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:
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
Ranked: Nuclear Power Production, by Country
Nuclear power accounted for 10% of global electricity generated in 2020. Here’s a look at the largest nuclear power producers.
Nuclear Power Production by Country
Nearly 450 reactors around the world supply various nations with nuclear power, combining for about 10% of the world’s electricity, or about 4% of the global energy mix.
But while some countries are turning to nuclear as a clean energy source, nuclear energy generation overall has seen a slowdown since its peak in the 1990s.
The above infographic breaks down nuclear electricity generation by country in 2020 using data from the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS).
Ranked: The Top 15 Countries for Nuclear Power
Just 15 countries account for more than 91% of global nuclear power production. Here’s how much energy these countries produced in 2020:
|Rank||Country||Number of Operating Reactors||Nuclear Electricity Supplied|
|#5||South Korea 🇰🇷||24||152,583||6.0%|
|Rest of the World 🌎||44||207,340||8.1%|
In the U.S., nuclear power produces over 50% of the country’s clean electricity. Additionally, 88 of the country’s 96 operating reactors in 2020 received approvals for a 20-year life extension.
China, the world’s second-largest nuclear power producer, is investing further in nuclear energy in a bid to achieve its climate goals. The plan, which includes building 150 new reactors by 2035, could cost as much as $440 billion.
On the other hand, European opinions on nuclear energy are mixed. Germany is the eighth-largest on the list but plans to shutter its last operating reactor in 2022 as part of its nuclear phase-out. France, meanwhile, plans to expand its nuclear capacity.
Which Countries Rely Most on Nuclear Energy?
Although total electricity generation is useful for a high-level global comparison, it’s important to remember that there are some smaller countries not featured above where nuclear is still an important part of the electricity mix.
Here’s a breakdown based on the share of nuclear energy in a country’s electricity mix:
|Rank||Country||Nuclear Share of Electricity Mix|
|#13||South Korea 🇰🇷||29.6%|
|#17||United States 🇺🇸||19.7%|
|#19||United Kingdom 🇬🇧||14.5%|
European countries dominate the leaderboard with 14 of the top 15 spots, including France, where nuclear power is the country’s largest source of electricity.
It’s interesting to note that only a few of these countries are top producers of nuclear in absolute terms. For example, in Slovakia, nuclear makes up 53.6% of the electricity mix—however, the country’s four reactors make up less than 1% of total global operating capacity.
On the flipside, the U.S. ranks 17th by share of nuclear power in its mix, despite producing 31% of global nuclear electricity in 2020. This discrepancy is largely due to size and population. European countries are much smaller and produce less electricity overall than larger countries like the U.S. and China.
The Future of Nuclear Power
The nuclear power landscape is constantly changing.
There were over 50 additional nuclear reactors under construction in 2020, and hundreds more are planned primarily in Asia.
As countries turn away from fossil fuels and embrace carbon-free energy sources, nuclear energy might see a resurgence in the global energy mix despite the phase-outs planned in several countries around the globe.
Mapped: 30 Years of Deforestation and Forest Growth, by Country
Where are the world’s forests still shrinking, and where are they seeing net gains? We map deforestation by country between 1990-2020.
Global Deforestation and Forest Growth over 30 Years
Forests are the great carbon capturers of our planet, and they are a key source of wildlife habitats and vital resources for people around the world.
But deforestation is threatening this natural infrastructure, releasing carbon into the atmosphere while simultaneously reducing wildlife diversity and making our environment more susceptible to environmental disasters.
This graphic looks at global deforestation and forest growth over the past 30 years, mapping out the net forest change by country and region using data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The State of Deforestation by Region
Today, forests make up around 31% of the Earth’s total land area, spanning 15.68 million square miles (40.6 million km²). Over the past three decades, the world lost a bit more than 4% (685,300 square miles) of its forests, which equates to an area about half the size of India.
