One of my classes ("Your Future World") studies the physical, cultural, political, historical, and economic geography of the 10 countries the United Nations has forecast to be the world's most populous in 2050. The list itself comes as a surprise to most students. As we close out 2016 and prepare to watch a clock count down to a new year, it is instructive to spend a few minutes watching a world population clock, ticking up the births and deaths around the world.
The Worldometers clock includes a real-time look at population growth in the world and in the 20 countries that were the most populous at the beginning of 2016: www.worldometers.info/world-population/ The Poodwaddle clock shows real-time population growth in the world and by continent: www.poodwaddle.com/worldclock/pop/
In ancient Athens, the New Year started with the sighting of the first new moon after the summer solstice. In Brazil and a few other countries in Latin America, it is considered lucky to welcome in the New Year wearing new red or yellow underwear.
Learning about New Year's traditions around the world blends history and cultural geography with a little vicarious travel: http://www.fathertimes.net/traditions.htm provides detailed information on dozens of countries' New Year's traditions, www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/worlds-strangest-new-year-traditions pairs great photos with contemporary New Year's traditions around the world, and http://www.almanac.com/content/new-year-traditions-around-world explains some of the history behind many of the traditions.
As of 2012, the most recent year for which data have been released, 12 U.S. states had more opioid prescriptions than people: Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina, and Ohio. (And all 12 states voted the same way in the 2016 presidential election.) This map, complied from CDC data by PBS's Frontline, shows the number of opioid prescriptions per 100 adults. (The darker the green the higher the ratio.) www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/how-bad-is-the-opioid-epidemic/
Foreign policy experts across the U.S. have contributed to the Council on Foreign Relations 2017 survey on international hotspots for the year ahead. Potential threats were ranked by their likelihood and their impact on the United States. Leading the list of flashpoints: an intentional or unintentional military clash between Russia and NATO in Eastern Europe, a crisis provoked by North Korea (triggered by weapons testing, military provocation, or internal collapse), and a cyberattack on critical U.S. infrastructure. For the full summary or to download the report, see www.cfr.org/conflict-assessment/preventive-priorities-survey-2017/p38562
The Arctic Circle passes through eight countries* and is the northernmost of the five major circles of latitude (e.g., Equator, Tropic of Capricorn). The precise location of the Arctic Circle varies with the tilt of the earth on its axis but is defined as the southernmost location from which the sun is still visible at midnight at least once a year and from which the sun is not visible at noon at least once a year. This geography imposes unusual conditions, beyond the cold, for life above the Arctic Circle. This article details some of the surprising adaptations of the reindeer (or caribou) to its extreme geography: www.bbc.com/earth/story/20151209-why-reindeer-noses-are-more-amazing-than-you-think
*Can you name all eight countries without looking at a map?
[answers: Russia, Canada, the U.S. (in Alaska), Denmark (in Greenland), Iceland (in territorial islands), Norway, Sweden, and Finland]
Yellowstone is perhaps the largest and most famous supervolcano, but it is a supervolcano near Naples, Italy, whose recent rumblings are concerning scientists. The last eruption of Campi Flegrei, the Italian supervolcano, may have contributed to the end of the Neanderthals. The map below shows the locations of the world's supervolcanoes. (The red VEI-8 volcanoes have historically produced larger eruptions than the orange VEI-7 volcanoes.) To read more about Campi Flegrei, whose name means "fields of fire," see news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/12/supervolcano-campi-flegrei-stirs-under-naples-italy/
Especially for Christians, Christmas is an important day. Although there is a wide variety of opinion about which God to worship and how, the majority of people in the U.S. and in the world believe there is a God. Many philosophers, from the ancient to the contemporary, have considered the existence of God from a philosophical perspective (as opposed to a scriptural or observational perspective, which would fall in the realms of theology and science, respectively). This short article provides a nice summary of the main branches of philosophers' ponderings on the existence of God: io9.gizmodo.com/the-7-most-intriguing-philosophical-arguments-for-the-e-1507393670
I hope your day is lovely no matter what you may believe.
