Map of population density


This is a map of the world-wide population density in 1994,
based on NASA data.
A much higher resolution version is here.

It's very impressive in my opinion. The centre of gravity of mankind is obviously in Asia. The "Western" regions of the world appear to have a rather mediocre population density.

I know the figures and many maps, but this kind of map is every time a kind of wake-up call.

It lets me take those people who want to stem against the Western world's loss of influence (beyond its frontiers) less seriously.
We are rich, educated, trained, experienced and have a huge capital stock. The sheer quantity of humans in Asia will likely still trump this in the long run. The benefits of being influential are doubtful anyway, swimming against a current is rarely advisable - why do that many people insist on maintaining "influence", "reach" and "power" in such distant places that are clearly in the periphery of other powers?

This isn't really about Afghanistan.
It's about the growing quantity of voices which talk of the Indian Ocean as an important area of operations for European navies in the future.
It's also about apparent Western-driven containment policies in Central Asia and East Asia.

Sure, population ain't everything. Yet, as a democratically-minded individual I've got some difficulties grasping the logic behind the idea that we Westerners should (or are entitled to) exercise global, decisive influence. I hope that we won't stumble stupidly into unnecessary great wars because of the insistence on global meddling.



  1. Sven,

    This is something that I often hear in debate.

    An interesting analysis is to see where, historically, population densities have occurred. The west has always been subordinate to the rest of the globe in terms of population densities, but it doesn't seem to have mattered historically in relation to the powers those states held. The computer game Europa Universalis drummed this home to me and, without turning this too far into the sphere of the geek, the economic and population modelling within that software is an easy and illuminating way to identify historical power status quos.

    I agree that those areas matter as they have a huge amount of humanity residing there. I doubt, however, that sheer numbers of people will 'trump' the west's monopolisation of global power in the next century.

    I am a huge fan of Prof Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs and Steel especially) and his 'narrative' of human development is, IMO, the most compelling and convincing one I have read. Tellingly, (well, at least the way I read it) power and prosperity does not directly relate to population size but rather to geography and geography's impact upon economics.


  2. Civilisations developed in places where farmers produced a great food surplus (in %), thus feeding other trades and cities. These places were usually identical with high population densities because the farmer's productivity was dependent on soil quality and climate.

    Europe's dominance for a few centuries was a close call - the Chinese became isolationist during the 15th century, right at the time of their great maritime expeditions that could have led to a Chinese dominance of all Indian Ocean coasts.

    Most colonialised regions lacked the iron manufacturing skills of Europe and had much lower population densities.

    Most importantly, Europe got advanced because of the Mediterranean; this sea allowed cheap volume trade and travel over long distances. Water connects more than it separates.
    This advantage is long obsolete since railroads have caught up to waterway transportationa nd mdoern transportation technology has spread all over the world.

  3. I'm not sure I agree.
    The map is nothing new, it would have remained constant for the past 2000 years.
    Simply having lots of warm bodies isnt relevent.

    Global reach is about having global reach.
    If China decides to exterminate the Vietnamese, you can either not have the ablity to stop them, have the ability but not not the will, or have the ability ad the will.
    I supopose you could have the will but not the ability too.

    The shift east is much better explained by the fact that as EUrope centralises economic control, the east is dispersing it.

  4. I'm not sure how the revelation over asian population densities impacts to the efficacy of power projection as a tool of foreign policy.

    The reasons for power projection start with that most logical of prepositions; the strategic bargain with our allies, and continues through a commitment to maintaining international order, and providing security for british citizens outside the territorial landmass of the Great Britain & NI.

    How would this let you take those people who want to stem against the Western world's loss of influence (beyond its frontiers) less seriously?

    Every nation seeks to maximise its influence.

  5. "Every nation seeks to maximise its influence."

    This is unwise.
    To optimise influence makes sense, but to maximise something rarely makes sense.