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  • During the 1930s, thousands of Americans sympathized with the Nazis, holding huge rallies.
  • The rallies were organized by the American German Bund, which wanted to spread Nazi ideology.
  • Nazi supporters also organized summer camps for kids to teach them their values.

Having radical fringe groups tearing at the seams of America is not a new phenomenon. Less than a 100 years ago, the Nazis were gathering for big rallies on U.S. soil, running youth camps, their numbers growing by tens of thousands.

In the America of the 1930s, pro-Hitler groups like "The Friends of New Germany" carried out propaganda and intimidation campaigns to disseminate the National Socialist agenda. Their members wore uniforms, consisting of a white shirt and black trousers for men, topped by a black hat with a red symbol. Female attire included a white blouse and a black skirt.

In 1936, the Amerikadeutscher Volksbund, or German American Bund, was created as "an organization of patriotic Americans of German stock." They ran around 20 camps for youth and training, eventually establishing 70 regional divisions around the nation.

The ostensible goal of the German American Bund was to represent Americans of German descent but its true objective was to promote the views of Nazi Germany. The Bund played into the growing "America First" stance that sought to keep the U.S. out of World War 2, while amplifying its racist messages.

A Bund parade in New York, October 30, 1939.

Credit: Library of Congress

One of the most astonishing events held by the Bund was the "Americanization" rally it help at Madison Square Garden in New York on February 20th, 1939. The event, attended by 20,000 people, consistent of railing against Jewish conspiracies, President Roosevelt and similar sentiment. While speaking, the leader (Bundesführer) of the organization, Fritz Julius Kuhn (a chemical engineer by trade), spewed anti-Semitism, calling the President "Frank D. Rosenfield" while describing his New Deal as a "Jew Deal". He referred to the U.S government as a whole as "Bolshevik-Jewish" and kept attacking the press and American culture as being run by the Jews.

The rally featured a giant banner of George Washington, as the speakers tried to link the event to his birthday and supposed non-interventionist positions.

Huge crowds up to 100,000 people of anti-Nazi protestors also came to make their voices heard at this event, but were held back by 1,700 New York police officers.

For chilling footage and more on the Manhattan rally, check out the Academy-Award-nominated short documentary film "A Night at the Garden":

Besides the rallies – there were many held throughout the 30's – one of the main efforts to inculcate Nazi ideology in America took place in summer camps.

Audrey Amidon from the National Archives shared in her interview with Gizmodo the significance of the camps:

"The summer camps, complete with the official uniforms and banners of the Hitler Youth, might be the most visual and chilling example of the [Bund's] attempts to instill Nazi sympathies in German-American children," said Amidon.

The camps had boys and girls from 8 to 18, most often the children or grandchildren of German immigrants. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. citizens was of German descent in the 1930s, but the vast majority of them did not support Nazi ideology.

Along with usual activities you might find at a summer camp, the kids who attended were taught about Hitler's racial ideas, dressed in Nazi-esque uniforms, practiced drills and addressed higher-ups with Hitler salutes.

One prominent such camp was Camp Siegfried, in the Yaphank hamlet on Long Island. The town regularly held Nazi parades, while its streets were named after Hitler and his top brass like Goebbels.

The Bund's activities obviously wound down as the U.S. entered World War 2, with many of their leaders eventually arrested as enemy agents. For more striking fascist Bund camp footage, check out this home movie:


  • A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
  • This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
  • The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.

Coffee and tea are two of the most consumed beverages on the planet. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world. They are both enjoyed by billions of people for various reasons, and an increasing number of studies suggest they are good for you.

Recently, another study attesting to the health benefits of these drinks was published in Japan. A several-year review of the health and dietary habits of nearly 5,000 type 2 diabetics shows that those who drink more coffee and tea can enjoy a dramatically reduced death rate.

 Maybe you should enjoy this article with a cup of coffee or tea.

The study involved 4,923 type 2 diabetics living in Japan. The average participant was 66 years old. All of the participants were taken from the rolls of the Fukuoka Diabetes Registry, a study geared at learning about the effects of new treatments and lifestyle changes on the health of diabetics.

