Monday, April 6, 2009

'The Breathing Earth'

There are a number of websites that display continuously updated information on things like traffic densities, national population, birthrates, infant mortality, and other demographic statistics. One of the more elegant – and disturbing - of these sites is ‘The Breathing Earth Simulation’ maintained by David Bleja. The site’s dashboard provides the viewer with a world map, with subdued brown, maroon, and ochre hues, all color-keyed to depict CO2 emissions.

There are also little starbursts, representing births and deaths, constantly popping up for various nations. There is a world population counter in the lower right of the dashboard that updates how many people have been born, and how many have died, since you first accessed the web page.

‘The Breathing Earth’ can lead observers into a kind of Zen-like trance, as the little world population counter turns over, and the birth and death starbursts wax and wane in countries like Brazil, India, and China. Over time, you will get a creepy feeling as the implications of those changing numbers and little icons start to seep into your consciousness.

‘The Breathing Earth’, needless to say, would have been a great teaching tool back in the late 60’s – early 70’s when the Population Bomb era was in full swing. I can’t help but imagine how Ehrlich, Moore, the Paddocks, and Commoner may have reacted if they had been able to watch ‘The Breathing Earth’ simulation back in, say, ’72. I’m sure it would have had a troubling, even traumatic, psychological effect.

For today’s citizens, most of whom are unaware of the population problem confronting many nations in the 21st century, ‘The Breathing Earth’ is an absorbing way to present a complex environmental and political topic without being didactic.

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