“As winter approaches each year, a haze of toxic smog envelopes vast swaths of northern India, including the capital New Delhi, forcing authorities to shut schools and restrict the use of private vehicles. Unlike southern parts of the country, most arid regions of northern India, including New Delhi, struggle with dust, a common air pollutant. Environmental experts say New Delhi’s topography hobbles efforts by authorities to stave off the spike in pollution. In recent years, the problem has been exacerbated by the burning of crop residues in Punjab and Haryana states, part of the farm belt that borders New Delhi. Relatively prosperous farmers from Punjab and Haryana, India’s grain bowl, have started using mechanised harvesters to gather the rice crop, partly to overcome the problem of rising labour costs.” SOURCE: Al Jazeera
Mexico City has a reputation for horrible air pollution–and rightfully so–but Delhi’s air pollution is worse and this year it is off the charts. Much of India faces air pollution problems, but northern India, and especially Delhi sees the convergence of urban, agricultural, demographic, and environmental factors to exacerbate the problems. Geographic problems are often intertwined and is a good issue to use a S.P.E.E.D. or E.S.P.N. activity.
Do you need a case study on how to explore big data like the Observatory of Economic Complexity with students to uncover geographic patterns? This site let’s you ask interrelated questions and enter a rabbit hole of economic, geographic data. This is one of the best online tools for student projects in geography, so let me show you how the data visualizations can be used to make concrete observations that will unearth spatial relationships.
While I was wondering about the world largest coffee exporters, I looked at the Observatory of Economic Complexity’s data visualization tools. I was expecting to find mostly tropical countries where coffee is grown. I was baffled to find that Germany was listed as a major coffee exporter, along with many other Western European countries.
This at first seemed like a misprint but many European countries like Germany import import green coffee beans from a variety of tropical countries, so they are a major producer of coffee without growing a single bean. In fact, the world’s largest single port for shipping coffee is Hamburg.
The highlands of East Africa were the original hearth of coffee beans and today, countries like Ethiopia and Uganda export green coffee beans overwhelmingly to European countries which in turn, roasts them and then exports them internationally.
African coffee growers face some steep difficulties when it comes to exporting roasted coffee. This “value added” step would certainly increase the trading power of their agricultural commodities on the international trading market, but many European coffee labels already dominate that step in the commodity chain and have the made deep in-roads with consumers.
Exporting the finalized roasted coffee is but a very small part the overall German economy (the largest of the light green boxes-0.26% of total exports). For Ethiopia however, coffee exports is a major component of all their international trade (34.6%). Ethiopia produces something of high value, but is not positioned to extract a lot of profit from that commodity.
This is the crux of what makes decisions about free trade/fair trade difficult for individual consumers that are hoping to “vote with their pocketbook” to put their dollars in economic practices that they approve of. Commodity chains of so many products have become increasingly complex and these goods are more connected with far more places and workers than most would imagine. Simply reading the label does NOT tell the full story of most products and the economic geographies that produced them.
This is just one story about the global economy that can be unearthed by exploring the Observatory of Economic Complexity. Were you wondering about Ethiopia’s cut flowers or Uganda’s gold? There is an entire network of economic relations that waiting to be uncovered if you are curious and willing to explore the data. This is why it is one of the best online tools for student projects in geography.
This video from 60 Minutes (Nov 8th, 2020) is about many things related to the United States government’s plan to distribution a vaccine. The “oh so American” name of this is Operation Warp Speed, because clearly time is of the essence. I’m not a medical doctor or a chemist so I don’t want to focus on the creation of a vaccine, let’s just imagine that a workable vaccine is in place. What I want you to consider is this: how would you get this vaccine to the American people? This is a logistics problem and it requires a geographic solution. In the video (right around the 1:55 mark), you will see Geographic Information Systems (GIS) being used as key tools to make more informed decisions (notice the variety of data layers being used to jointly to understand the process better). As the great geography educator Joseph Manzo said, “Geography cannot solve all of the world’s problems; but no problem can be solved without Geography.”
There are many simmering conflicts around the world that are not fully resolved but that can intensify very quickly because the underlying issues remain tense even in periods of relative calm. The Armenia/Azerbaijan conflict centers around the ethnic Armenian enclave (Nargorno Karabakh) inside Azerbaijan. To make things more complicated, there is an exclave of Azerbaijan (Nakhchivan) to the west of Armenia.
There have been ethnic/political tensions is this region for generations, but the collapse of the Soviet Union changed the status quo, and there was a cease-fire called in 1994, but that has dissolved in the last few weeks. Now, Turkey and Russia are both seeking to resolve the dispute (or carry out their regional ambitions if you like to approach this more cynically). This shows how a border conflict between two countries can quickly become a broader that can polarize the international community as countries “pick sides” in the conflict. While this is a distressing bit of news for global security and peace, this is a excellent case study to explore many political geographic topics; enclaves, exclaves, borders, sovereignty, devolution, international conflict, etc..