The participants filled out questionnaires concerning their health, diet, habits, and other factors. Among the questions were two focused on determining how much green tea or coffee, if any, the participants consumed over the course of a week. The health of the participants was recorded for five years. During this time, 309 of the test subjects died from a variety of causes.

Subjects who drank more than one cup of tea or coffee per day demonstrated lower odds of dying than those who had none. Those who consumed the most tea and coffee, more than four and two cups a day, respectively, enjoyed the most significant reductions in their risk of death. This level of consumption was associated with a 40 percent lower risk of death.

Most interestingly, the effects of drinking tea and coffee appear to combine to reduce risk even further. Those who reported drinking two or three cups of tea a day and two or more cups of coffee were 51 percent less likely to die during the study, while those who drank a whopping four or more cups of tea and two or more cups of coffee had a 63 percent lower risk of death.

So, should I start swimming in a vat of coffee and green tea?

Not quite.

The primary takeaway from this study is that Japanese adults with type 2 diabetes who drink a lot of green tea and/or coffee die less often than similar people who do not. If this effect is caused by something in the drink, lifestyle choices people who drink that much tea all make, or something else remains unknown. The finding must be considered an association at this point.

The eye-popping reductions in mortality rates are compared to the risk of death of others in the study. The people who died reported drinking less tea and coffee than those who lived. Unless you have several demographic and conditional similarities to the subjects of this study, you probably won't suddenly be at a two-thirds lower risk of death than your peers because you drink green tea.

Like all studies that depend on self-reporting, it is also possible that people misstated how much they consumed any one item. The study also did not look into other factors like socioeconomic status or education level, also known to impact death rates and potentially linked to coffee and tea consumption.

However, it is yet another study in the pile that suggests that coffee and green tea are good for you. That much is increasingly agreed upon. This study also suggests the benefits are additive, which is a new development.

So, while it isn't time to start the IV drip of green tea, a cup or two probably won't hurt.

On Sept. 9, many West Coast residents looked out their windows and witnessed a post-apocalyptic landscape: silhouetted cars, buildings and people bathed in an overpowering orange light that looked like a jacked-up sunset.

The scientific explanation for what people were seeing was pretty straightforward. On a clear day, the sky owes its blue color to smaller atmospheric particles scattering the relatively short wavelengths of blue light waves from the sun. An atmosphere filled with larger particles, like woodsmoke, scatters even more of the color spectrum, but not as uniformly, leaving orangish-red colors for the eye to see.

But most city dwellers weren't seeing the science. Instead, the burnt orange world they were witnessing was eerily reminiscent of scenes from sci-fi films like “Blade Runner: 2049" and “Dune."

The uncanny images evoked sci-fi movies for a reason. Over the past decade, filmmakers have increasingly adopting a palette rich with hues of two colors, orange and teal, which complement one another in ways that can have a powerful effect on viewers.

Writing color into the script

When we dissect movies in my design classes, I remind my students that everything on the screen is there for a reason. Sound, light, wardrobe, people – and, yes, the colors.

Actor, writer and director Jon Fusco has suggested "writing color as an entire character in your script," since colors can subtly change the way a scene can "resonate emotionally."

Set and costume designers can influence color palettes by sticking to certain palettes. But art directors can also imbue scenes with certain hues via "color grading," in which they use software to shift colors around in the frame.

In her short film "Color Psychology," video editor Lilly Mtz-Seara assembles a montage from more than 50 films to show the emotional impact intentional color grading can lend to movies. She explains how different palettes are used to emphasize different sentiments, whether it's pale pink to reflect innocence, red to capture passion or a sickly yellow to denote madness.

The most powerful complement of them all

So why orange and teal?

In the 17th century, Isaac Newton created his "color wheel." The circle of colors represents the full visible light spectrum, and people who work in color will use it to assemble palettes, or color schemes.

A monochromatic palette involves tints from a single hue – lighter and darker shades of blue, for example. A tertiary palette divides the wheel with three evenly spaced spokes: bright reds, greens and blues.

