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Animation: Human Population Growth Over All of History

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Imagine that for every million people on Earth, there was a single dot on a map.

In total, that would be about 7,600 dots – representing today’s global population of 7.6 billion.

But, what if we went back in time, and watched those dots accumulate over human history? When and where do the first dots appear, and when does population growth ramp up to get to the billions of people that are alive today?

The History of Population Growth

Today’s animation comes from the American Museum of Natural History, and it shows over 200,000 years of population growth and the major events along the way.

If you consider yourself on the more impatient side of things, we suggest starting at 1:50 which will zoom you to 400 AD – the time of India’s Golden Age. Alternatively, go to 3:25 to witness the Bubonic Plague’s rare negative impact on population growth, as well as the ensuing age of European exploration.

It took 200,000 years of human history to get to one billion people – and just 200 years to reach seven billion.

That’s partly how the exponential “hockey stick” growth curve works, but it is also a factor of improvements in living standards, sanitation, and medicine that came after the Industrial Revolution.

Key Population Moments

Here are a few moments that stood out to us in the video, that we think represent particularly interesting moments in human population history:

Agriculture

The impact of farming cannot be emphasized enough. For many thousands of years, the human population dwindled until we learned how to plant crops to provide a scalable and sustainable food supply for a hungry population.

Farming's impact on population growth

As you can see, after agriculture starts spreading, the human population quickly skyrockets. It is estimated to have reached roughly 170 million by the year 1 AD.

East vs. West

The Greeks and Romans were interesting cultures to us in many ways – but one thing that is sometimes missed with a Western education is the sheer size of Indian and Chinese civilizations.

Roman Empire extent

The above screenshot is from close to the territorial peak of the Roman Empire – notice its size in comparison to the Han Dynasty in China, as well as the area that is modern-day India.

Bubonic Plague

The Black Death, which started in 1347, didn’t do much to increase Europe’s population.

Bubonic Plague

In fact, this was one of the rare times that global human population growth went backwards for multiple decades.

Post-Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution brought innovations to food and medicine, and kickstarted an era that would be usher in the birth of many new technologies.

This screenshot is from close to 1900, when these innovations started to make rapid global population growth a reality.

Industrial Revolution

Over the next century, the population would more than quadruple to today’s seven billion plus people.

The Future of Population Growth

Naturally, this leads to thinking about the future of the human population.

For that, we recommend visiting these two prior animations: The 20 Most Populous Megacities in 2100 and The World’s Population by Region in 2100.

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Visualizing the World’s Top Plastic Emitting Rivers

Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans – much of it through our river systems. See which rivers are polluting the most.

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Visualizing the World’s Top Plastic Emitting Rivers

Every year, approximately eight million metric tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans – the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic every single minute.

Every plastic fork and bottle cap bobbing along the surface of the ocean has made its way to the ocean from dry land at some point. As it turns out, the hydrological cycle that keeps water circulating around the planet is also an effective means for trash to hitch a ride from our riverside cities to the open ocean.

As today’s unique, vintage-themed map – via John Nelson at ESRI – visualizes the shocking amount of plastic emitted by major rivers in the world.

Plastic Superhighways

It would be hard to overstate plastic’s influence on modern life.

Unfortunately, when plastic is finished doing it’s job, only 10% of it ends up being recycled. Instead, much of the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced each year ends up in the ocean, congregating in places like the Pacific Garbage Patch.

Plastic discharge is especially pronounced in large population centers along large rivers – particularly in rapidly urbanizing regions in China, Indonesia, and Nigeria.

River plastic emissions to the world’s oceans

Waste management practices are limited to non-existent in many of Asia’s fast-growing urban areas, so it comes as little surprise that 14 to the top 20 plastic emitting rivers are located on that continent.

The mighty Yangtze – China’s largest river – supports a population of over 400 million people and is the most prolific emitter of plastic waste on the planet. Over 1.5 million metric tons of plastic is unleashed into the Yellow Sea from the river each year.

Stemming the Tide

Plastic emissions data makes one point clear – China is the key to decreasing the volume of trash entering our ocean ecosystems.

The good news is that the Chinese government has recognized the problem, mandating garbage sorting in nearly 50 cities and setting a target for at 35% recycling rate by 2020. A positive first step in the battle to stem the tide of plastic entering ocean systems.

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Upward Momentum: Charting a Year of Skyscraper Construction

Nearly 150 skyscrapers were completed around the world last year. Find out which cities and regions are growing skyward the fastest.

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Ever since the first towering spires broke through the clouds in New York and Chicago, skyscrapers have remained a potent symbol of economic might.

The tallest buildings require vast amounts of materials, expertise, and capital to make them a reality, but the cities that add these landmarks to their skylines gain prestige and send a powerful message to competing economic centers.

Skyscraper Construction in 2018

Where are the most skyscrapers popping up? Let’s take a look at regional hot-spots around the world.

Charting a Year of Skyscraper Construction
Note: For the purposes of this article, “skyscraper” will refer to buildings 656 feet (200 meters) or more in height.

China is Flying High

For well over two decades, China has led the world in skyscraper construction, and 2018 was no exception.

The country’s fixation on urban growth and continued economic success is producing tall buildings at a staggering rate. Last year, a mind-boggling 89 skyscrapers were completed in 28 different cities around China.

To put this building boom into perspective, China completed more skyscrapers in one year than New York City’s entire stock of 656ft and taller buildings.

Skyscrapers in China

In 2018, no city reached for the stars quite like Shenzhen. The city, which is a hub of China’s high-flying tech sector, now has the second-most skyscrapers in the world, surpassed only by Dubai.

Shenzhen isn’t just building a lot of skyscrapers, it’s building extremely tall ones too.

In 2017, for example, the ribbon was cut on the massive Ping An Finance Center, which is currently the 4th tallest building in the world. Last year alone, four new towers cracked the 1,000ft (300m) barrier.

Asia, Rising

While China’s scale is hard to beat, other cities in the region are also undergoing dramatic changes, particularly in Southeast Asia. Malaysia and Indonesia completed a combined 13 new skyscrapers, and the Vincom Landmark 81 was added to Ho Chi Minh City’s growing roster of unique skyscrapers.

While there are two skyscrapers under construction in Japan – one in Tokyo and one in Yokohama – none of them were completed last year.

A New Era of American Skyscrapers

After a two-decade lull in skyscraper construction, the United States is embracing taller buildings again. Last year alone, the U.S. added 14 new skyscrapers into the mix, particularly in New York City, where construction cranes dot the horizon. In the past decade, NYC has added 25 new skyscrapers to its iconic skyline.

This trend is showing no signs of slowing down. Between now and 2022, 44 skyscraper projects are expected to be completed in the United States, with the vast majority being built in the Big Apple.

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