Al Jazeera (10/14)-Updates: Turkey denies accusations, Russia calls for truce
*The Sunday Times-Azerbaijan and Armenia accuse each other of breaking ceasefire
*The Jacobin Magazine-What’s Really Driving the Azerbaijan-Armenia Conflict
Usually when we are talking about refugee topics, we think about it the immediate problems in refugee camps and the conclusion of all these problems will be resettlement of the refugees to a safer place…or so we think. I love this video for so many reasons, but especially because it concentrates on the many obstacles confronting refugees AFTER they are resettled in a new country. This documentary, Home Across Lands (FULL 1-hour version available here. The 8-minute version is available on Vimeo) was produced a little over 10 years ago by a Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based film company. This film is an intensely local portrayal of the many difficulties for refugees in a new country. Many haven’t heard about Eritreans refugee camps in Ethiopia, but this article from the Irish Times will give some context on the issue.
Questions to Ponder:
1-Why did so many of the Kumana need to leave Eritrea?
2-What were the economic difficulties of living in the Shimelba refugee camp?
3-What are some some of the political/legal challenges for refugees in a refugee camp?
3-What are some of the cultural struggles for refugees upon arriving to the United States?
4-What are some of the economic difficulties for refugees upon arriving to the United States?
5-How does the fact of refugees leaving impact their original homeland and it’s culture? How does the fact of refugees arriving to a new place impact their new home?
“The wonders of modern medicine and nutrition make it easy to believe we enjoy longer lives than at any time in human history, but we may not be that special after all.” SOURCE: BBC
This BBC article explores many of our assumptions about demographic issues before statistics were recorded. This article especially looks at the notion that our life span has been increasing throughout history. This would be a good article to get some background information about stage 1 of the demographic transition. In a nutshell, the article’s premise is that just because life expectancy is increasing, it does not mean that our lifespan is the main reason. The main reason life expectancy has improved is that more children are surviving their early years not because we have extended the lifespan of elderly so much.
“Cheese from all around the world comes in different forms, textures, and colors, from white to blue. It’s eaten in many different ways, and some cheeses have legends or myths behind their invention Let’s take a look at what cheese looks like around the world.”
Geographers are drawn to videos like this that give a quick tour around the world. The Travel Insider video channel has a few great examples that show how distinct regional variations in food production create cultural distinct local customs. Food production is inherently cultural, and these videos show how local flavor creates a series of regional variations.
While I’m a fan of the “cheese around the world” video, I’ll include some other of my favorites below. Linked here is a great article showing the amazing diversity of breads around the world. On the food them, there is desserts around the world, sandwiches from around the world, street foods around the world, breads around the world, and off the food topic, but still very cultural, wedding traditions around world as a sampler for the channel.
So many things about society have been reshaped by the emergence and spread of Coronavirus this last year. I would encourage you to consider what some of the geographic factors that have shaped your world, but how the new wrinkle of a pandemic is either amplifying the effect of reversing some old patterns. Distance, scale, density, diffusion, regions, interactions, and connectivity are some of the many factors you may wish to consider. There are many articles to consider but I would like to share a few.
Economic: Covid-19 has reshaped many industries; some for the better, but many more for the worse. The garment industry has taken many early hits as clothing shopping (unlike grocery shopping) was not considered essential. Some that retrofitted their operation to mask production were able to rally but many parts of the clothing commodity chain have been negatively impacted (Source: South China Post).
Cultural: Wearing masks have become a critical part of the global fight against the pandemic. Some societies before the pandemic had strong mask-wearing cultures (like Japan), while other had cultural norms against wearing masks in public (like France). The pandemic is changing France and many Niqab-wearing Muslims have thoughts on masking wearing and connected cultural issues (Source: NPR podcast).
Mapping: We’ve seen so many maps stemming from the spread of COVID-19, but these maps have us reconsider our neighborhoods and our places of interaction during pandemic were all the “normal” rules of interaction got upended. How 2020 Remapped Our Worlds (Source: CityLab).
We often think of the only what we can see as a part of the landscape, but often forget that the cultural landscape can be a full sensory experience. The architecture of the Hagia Sophia is recognized as a iconic landmark, but the acoustics of the building are a major part of the creating the experience of being in that place. Once a cathedral, then a mosque, and now a museum, this building is one of the classic examples of sequent occupance. This NPR podcast shows how some have recreated the soundscapes of the Hagia Sophia, back when is was the preeminent medieval Christian place of worship. This YouTube playlist has the Capella Romana’s album, The Lost Voices of the Hagia Sophia.