Among the most striking combinations are two hues 180 degrees apart on the color wheel. Due to a phenomenon called "simultaneous contrast," the presence of a single color is intensified when paired with its complement. Green and purple complement one another, as do yellow and blue. But, according to German scientist, poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the strongest of the complementary pairings exist in the ranges of – you guessed it – orange and teal.

For movie makers, this color palette can be a powerful tool. Human skin matches a relatively narrow swath of the orange section of the color wheel, from very light to very dark. A filmmaker who wants to make a human within a scene "pop" can easily do so by setting the "orange-ish" human against a teal background.

Filmmakers can also switch between the two depending on the emotional needs of the scene, with the oscillation adding drama. Orange evokes heat and creates tension while teal connotes its opposite, coolness and languid moodiness. For example, the orange and pink people in many of the chase scenes in "Mad Max: Fury Road" stand out against the complementary sky-blue background.

Oranges and teals are not the sole province of sci-fi movies. David Fincher's thriller "Zodiac" is tinged with blues, while countless horror movies deploy a reddish-orange palette. There's even been some backlash to orange and teal, with one filmmaker, Todd Miro, calling their overuse "madness" and "a virus."

Nonetheless, given the frequency with which sci-fi films wish to subtly unsettle viewers, the palette continues to find frequent application in the genre.

As for West Coast residents unnerved by the murky air and bizarre landscapes, they're probably wishing their lives felt a lot less like a movie.The Conversation

Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Professor of Communication and Media, Clarkson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

  • How 'green' is life in your work country?
  • That's the question InterNations asked its network of expats.
  • The United States ended 30th out of 60 countries.

InterNations, the world's largest expat network, has delivered a global ranking with a twist. For the first time, it's asked its members to rate the environmental and sustainability qualities of their work countries. The best country for a sustainable life abroad: Finland. The worst: India. The U.S. lands exactly in the middle, at #30.

The ranking reflects the combined score for three categories:

  • Products and Utilities: How available are sustainable goods and services? How 'green' is the energy supply? What about the local waste management and recycling practices?
  • Policies and People: How engaged is the local government in green policies? And how environmentally aware is the public?
  • Quality of the Environment: Specifically, of the local environment, air and water.
The top of the list is populated by the usual suspects: eight high-income countries in Europe (four Nordics, four 'Germanics'), plus two more elsewhere (Canada, New Zealand). But not all European countries do well – Malta lands in the Bottom 10. Inversely, most Asian countries score low, except Taiwan, which finishes just outside the Top 10.

    Nordics on top

    Evo Hiking Area, H\u00e4meenlinna, Finland.

    Evo Hiking Area in Hämeenlinna, Finland. Great nature, clean air, clean water? Check, check and check.

    Credit: Kanta-Hämeen kuvapankki on Flickr/ Public Domain.

    1. Finland

    The Nordic country scores at or near the top in all categories surveyed, including the quality of the natural environment (say 96 percent of expats in Finland), water and sanitation (96 percent) and air (95 percent).

    2. Sweden

    Swedes lead the world in environmental awareness (84 percent versus just 48 percent globally). Perhaps not surprising, for the homeland of Greta Thunberg. This is reflected by government policy. Sweden currently gets more than 50 percent of its power from renewable sources and wants to go 100% renewable before 2040. "I've been here for over 20 years and I clearly see the benefits of my taxes paid coming back to me and the rest of society," says one American expat.

    3. Norway

    "The beautiful nature, the clean air and tap water, and the focus on the environment," are what one Ukrainian expat enjoys most about Norway. With 76 percent of expats happy with the availability of green goods and services, Norway's 'weakest' category is still 13 percentage points above the global average.

    4. Austria

    The first non-Nordic in the global ranking, Austria places in the Top 10 for each category and comes in first for the availability of green goods and services (90 percent).

    5. Switzerland

    Swiss nature is the most appreciated in the world (98 percent versus 83 percent on average). Switzerland also gets stellar results for air and water quality and the availability of green energy and green goods and services.

