Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Numbers Askew

Newsnight's Ethical Man, Justin Rowlatt, has investigated how India's economy copes with pollution and carbon emissions.

The India episode
got off to a poor start with this repeated mantra in its programming announcement:
India puts out three times the C02 emissions of Britain but the average Briton is responsible for 11 tons of C02 per year while the average Indian only two.
The line gets under the skin, balanced and even handed as it comes off; it's not anything of the kind. Forget the old apples and oranges comparison and consider it more along lines of, say, cherries and water melons. Britain's a small Island in the North Atlantic; India a subcontinent. Replace the word India in that sentence with the United States or China and you have a sense of how absurd its sounds to state the obvious.

Michael Crichton, along with others in the past, have pointed to how The Mercator projection- a 16th Century creation that projects a a flat map on to a globe has misrepresented land areas of nations. While It's served well as a navigational tool in the past its distortions of land size scales the further it moves from the equator are extreme. Greenland is the same size as the China on its scale. Despite these flaws it's been pervasive in its influence used in maps and atlases the world over and still not abandoned, even today, see it for example in the popular program, Google Maps.

The Peter's Map on the left here gives a sense of the inaccuracy of the familiar Mercator image on the right. Notice how the Southern hemisphere expands to its true relative size.

The various mistakes of scale are outlined in a clear way in the same website.

In many ways the assumptions of the world today have been put into place by a post war world war II reality. These perceptions are less sure of themselves today.

The U.N security council is still run by the winners of WWII, along with the one exception China- a nod to the reality that could not be ignored.
The others in the permanent five, the winners in question as few need reminder, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

India, Japan, Germany and Brazil all lobby for inclusion. With their now enormous stake in the world's economy it does not look like they can be kept out of that club for too much longer, especially when France and the United Kingdom will become more peripheral, unable to match larger accelerating nations.

Russia, China and the United States , the proverbial immovable objects and irresistible forces at once. Their sizes and populations assure their place.

Russia, it should be noted is in a league of its own.Compare the relative land sizes of the world's largest nations here and consider the numbers for a moment.

Canada is the second largest nation in the world - albeit with too sparse a populace to be a major player- but Russia is almost twice its size. India is 7th on this list. The United Kingdom is 76th below such little heard of nations as Burkina Faso and Gabon.

Eddie Izzard gives a fun summary of Empires.

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