If you're roasting chestnuts and wondering where they might be from, this cartogram provides some clues. A cartogram is a map weighted for a particular variable, which in this case is chestnut production. (If you're having trouble recognizing the countries: China accounts for about 85% of commercial chestnut production, followed by Turkey, Italy, South Korea and Bolivia, with lesser quantities grown in Greece, Japan, Portugal, North Korea, and Spain.) www.viewsoftheworld.net/?p=4681
Most of us can't travel the world to see and do amazing things, but anyone with an internet connection can share in the work of scientists, explorers, anthropologists, photojournalists, and others vicariously. National Geographic has uploaded hundreds of video clips from their Live! events -- everything from Paul Sereno on becoming a paleontologist and "How Finding Blue Whale Poop Changed My Life" to work on robotic insects, a peek into the lives of North Koreans, and a journey down the Colorado River. video.nationalgeographic.com/video/ng-live
These stunning maps of river basins were created using geographic information system (GIS) software to track each river and its tributaries. www.iflscience.com/environment/these-colorful-maps-show-that-river-basins-are-surprisingly-interesting/
Remittances -- the money sent by immigrants and expatriates to relatives in their home countries -- is a major income source for some countries (exceeding 10% of GDP) and occasionally a leverage point in relations between countries. The Pew Research Center has assembled a fascinating interactive map showing remittance flows around the world. www.pewglobal.org/interactives/remittance-map/
The American Museum of Natural History has produced this video showing the spread of humans across the globe and the development of major population centers over time. As the end of the video notes, "It took 200,000 years for our population to reach 1 billion. And only 200 years to reach 7 billion." www.amnh.org/explore/science-bulletins/(watch)/human/news/human-population-through-time
As the electoral college prepares to vote, here is one more look at a pair of unusual electoral maps from The New York Times. The map on the left shows the land areas Donald Trump won. The map on the right shows the land areas Hillary Clinton won. www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/16/us/politics/the-two-americas-of-2016.html?smid=pl-share&_r=2
There are two boxes: Box A contains $1000 and Box B contains either a million dollars or nothing at all. You have two choices: you can take them both or you can take only Box B. But there's just one catch: a Being* that has demonstrated an extremely high rate of accuracy in predicting your choices has already predicted your choice and that prediction has determined the contents of the boxes. If the Being predicted you would take both boxes, Box B will be empty. If the Being predicted you would take only Box B, Box B will contain a million dollars. Which do you take?
Known as Newcomb's Problem, this thought experiment has bedeviled philosophers, economists, and decision theorists since it was introduced by Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick in 1969. If you think it's straightforward, you might want to read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/alexs-adventures-in-numberland/2016/nov/28/newcombs-problem-divides-philosophers-which-side-are-you-on or http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/egghead/2002/02/thinkinginside_the_boxes.html
*can be interpreted as a genie or God, but could be something no more supernatural than an advanced Google algorithm
Based on data from Trip Advisor, this map shows the most popular tourist attraction in each country.
