2014-11-13

Worldshapin Sizes Up Global Economic Indicators With Loopy Shapes

A new visualization tool lets you see how the world’s countries are progressing toward more healthy and equitable societies, and how much it’s ruining the planet to get there.

Even though the global financial system seems on the brink of (another) collapse, away from stock markets and central banks, developing countries around the world are slowly pulling their citizens up from poverty. This shift brings with it an increase in quality of life: more education, better health care, higher living standards. But one unfortunate fact, given our current economy, is that these advancements can’t happen without a commensurate increase in pollution and carbon emissions. Just think of China: Not so long ago it was a country of mostly farmers with little environmental impact. Today, it’s a thriving economy, but it’s also pumping out massive amounts of greenhouse gases. A new interactive infographic called Worldshapin lets you track these changes for every country in the world.

Worldshapin is part of Visualizing.org's challenge to use the U.N. Human Development Index, which tracks numerous statistics about development around the world. Specifically, Worldshapin takes the country rankings for health, education, workplace equality, and standard of living, and plots them on a circle. The closer toward the edge of the circle, the higher the ranking. The site also adds something that the HDI doesn’t track: carbon emissions and CO2 per capita. With all of these plotted together, each country forms an odd polygon that gives some idea of how developed it is, and the correlation between that development and its emissions.

Now consider the United States. In 1980 (the earliest year Worldshapin has data for), we were a developed country with a lot of emissions. But as you track us from 1980, through 2000 and 2011, you can see our development indicators slowly creep up, especially workplace equality. So does our CO2.

The U.S., 1980. Click to zoom.
The U.S., 2000. Click to zoom.
The U.S., 2011. Click to zoom.

Worldshapin also lets you compare countries. If you look at China plotted against the U.S., you can see China, which starts with very low indicators in almost every category, save workplace equality, where it beats the U.S., slowly increase both its emissions and living standards until its actually polluting more than the United States.

U.S. vs. China, 1980. Click to zoom.
U.S. vs. China, 2000. Click to zoom.
U.S. vs. China, 2011. Click to zoom.

India shows a more extreme version of the same process. Starting as a tiny emitter with very little health, education, or living standards, the country begins increasing the emissions in 2000, just as life starts getting a little better there. In India, though, more pollution is almost a leading indicator. India is one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide, but its HDI scores aren’t near what the other big carbon-emitting countries are.

India, 1980. Click to zoom.
India, 2000. Click to zoom.
India, 2011. Click to zoom.

More than an examination of macroeconomics, though, Worldshapin is a fun, informative toy. Make fun shapes! And in the process find out that Mongolia actually has greater workplace equality than America. Now, look for a country where quality of life increases aren’t tied to growing carbon emissions—let me know when you find it.

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