    6. Denmark

    Danes are very much into green causes, as is their government, say 83 percent resp. 84 percent of expats. "Organic food is readily available, and they are good with recycling," observes a South African expat. And they love cycling: 9 out of 10 Danes own a bike.

    7. New Zealand

    85 percent of expats agree that the New Zealand government takes green issues seriously. In fact, New Zealand plans to use 90 percent electricity from renewables by 2025. The country also scores high on the quality of its natural environment and all other categories – albeit slightly less on the quality of its water and sanitation.

    8. Germany

    "I enjoy the rising awareness about environmental issues and the alternatives the government and society are developing," says one Colombian expat. Indeed, 80 percent of expats agree the German government is pro-environment (versus 55 percent globally).

    9. Canada

    The only North American destination in the Top 10, thanks especially to expat appreciation of Canada's natural environment (96 percent), but also the quality of its water and sanitation (90 percet) and the availability of green goods and services (80 percent).

    10. Luxembourg

    "Access to nature for hiking and bicycling" is a definite boon for one American expat. In fact, the country's natural environment, although ranking 13th out of 60, is its lowest-rated subcategory. Luxembourg does even better when it comes to green energy, waste management, and the quality of its air and water.

    Taiwan, most sustainable destination in Asia

    \u200bEternal Spring Shrine in the Taroko Gorge, Hualien County, Taiwan.

    Eternal Spring Shrine in the Taroko Gorge, Hualien County. Outside of Taipei, Taiwan can be surprisingly green and beautiful.

    Credit: Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0

    11. Taiwan

    The highest-scoring expat destination in Asia, Taiwan boasts 92 percent approval of its waste management and recycling, and 80 percent of the availability of green goods and services. But "the air pollution (in Taipei) is getting worse because it is too crowded," one expat complains.

    12. Netherlands

    Green goods and services are widely available, agree 82 percen of expats, as is green energy. However, 13 percent rate the Dutch environment negatively, 4 percet above the global average.

    13. Portugal

    Well ahead of its neighbor Spain (#20), the country scores high for air quality (91 percent) and natural environment (95 percent). "I like the opportunity for gardening and growing our own food," says one expat.

    14. Estonia

    Estonia scores in the Top 20 for every category and gets its highest marks for its natural environment. "A beautiful country with excellent air quality and open spaces," praises an Indian expat.

    15. Costa Rica

    Both the government and the people are very supportive of green policies, find 82 percent, resp. 67 percent of expats. "It's easy to live a healthy lifestyle with regard to the food, climate, clean air and water," says one. Costa Rica won the 2019 UN Champion of the Earth award and has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050.

    16. Czechia

    "The beauty of the environment" is one of the best things about living in Czechia, says a Russian expat. No less than 97 percent of expats agree.

    17. France

    77 percent of expats are happy about the availability of green goods and services in France, which is 14 percentage points above average. The country also scores well for waste management and recycling. In short, France has a "good, green and clean environment," one Iranian expat finds.

    18. Australia

    While ranking high on the quality of its nature, water and air, Australia scores low when it comes to government support for green issues (51 percent). Fortunately, expats see more interest among the general population (68 percent).

    19. Singapore

    Expats rate the government's interest in green issues higher than globally average (77 percent versus 55 percent), but the Singaporean public's engagement for the same less than average (40 percent versus 48 percent). Of course, in a small, crowded place like Singapore, "(nature) spots are limited."

    20. Spain

    Spain's "scenery, diversity of places to visit and healthier environment" are what rate highly with one British expat. Its weak point is governmental and public support for green issues – but still slightly above the global average.

    London is "polluted and noisy"

    \u200bEven at 2:30pm, London gets clogged.

    Afternoon traffic jam in London.

    Credit: Garry Knight, CC BY 2.0

    21. Oman

    The highest-ranking country in the Middle East, Oman does especially well for natural environment (93 percent) and air quality (76 percent). However, only 50 percent are happy with the availability of green goods and services (versus 63 percent globally).

    22. United Arab Emirates

    Despite higher-than-average scores in some categories, the UAE's 52nd place out of 60 for the appreciation of its natural environment drags down its overall score.