Looking for another gift idea to promote outside-the-box learning? In addition to the wonderful National Geographic flagship magazine, the National Geographic Society publishes the new-ish National Geographic History, bringing more of the who, the what, and the when to the where. Gift subscriptions to both are available through the NGS website https://shop.nationalgeographic.com/category/magazines or you can save $5 on a subscription to History here: tinyurl.com/hf9so28
The University of Texas Energy Institute has produced a detailed interactive tool to show what types of power plants would be the least expensive means of delivering new electricity in counties across the U.S. The interactive map is here: http://calculators.energy.utexas.edu/lcoe_map/#/county/tech The full report is here: energy.utexas.edu/the-full-cost-of-electricity-fce/fce-publications/#calculators
The Global Climate Risk Index, based on 20 years of data (1996-2015), finds the 10 countries that have experienced the greatest impact from weather-related loss events (storms, floods, heat waves, etc.) have been Honduras, Myanmar, Haiti, Nicaragua, Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vietnam, Guatemala, and Thailand. There is a high degree of variability from year to year, though, depending on annual monsoon and storm patterns. For instance, in 2015, the most impacted countries were Mozambique, Dominica, Malawi, India, and Vanuatu. A variety of factors, including substandard housing and reliance on agriculture, make less developed countries particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. germanwatch.org/de/download/16411.pdf
Students in one of my classes design their own city on the last day of class, and, invariably, they design a city with streets. But one of the earliest examples of a city -- Catalhöyük, in south-central Turkey -- was built without streets: people walked over the roofs of the buildings and entered the buildings via holes in the roof! Catalhöyük was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. www.catalhoyuk.com/site/architecture
A cartogram is a map that's been weighted for a particular variable, which in this case is religion. This cartogram shows the distribution of the world's biggest "faith" groups. www.viewsoftheworld.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/WorldReligions.jpg
One of the enduring problems posed by Plato's analogy of the cave is that if we are all inside the cave seeing shadows instead of reality, how do we assess new claims presented to us about what's true and what's not? Does [fill in the blank] really cure arthritis? Is [fill in the blank] really a good investment? Is [fill in the blank] really running a sex ring out of a local pizza place?
A new study by the Stanford History Education Group finds that even those who have grown up immersed in online information -- middle school, high school, and college students -- have a dismal track record when it comes to being able to identify real news from fake news and news from advertising. To read more about the study, including a link to the executive summary, see ed.stanford.edu/news/stanford-researchers-find-students-have-trouble-judging-credibility-information-online.
Plato thought people with "real" knowledge would not be believed by those accustomed to living in the shadows of the cave. He underestimated how open we have become to believing all sorts of things. The Stanford study is a teachable moment: talk with your kids -- and your parents -- about how to evaluate the credibility of new "information," including online information. (If I had a dollar for every time a student told me, "But Google said....")
This map marks major European cities but shows the name of a city of the same latitude elsewhere in the world. The comparison highlights the impact of physical geography -- e.g., the role of the Gulf Stream in maintaining Western Europe's more-temperate-than-latitude-would-suggest climate, the chilling effect of being stuck in the middle of a land mass -- on human geography. 3.bp.blogspot.com/-d2w2x6eO_xU/WCIXYQ0L3aI/AAAAAAACgws/Nja_ZOGlJgIz0wz1o8zknfYWrvfM7Am8wCLcB/s1600/the%2Bsame%2Blatitude%2Bcities.jpg
Looking for an unusual holiday gift that will inspire an interest in geography, history, even science? Students love the coins and stamps I use in my classes, and you can generally buy an interesting assortment of stamps or coins for less than $10. For $9 you can buy a pound of foreign coins (some old, some new, some from countries that no longer exist) at Coins of the Realm in Rockville. Or you can buy an assortment of stamps or even an old album (a great history resource!) at Maryland Stamps & Coins in downtown Bethesda. Most stamp and coin stores will bend over backwards to help you find a small gift to start a collection.
This geo-graphic shows the per capita allotment of each country's national debt. (The countries in pink have a national debt that exceeds their annual GDP.) howmuch.net/articles/per-capita-debt
What do people in Turkey, Iran, and the Arab world think about the war in Syria, the roles of the United States, Russia, and Iran in the region, and causes of extremism, violence, and instability? You can find out next Thursday at 11:30 when pollster James Zogby releases his most recent data at the Middle East Institute. The meeting is free and open to the public, but advance registration is requested. www.mei.edu/events/polling-middle-eastern-views-current-conditions-and-road-ahead
Blog sharing news about geography, philosophy, world affairs, and outside-the-box learning
This blog also appears on Facebook: