symposium, Geography 2050: The Future of Food. Does humanity have both the resources and the know-how to continue to support a growing population like it did with the 20th Century’s “Green Revolution?”
But in the meantime, on this Earth Day, we hope you take a moment to think on what a special place we inhabit in the universe. To date, we’ve not yet found anything like it. If we all do our part to think about the best ways to conserve and care for its precious resources, including each other, we can hope to gift a better world to future generations, wherever they think best to cluster themselves.