Our World in Data

The Geoscheme overview showing the 22 of the 26 different areas. Missing are: Antarctica, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean.

One of my sources of information is Our World in Data (OWID). Their mission is to publish the research and data to make progress against the world’s largest problems. They write:

Poverty, disease, hunger, climate change, war, existential risks, and inequality: The world faces many great and terrifying problems. It is these large problems that our work at Our World in Data focuses on.

Thanks to the work of thousands of researchers around the world who dedicate their lives to it, we often have a good understanding of how it is possible to make progress against the large problems we are facing. The world has the resources to do much better and reduce the suffering in the world.

We believe that a key reason why we fail to achieve the progress we are capable of is that we do not make enough use of this existing research and data: the important knowledge is often stored in inaccessible databases, locked away behind paywalls and buried under jargon in academic papers.

There is general agreement that after World War II, there was a decline in wars until the 1970s and 1980s, when it increased, especially in Asia. War declined again in the 1990s and early 2000s, but rose again, starting about 2012. The 2011 Arab uprisings led to conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen. NATO’s incursion into Libya caused instability that resulted in an ongoing crisis in the Sahel region. In 2014, there was the Russian invasion of Crimea. In 2020 there was the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave; another war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region; military conflict in Myanmar starting in 2021; Russia’s 2022 assault on Ukraine. In 2023 war started again in Sudan and Gaza.

OWID is also concerned about democracy. Here they write: Democracy is in decline, whether we look at big changes in the number of democracies and the people living in them; at small changes in the extent of democratic rights; or at medium-sized changes in the number of, and people living in, countries that are autocratizing… The extent of this decline is substantial, but it is also uncertain and limited. We can see it clearly across democracy metrics: the world has fallen from all-time democratic highs to a level similar to earlier decades. But the extent of this decline depends on which democracy measure we use. And it is limited in the sense that the world remains much more democratic than it was even half a century ago… Finally, the recent democratic decline is precedented, and past declines were reversed. The world underwent phases of autocratization in the 1930s and again in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, people fought to turn the tide, and pushed democratic rights to unprecedented heights. We can do the same again… Using the [Regimes of the World] RoW data, the chart shows that the world has become less democratic in recent years. The number of democracies in the world reached an all-time high in 2016, with 96 electoral democracies. In 2022, their number has fallen to 90 countries.

People should probably devote some time attempting to understanding the world’s political and economic situation, on a regional basis. Even before the pandemic changed everything, many people felt they were simply pawns in an economic game. After the pandemic, they were even more convinced of their pawn status.

Geoscheme is my personal approach to organizing and understanding geographical regions. I have used it for so many years, that its origins are lost in the depths of time. There are many maps with regions. At some point, I appropriated one for my own purposes, creating an alphabetic coding in the process.

The regions, along with my codes, are:

Africa: [A] Southern Africa; [B] Eastern Africa; [C] Middle Africa; [D] Western Africa; [E] Northern Africa. Europe: [F] Southern Europe; [G] Western Europe; [H] Northern Europe; [I] Eastern Europe + North Asia. Asia: [J] Western Asia; [K] Central Asia; [L] Southern Asia; [M] Eastern Asia; [N] South-Eastern Asia. Oceania: [O] Australia and New Zealand; [P] Melanesia; [Q] Micronesia; [R] Polynesia. Americas: [S] Northern America; [T] Caribbean; [U] Central America; [V] South America. Other: [W] Antarctica; [X] Atlantic Ocean; [Y] Pacific Ocean; [Z] Indian Ocean.

There are 26 different regions, with some more important than others. Because of their large populations and economic impact, southern Asia and eastern Asia are especially important. One approach to exploring regions is to review them using an assigned week number. I use ISO week numbers, with each week beginning on a monday. USA and Canada have a different approach, with each week starting on a sunday. Thus, this weblog post was published towards the end of week 14. This means that my geographical focal area this week is region N, the 14th letter in the alphabet, which involves south east Asia and Oceania.

I spend more time diverging from than focusing on the Geoschema region. For example, this week I spent time reading about crime writer Garry Disher (1949 – ) and the Mornington Peninsula, south east of Melbourne. The recent collapse of the Baltimore Bridge, encouraged me to learn more about it. According to Geoscheme, I should have waited until week 19, which starts on 2024-05-06. The key is to allow some degree of flexibility.

Other information sources

As I age I feel less need to see the world in person. The internett provides most of my information. In addition to OWID, there is Wikipedia, TED-talks, The Guardian newspaper and Slashdot. We also subscribe to one paper Newspaper, Inderøyningen, that arrives weekly on fridays.

For a maximum of one hour in the evenings, I allow myself to sit in the comfort of an Ikea Poeng chair in a television nook, and see an edited perspective on some aspect of the world, viewing documentaries with texting = closed captions, and sound. Television avoids the excesses of heat, cold, drought and insects, and the trauma of volcanoes and earthquakes. This week we have watched a three part series about the 2015-04-15 earthquake in Nepal.

We have numerous epub books that are managed by Calibre and are stored in a database on our server. When someone wants to read an e-book, the book can be transferred over to a Kobo e-reader (of which we have three) or read on a computer using appropriate software. Most of Trish’s reading is done with an e-reader, while she is knitting.

I use my e-reader much less, and prefer to read paper books. Yes, we also have a library filled with paper books. I am currently reading Blood Red, Snow White (2007), a historical young adult novel by Marcus Sedgwick (1968 – 2022), set in Russia during the revolution, a fictional account of author Arthur Ransome (1884 – 1967), but containing explainers about events from 1905 to 1919.

Next week’s weblog post will be posted on sunday, not saturday. It is about Rachel Carson, and will commemorate her life on the 60th anniversary of her death, 1964-04-14.