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Animation: The Heartbeat of Nature’s Productivity

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Animation Nature

Animation: The Heartbeat of Nature’s Productivity

Even the most ferocious predator must rely on simple plants for vitality. That’s because without the conversion of carbon dioxide to organic compounds, entire food chains would cease to exist.

Photosynthesis is quite the catalyst for life, yet it’s easy to overlook this humble chemical process. But what if you could see its results scaled across the globe?

The Pulse of Nature

Today’s unique cartogram animation comes from geographer Benjamin Hennig at Worldmapper, and it depicts ongoing cycles in the productivity of ecological systems around the world. Created with Yadvinder Malhi from the University of Oxford, the researchers factored the daily net photosynthesis value over an 8-day interval of satellite observations, and extrapolated the trends for a year.

The outcome? A pattern of gross primary productivity (GPP) – the net amount of energy produced by land plants during photosynthesis – resembling the rhythmic impression of a “heartbeat”.

Here’s how a big-picture of average annual productivity ends up looking:

Nature

Location, Location, Location

Although the entire biosphere harnesses the sun’s energy, it’s clear this varies greatly based on both region and season. For example, desert areas such as the Sahara or Australian Outback occupy relatively low productivity areas on the map.

The taiga biome, a boreal forest made of coniferous trees such as pines, accounts for nearly a third of the world’s forest cover. Since the largest boreal areas are in Russia and Canada, it’s no wonder their productivity shrinks dramatically when it gets a bit cooler up north. When these areas slow down in sub-zero temperatures, their tropical neighbors to the south do the heavy lifting.

If forests are considered the world’s lungs, then the Amazon in South America and Congo forest in Central Africa help us all breathe a bit easier. The two largest forests act as crucial “carbon sinks”, trapping carbon that would otherwise be converted to carbon dioxide.

It’s also why rapid deforestation of these areas is cause for alarm. Many environmental scientists suggest that our human impact on forests could intensify global warming.

But there is good news – since the 1990s, the rate of net forest loss has declined by almost half. Progress fares differently across the regions:

Image Source: United Nations

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Environment

Visualizing the Scale of Plastic Bottle Waste Against Major Landmarks

Today’s stunning visualization depicts the incredible scale of plastic bottle waste accumulated globally in each hour, day, month, year, and decade.

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One Decade of Plastic Waste

Visualizing the Scale of Plastic Bottle Waste

By the time you’re finished reading this sentence, tens of thousands of plastic bottles will have been sold around the world.

The ubiquitous plastic bottle has proven to be a versatile and cost-effective vessel for everything from water to household cleaning products. Despite this undeniable utility, it’s becoming harder to ignore the sheer volume of waste created by the world’s 7.5 billion people.

Today’s data visualization from Simon Scarr and Marco Hernandez at Reuters Graphics puts into perspective the immense scale of plastic bottle waste by comparing it to recognizable global landmarks, and even the entirety of Manhattan.

Plastic Wasted in One Hour

One Hour of Plastic Bottles

Original image from REUTERS/Simon Scarr, Marco Hernandez.

Every hour, close to 55 million bottles are discarded worldwide. When accumulated, the pile would be higher than the Brazilian Art Deco statue, Christ the Redeemer.

Towering over Rio de Janeiro at 125 feet (38 meters) and with arms outstretched to 98ft (30m), the statue still pales in comparison next to the combined plastic bottle waste over this time period.

Plastic Bottle Waste: Daily and Monthly

One Day of Plastic Bottles

Original image from REUTERS/Simon Scarr, Marco Hernandez.

In the span of a day, over 1.3 billion bottles are discarded. If you were to take the elevator up the Eiffel Tower (which has a total height of 1,063ft or 324m), you’d reach the tip of this pile about halfway up.

Fast forward this by a month, however, and it’s a different story. The Eiffel Tower seems like a figurine next to a heap of approximately 40 billion tossed plastic bottles.

plastic bottle waste one month

Original image from REUTERS/Simon Scarr, Marco Hernandez.

Scaling this up, data from Euromonitor International reveals that over 481 billion plastic bottles are now wasted annually.

Accumulated, this would dwarf even Dubai’s famous Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure at an impressive 2,722ft (830m).

