I’m a geographer who’s produced many maps depicting human effects on the environment – and demandedWe create more of these. I am often asked the question: How can you not feel powerless when faced with such depressing data.
With climate anxiety now affecting young people’s mental healthThere is widespread doubt that limiting global warming can be done. 1.5℃It is possible, but it can be difficult to answer. What I’ve found is that we can use a surprisingly commonplace tool to communicate danger to bring about positive change: the map.
Throughout history, it has generally been society’s elites who have used maps to exploit, not help, the planet and its people. They’ve used them to pinpoint oil reserves, carve up continents and justify wars. However, maps can be used to empower or defend those who are facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Over a century ago, the women’s suffrage movement developed one of the largest ever map-based campaignsAs part of its campaign to give women the ballot, it has collected a wide range of information, from decades back to continents. We must apply their principles if leaders are to be persuaded not only to deliver but also to improve upon the UN Climate Conference promises. COP26.
What the Suffragists did
Maps were used to support the cause of women’s rights by the Suffragettes to celebrate jurisdictions across the world that had given women the vote – and to shame those that had not. They reasoned that some policymakers’ actions would be a reminder of the inaction of others and thus betray the most misogynist political leaders and their supporters.
American suffrage maps with the headline “Votes for Women a Success” showed the US states that had granted women the right to vote. To challenge those with backward views, some versions of the map were also adorned with provocative statements such as “How long will the republic of the United States lag behind the monarchy of Canada?”
France withheld votes for women in 1930s Europe. Suffrage campaigns were launched. published maps showing the country’s outdated approach to democracy in contrast to its neighbours such as Belgium, under the banner “French women can’t vote! French women want to vote!”
Suffrage maps were plastered to walls, hung on streets, paraded on sandwich boards and printed in newspapers. petitionThe US Congress.
Geographer Christina E. Dando has pointed out how American suffragists’ work was not just focused on creating maps, but changing them. For example, the map below was submitted by the Nevada Women’s Civic League to the US judiciary committeeIt was resisting the granting of women the right to vote nationally. The catalogue entry for the map tells us, “this petition shows that women were not just lobbying Congress in general, but strategically pressuring committees to act”.
In many states, racist voter suppression policies were implemented against women of colour. creating mapsto protest against the horrors lynching. It was only after they had been Voting Rights ActThis was almost 50 years later. It was on August 6, 1965 that such policies were repealed. Even today, maps are still in use. remain a weaponIn the fight for fair racial distribution in some US states.
In the past, creating maps to counter the status quo – or indeed creating pretty much any map at all – would have required significant design expertise, a lot of manual effort and the financial means to print and promote it.
These challenges are easier to overcome today. Many social media platforms and sites are free, don’t conform to national borders and are not subject to government control. Images that hold people accountable can spread freely. So it’s time to use maps to challenge the greatest social and political crisis of our time: the destruction of our planet’s environment.
Take a look at this map of nitrogen dioxide – a gas released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels – from a hot July day across Europe in 2019 (click to make it bigger). High levels can damageCreate for your health acid rainContribute to the greenhouse effect. Although the map shows gas moving around, it’s clearly concentrated in certain areas. There’s a big cloud caused by shipping in Marseille and spots marking industrial plants around Dusseldorf.
Map of nitrogen dioxide concentration
Instead of viewing this as a photograph of scientific interest, we should view it as an invitation to action. Under the clouds of nitrogen dioxide, policymakers can create more difficult legislation, such as introducing a new law. low emission zonesTo remove the yellow marks from this Map, click on
The battle for women’s equality is clearly not over, but the idea that at least half the adult population should be legally deprived of a vote is now unconscionable in all but the most extreme jurisdictions. This was possible thanks to maps created by women for women. Now, let’s unleash the political power of maps to ensure that a failure to act on the environment becomes unconscionable too.