Europe and Asia were the only two regions which had significant overall forest growth during this time period, while Oceania saw no significant change and North and Central America saw a slight reduction.
|Region||Forest area change (1990-2020)||Percentage change in forest area|
|Asia||+146,718 sq mi||+6.64%|
|Europe||+88,803 sq mi||+2.34%|
|Oceania||+1,057 sq mi||+0.0015%|
|North America and Central America||-7,722 sq mi||-0.34%|
|South America and the Caribbean||-501,932 sq mi||-13.30%|
|Africa||-409,268 sq mi||-14.29%|
|Global total||-685,401 sq mi||-4.19%|
Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization
Africa along with South America and the Caribbean were the regions with the greatest amount of net forest loss, both losing more than 13% of their forests over the past 30 years. This is largely because these two regions have large amounts of forest area available, with the underlying land in high demand for agriculture and cattle-raising.
Although the overall forest loss around the world is massive, the rate of forest loss has slowed down over the past three decades. While an average of 30,116 square miles were lost each year between 1990 to 2000, between 2010 to 2020 that number has dropped to 18,146 square miles, showing that the rate of overall loss has fallen by almost 40%.
The Countries and Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Growth
Despite an overall slowing down of forest loss, certain countries in South America along with the entirety of Africa are still showing an increase in the rate of forest loss. It’s in these regions where most of the countries with the largest reduction in forest area are located:
|Country||Net change in forest area (1990-2020)||Percentage change in forest area|
|Brazil||-356,287 sq mi||-15.67%|
|Indonesia||-101,977 sq mi||-22.28%|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||-94,495 sq mi||-16.25%|
|Angola||-48,865 sq mi||-15.97%|
|Tanzania||-44,962 sq mi||-20.29%|
|Myanmar||-41,213 sq mi||-27.22%|
|Paraguay||-36,463 sq mi||-36.97%|
|Bolivia||-26,915 sq mi||-12.06%|
|Mozambique||-25,614 sq mi||-15.29%|
|Argentina||-25,602 sq mi||-18.84%|
Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization
Brazil, home to most of the Amazon rainforest, saw 356,287 square miles of net forest loss, largely fueled by farmers using the land to raise cattle for beef. It’s estimated that 80% of the deforested land area of the Amazon has been replaced with pastures, with the resulting beef production known to be among the worst meats for the environment in terms of carbon emissions.
The other great driver of deforestation is seed and palm oil agriculture. These oils account for about 20% of the world’s deforestation carbon emissions, and their production concentrated in Indonesia and Malaysia is now expanding to other Asian countries along with Africa.
While the demand for beef and palm oils drives deforestation, initiatives like the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) are providing incentives to protect forest land.
Select countries in the European Union along with the United Kingdom and South Korea have committed $494.7 million to six central African nations (Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo) for them to preserve their forests and pursue low emission pathways for sustainable development. The initiative has seen $202 million transferred thus far and an anticipated reduction of 75 million tons of CO2 emissions.
Forests and the Climate Crisis
It’s estimated that forests absorb around 30% of the world’s carbon emissions each year, making them the greatest and most important carbon sinks we have on land. When you pair this with the fact that deforestation contributes around 12% of annual greenhouse gas emissions, the importance of forest preservation becomes even more clear.
But we often forget how much forests protect our environment by acting as natural buffers against extreme weather. Forests increase and ensure rainfall security, making nearby land areas significantly less susceptible to wildfires and natural droughts in hot and dry seasons along with flooding and landslides in wet seasons.
With every dollar invested in landscape restoration yielding up to $30 in benefits, reducing deforestation and investing in reforestation is considered an effective way to reduce the difficulty and costs of meeting climate and environmental protection goals. This is without even considering the benefits of maintaining the world’s largest wildlife habitat and source of species diversity, the home of the nearly 70 million indigenous people who live in forests, and the livelihood of 1.6 billion people who rely on forests every day.
Preserving and Regrowing Forests for the Future
Despite the short-term acceleration in forest loss seen in 2020, there have been positive signs about forest regrowth coming to light. A recent study found that previously deforested land can recuperate its soil fertility in about a decade, and layered plants, trees, and species diversity can recover in around 25-60 years.
Along with this, in some instances these regrowing “secondary forests” can absorb more carbon dioxide than “primary forests”, giving hope that a global reforestation effort can absorb more emissions than previously thought possible.
From better financial incentives for local farmers and ranchers to preserve forest area to larger scale policies and initiatives like CAFI, curbing deforestation and promoting reforestation requires a global effort. Reversing forest loss in the coming decades is a daunting but necessary step towards stabilizing the climate and preserving the environment that billions of animals and people rely on.
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