A Decade of Plastic

According to Reuters, nearly 4 trillion bottles were sold in the past ten years, each contributing to a 7,874ft high pile of plastic (2.4km).

plastic bottles decade

Original image from REUTERS/Simon Scarr, Marco Hernandez.

If all plastic bottle waste were piled up in this manner, New Yorkers would see a translucent mountain every time they looked out their window rising to over half the elevation of the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountains, which is 14,440ft (4.4km) high.

The Global Flow of Plastic Waste Since 1950

Plastic bottles are just the tip of the iceberg for single-use plastics. Other examples include plastic bags, food packaging, coffee cup lids, and straws. As plastic use continues to flourish, even our best attempts at managing waste are falling short.

In fact, only an abysmal 6% of all plastic produced since 1950 has been recycled, with the majority ending up in landfills as litter, or getting incinerated.

Global Plastic Consumption Flow

Original image from REUTERS/Simon Scarr, Marco Hernandez.

Our plastic use is on an unsustainable trajectory, but countries are taking specific actions to curb use. Canada and the European Union (EU) will ban certain single-use plastics by 2021—and they are among 60 other nations enacting similar policies.

Corporations are also taking steps to reduce impact. A good example of this is Unilever, which made a commitment to make all its packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.

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An Investing Megatrend: How Climate Change and Resource Scarcity are Shaping the Future

Learn how climate change and resource scarcity are affecting our most basic needs, and how investors can take advantage of this growing megatrend.

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climate change and resource scarcity

If you’ve ever played with dominos, you’re familiar with their cascading effects. Gently nudge one piece, and the force will ripple throughout the rest.

This process of cause and effect works much the same way in society and business: as global forces take hold, their effects are deeply intertwined with the financial markets.

The Climate Megatrend

Today’s infographic comes from BlackRock, and it explains how one such megatrend, climate change and resource scarcity, will be a long-term opportunity for investors.

Climate Change and Resource Scarcity

Earth in the Hot Seat

In 2018, global CO2 emissions rose 1.7% to the highest level since 2013. These rising emissions have intensified the effects of climate change, with 2015-2018 being the four hottest years ever recorded. Society and the economy are starting to feel its negative consequences:

  • Extreme weather events have become more frequent. In particular, floods and other hydrological events have quadrupled since 1980.
  • In hotter, wetter conditions, infectious diseases spread more easily—between 2004-2017, total tick-borne illnesses increased by 163%.
  • The global insured losses from natural catastrophes was $79 billion in 2018.
  • Extreme weather effects, and the health impact of burning fossil fuels, cost the U.S. economy at least $240 billion in 2018.

It’s clear that climate change is having an immediate, serious impact on the world.

Many see climate change as a long-dated future risk, however, our research findings show that compared to the 1980’s, there are measurable GDP impacts in the market today

-Brian Deese, Global Head of Sustainable Investing at BlackRock

In addition to these issues, climate change is contributing to another problem: it’s becoming harder to feed the global population.

Over 7 Billion Mouths to Feed

Climate change significantly threatens global food security. As glaciers melt, the world’s freshwater supply—including what’s available for food production—melts with it. This is a significant problem, considering that between 2,000-5,000 liters of fresh water are needed to produce one person’s daily food intake.

As an added hurdle to food production, supply and demand are pulling in opposite directions.

The share of total employment in agriculture has dropped significantly over time. Even worse, among the food that is able to be harvested, roughly 30% is lost or wasted globally.

On top of limited resources, the world will have to contend with forces driving up food demand.

  • Population growth: By 2050, the global population will grow by about two billion.
  • More calorie-rich diets: As emerging economies grow their wealth, their populations seek richer foods like meat and dairy products.

How can society combat these pressing issues?

A Greener, More Plentiful Future

As society works to slow climate change and produce more with less, a myriad of investment opportunities will emerge.

  • Renewable energies are becoming increasingly competitive.
  • Electric & fuel cell vehicles are growing in market share.
  • Products made from recycled materials are appealing to environmentally-conscious consumers.
  • Agricultural machinery counters the declining workforce and increases productivity.
  • Precision agriculture leverages real-time environmental data to help farmers make decisions.

Climate change and resource scarcity will be a driving force behind the actions of consumers, companies, and governments for years to come.

By staying attuned to this megatrend, investors will be able to spot long-term opportunities.

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