“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.
“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.
While this article focuses often on the nutritional aspects of Parmigiano-Reggiano, I want people to notice the understated importance of place and the cultural ethos surrounding the production of this product. True, it is an economic industry for the region, but it is also a defining cultural characteristic of the place and a way of life. The place makes the product and the product makes the place.
"Every region enjoys pumpkin pie. But beyond that, there are three Americas: The America that disproportionately has apple pie (New England and the Middle Atlantic), the America that has pecan pie and sweet potato pie (the assorted South), and the America that consumes cherry pie (the Midwest and West)."
This visualization shows Crop Intensity data (regions that produce the most crops), followed by the MODIS croplands product, the 26 countries that produce 82% of the world’s food, the population density in 2002 and finally the projected population in 2050.
This video is an excellent summary of the geographic factors that lead to food insecurity and hunger and the main ways NGO’s are trying to combat the issues. This is an incredibly complex problem that, at it’s heart, is a geographic issue that can challenge student to synthesize information and make the connections between topics.
This set of 15 maps on how land is used in the 48 contiguous U.S. states is a phenomenal resource to visualize how we use our land (admittedly this does exclude Alaska and Hawaii, but given that Alaska’s land use patterns can skew the patterns considerably). This is especially useful in agricultural units, but has many other applications.
"The vast majority of fishing vessels follow the rules governing fishing – but many are not, and these bad actors can cause a lot of damage. Vessels may take too many fish – overfishing – which is causing our fisheries to collapse. Then there is the problem of illegal fishing, which can occur in protected areas, in another country’s waters or on the high seas. This threatens jobs and food security for millions of people, all around the world.
The trouble is, so much of this illegal activity is hidden – it happens out to sea, making it difficult to scrutinize what individual vessels are getting up to. Fortunately, we are now beginning to see what happens after commercial fishing vessels leave port.
The interactive map we created allows anyone in the world with an internet connection to see the activities of the commercial fishing fleet globally."