John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
See the age-old dance of death and life in this simulation of how the world's overall population is always changing.
Every minute, about 107 people die in the world and roughly 240 infants are born. It's a breakneck dance of life and death that's pushing the planet's 7.1-billion population to a never-before-seen immensity, with impacts on civilization remaining a matter of supposition and worry.
It's tough to comprehend how large the human population is swelling. But data cruncher Brad Lyon gives us a good taste with this new visualization, "World Births and Deaths in Real-Time." The interactive map of the seven continents swarm with green and red bursts representing, respectively, the appearances of newborns and poor souls biting the dust. Try to watch it on a desktop browser for the best results, as pulling it up on a phone could bring on severe headaches.
The visualization is based on statistical formulas of how likely these life events are, meaning that Lyon does not have a network of spies in hospitals feeding him up-to-the-second intel. And he's certainly not involved in the giving or taking of any of these lives... I hope. Have a look at his creation doing its thing:
"I pulled only those non-U.S. cities with populations of at least 10,000," Lyon says via email. "This results in 20,000-something cities included. The purpose of adding city names is to add a qualitative sense of specificity to try to help humanize raw, simulated results."
Scope your mouse over any particular country to elicit its population and mortality data. The United States has maybe 316,668,599 folks running around in it, for instance, and an average of 77 deaths and 120 births for every 1,000 people. (The data comes from the CIA Factbook, Wikipedia, and other sources.) The methods that Lyon used to build this simulation, detailed on his blog, involve staggering amounts of information, such as a "tab-delimited ~130MB file of more than two million world cities/places, their population, and latitude/longitude."
Readers of this site might recall Lyon and pal Bill Snebold mapping the stork/reaper activity in just the United States. That project was just a warm-up to this more extensive one, which provokes a different sort of wonderment, Lyon says:
Since the events occur at a fairly higher rate [on the world model] than for the U.S. (of course), the experience of watching them is quite different from the U.S. simulation. For the U.S. visualization, there is usually a several-second gap between events. This allows time for a reflection on what must really be happening across the country as you watch the simulation. For the world visualization, the events are occurring relentlessly at an almost overwhelming rate – mainly the births.
It still causes reflection, but it is a different kind. And actually seeing how much activity must be going on in the rest of the world, outside our country, puts things in perspective as well. Of course, I know that's true based on raw populations and birth/death rates of the countries, but it is something else to see it shown in a manner like this.
Watch it for a few minutes to see if you can pick out the countries with the highest and lowest birth rates. (Hint: The former mostly hail from Africa, and the latter tend to stick to Asia and Europe). The United States, for what it's worth, ranks toward the low end of births, with 13.66 occurring yearly for every 1,000-chunk of population.
Top image: Zlatko Guzmic / Shutterstock.com