There was always a globe in my grade school classrooms. I loved to spin it around and imagine traveling to exotic places. But most of all I loved finding my own spot and thinking about my bit of the earth as part of the whole globe.

Interactive maps have taken visualizing our vast world and also contemplating our own little spot on it to new levels. Here are 5 maps that are trying to help us think globally and act locally.

If ItWereMyHome.com allows us to compare our country to other countries around the world. For instance, if I lived in Afghanistan instead of the U.S., I would have 24.7 times higher chance of dying in infancy 3.8 times more chance of being unemployed 2.8 times more babies Die 33.59 years sooner Use 99.94% less electricity Consume 99.73% less oil Make 98.28% less money Spend 98.67% less on health care This map brings the BP oil spill home to those of us who don’t live in the Gulf area. With a click of a button you can see how far the devastation would spread from your own from door if your house were the epicenter.

Speaking of oil spills and other environmental misfortunes, check out this map provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If you want to know what cases the EPA concluded in 2010, you can find the ones in your neighborhood, or anywhere in the country. They are broken out by categories: water, air, waste, chemical. Yikes! I just found one a few miles from my house who was fined $87,400 for storage of hazardous waste for more than 180 days without a license or interim status. Hope you have better luck checking out this site.

So, if you can stand a little bit more tough love from the web, check out the map on the Toxic America website, How toxic is your state? Click the map on your home state and get the dirty details on

  • Benzene, which can cause brain damage and blood disorders Dioxin, which can compromise your immune system
  • Lead, which will damage your brain and kidney
  • Mercury, which can cause damage to your brain, kidneys and developing fetuses
  • TCE, which has consequences that range from headaches and lung irritation to nerve, kidney and liver damage and even death

These are some of the nasties.

The Breathing Earth simulation displays the CO2 emissions of every country in the world, as well as their birth and death rates. Click on a country and it will tell you many things, including how many tones of CO2 have been emitted. It adds a sense of urgency when you realize that these figures are “since you started watching” and are changing constantly. Try clicking on China and watching the numbers spin on people being born.

On a more hopeful note, Urban EcoMap is a proposed system that seems to only be operational in San Francisco and Amsterdam so far, but I hope it will spread. According to this website, San Francisco is one of the cleanest and greenest cities in the U.S. They have great mass transit, used renewable energy sources and recycle 72% of their trash. They intend to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels AHEAD of the Kyoto Protocol. A map like this may help them succeed. This map lets citizens have a front row seat in how greenhouse gas emissions are being generated in their city and what they can do about it.

5 replies

  1. Well I have just compared living in Latvia to living in the US
    use 4.1 times more electricity
    spend 6.6 times more money on health care
    consume 3.6 times more oil
    make 3.2 times more money
    have 43.98% more chance at being employed
    have 39.7% more babies
    live 5.82 years longer
    have 28.52% less chance of dying in infancy
    experience 25% more of a class divide
    be 25% less likely to have HIV/AIDS

    That’s a lot of energy consumed. Thanks for the link

    • You aren’t kidding, Joanna. That was something that stood out to me too when I explored this map. As a nation, the U.S. is burning through the world’s known energy reserves like we are trying to win a race to the end.

      And what do we gain from it? Not health or happiness. Social scientists have done a lot of work comparing happiness between nations. I’d like to see a map of that.

  2. hmmm….it does seem that I might have been better off if my mother hadn’t brought us to the USA. France does use less energy, thought it seems I might have had less money (though I’ve always been close to the poverty line in the USA), but my health care coast would have been 49.1% less AND I might live almost 3 years longer in France. Besides, the weather is better (than Wisconsin). But, I like Madison and anyway – I’m stuck here. :o)

  3. geeez – I just looked at the EPA site and saw the photo and info regarding the strip-mining that is done on the mountains in West Virginia. It’s gut wrenching.

    • Yes, the U.S. doesn’t really look so good when compared to many other places. I remember as a child — firmly believing I lived in the best place in the world. I believed it because that’s what everyone said.
      Then I got a chance to live in the Netherlands, and were my eyes opened.
      From a very selfish standpoint, I’m glad you mom moved to the U.S., Monique.

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