Airlines

A map of the plane routes that fly between America and Western Europe.

Energy

A map of how the world transmits power. The orange lines are pipes, the white lines are power lines, and underwater cables are blue.

North America

The masses of North America slowly give way to the wilds of Canada.

Japan

The cities, transportation, and power of Japan and China.

China

The transportation of China and Southeast Asia. The thin line penetrating the Himalayas is the Qingzang railroad to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

Europe and Asia

The cities, transportation, and power of Western Europe and Eurasia.

2011-11-14

Our Massive Impact On Earth, In Glowing Maps

Whether it’s building cities, railroads, or even power lines, our interconnected world has a heavy footprint on the rest of the environment. These mind-blowing renderings by the cartographers at Globaïa show the awe-inspiring power of human ingenuity.

We’re a very young species in geological terms. Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Homo sapiens didn’t show up until 2 million years ago. But in our short stint so far--and especially since the industrial revolution--humans have changed the planet’s ecosystem in profound ways. We’ve built sprawling megacities and transportation networks to connect them, altered the composition of the atmosphere and the ocean, and even--gulp--changed the climate.

Some scientists think this epoch of human influence deserves its own geologic name, like the Pliestocene or the Pliocene. In 2000, the Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen proposed calling it the Anthropocene. Next summer, the International Commission on Stratigraphy may make that label official.

Meanwhile, Globaïa, an educational organization that aims, among other things, to promote “a better understanding of big history,” recently created a series of stunning maps to help us all wrap our heads around what this era looks like. Globaïa calls the project “A Cartography of the Anthropocene.”

The maps were created by anthropologist Felix Pharand-Deschenes, using data from a variety of government agencies. They tend to focus on our cities and the transportation and communication networks that serve as civilization’s nerve fibers and arteries. Several of them show roads, shipping lines, and airline routes. Others show the world’s energy infrastructure: the transmission cables and underwater pipelines that keep our lights on. (Note how much sparser they are in Africa.)

In addition to the maps we’ve featured here, the Globaïa site has many more. The project also includes an alarming collection of charts that illustrate the rapid expansion of human influence by many different measures, from the rise of shrimp farming to the proliferation of McDonald’s restaurants.

Looking at civilization this way is both daunting (how can we ever stop climate change?) and a little awe-inspiring. We humans are not just another species. We’re an incredibly disruptive force, for better or worse.

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11 Comments

  • vr14all69

    First step toward mapping neural networks in Gaia,! Planet Earth!

    What would the noosphere depiction,

    Thata the only  way forward,dear people.

    Cheers

  • Himagain

    Pictures are pretty. Works slightly with people and kids for a little while. A bigger impact is by graphs - especially column graphs, e.g. showing life expectancy (even today, after the culling) for Australian Aborigines vs the white Immigrants/invaders. 
    But, at the end of the day as Stalin reputedly pointed out: "One death can be a tragedy, but a million is simply a statistic".  
    When numbers become too large/horrific, we simply ignore them. 

  • Cdminsc

    Most, if not all of this "data" is totally bogus! What a waste of space and electricity to read and worry about this!

  • Tavis Allen

    I currently have this as my wallpaper.  It is a great every day reminder of the world in which we inhabit.

  • Andy VanAtta Kieffer

    It knowledge so sadly absent from the modern mindset.  We should use mass media to make certain knowledge, intelligence widespread and common?

  • Cstager

    Great piece, and amazing visuals.  About "The Anthropocene": Paul Crutzen didn't invent the term but is merely its most widely cited promoter. His neglected coauthor on the 2000 paper, ecologist Eugene Stoermer, is the real source.

  • Makabusi

    Andrew
    Try thinking about the primary life giving element -  motion. Visit www.et3.com to see the beginning of a new transportation system for all our continents.