    23. Israel

    Two in three expats rate Israel's air quality positively, 55 percent think the government cares about the environment (exactly the global average) and 51 percent thinks the public does too (slightly above global average).

    24. Ecuador

    The highest-ranked South American country, Ecuador scores especially well for its natural environment (95 percent). Its overall ranking is dragged down by lower scores for air and water quality. One Dutch expat sees "a lack of care for the environment."

    25. Japan

    Japan boasts a "high quality of life due to clean air and water, as well as many natural recreational places," reports a Malaysian expat. Waste management and recycling is rated highly (85 percent), but not the government's (27 percent) nor the public's (33 percent) engagement in green issues.

    26. Ireland

    Expats are particularly satisfied with Ireland's air quality (16th) and natural environment (19th), but only 65 percent are content with the quality of the water and sanitation.

    27. Belgium

    Biggest pluses: the public is into green issues (57 percent), the availability of green goods and services (75 percent) and green energy (66 percent). Belgium scores below average for air quality and one Danish expat complains about "poor green infrastructure."

    28. United Kingdom

    "(London) is very polluted and noisy," complains a Swiss expat. In fact, the UK's natural environment ranks just 43rd. On the upside, green goods and services are slightly more available than the global average.

    29. Bahrain

    The Gulf state ranks near the bottom for its natural environment and performs best for its government's green credentials (72 percent). One British expat regrets "the lack of green spaces."

    30. United States

    When it comes to green government policies, the U.S. ranks in the Bottom 10; but the country does a lot better in terms of the availability of green goods and services. "I like that basic services for living, such as access to clean water, are guaranteed," says one Venezuelan expat.

    World map for the 'sustainable expat'

    The best & worst destiations for the sustainable expat

    Sixty expat destinations ranked for sustainability, from best (orange) to worst (light blue). In between: fairly okay (brown), middling (grey) and not that great (dark blue).

    Credit: Environment & Sustainability Ranking, an Expat Insider topical report published by InterNations

    31. Panama

    While 94 percent of expats are happy with the quality of the natural environment, only 37 percent find Panama's waste management and recycling practices up to scratch (versus 60 percent globally). "There is a lot of litter on the streets and in the ocean," says one expat.

    32. Italy

    Italy's "beautiful landscapes and natural areas" earn the country high praise, but that is offset by "air pollution and heavy traffic," as the same expat explains.

    33. Colombia

    Just like its overall score, Colombia is a mid-fielder in most categories. Its worst ranking is for air quality (47th), its best for the policy and people attitudes towards the environment (30th).

    34. Qatar

    65 percent of expats appreciate the Qatari government's green efforts, but just 40 percent think the people feel the same. "There is a lack of green options, but things are changing," observes a Canadian expat.

    35. Hungary

    Expats rate the quality of Hungary's water and sanitation higher than the global average (76 percent versus 72 percent), but its air quality significantly lower (49 percent versus 62 percent).

    36. Poland

    Poland is one of the few European countries to rank below average. No less than 60 percent of expats are unhappy with the air quality in Poland, compared to just 24 percent worldwide.

    37. Russia

    "St Petersburg is absolutely beautiful. There are many parks and green spaces, and the canals and the coast make it even better," gushes an American expat. But Russia is bigger than St Petersburg, and on the whole less pleasant. Water quality and waste management are just two categories rated well below the global average.

    38. Argentina

    88 percent of expats like Argentina's natural environment, and 64 percent are satisfied with air quality (versus 62 percent globally) but the country performs average or worse on all other indicators.

    39. Chile

    Chile scores among the Bottom 10 for air quality, and not too well on many other indicators, but the quality of the country's natural environment (appreciated by 89 percent of expats) somewhat mitigates the result.

    40. Malaysia

    With 86 percent of expats lauding Malaysia's natural environment, the country scores above the global average in exactly one category. An Australian expat in Kuala Lumpur expresses concerns "about the air quality and waste disposal."

    South Korea's "rather horrible" air

    \u200bSmoggy Seoul

    Seoul's air quality is so bad you can picture it. Only India's air is perceived as worse than South Korea's, according to the expat survey.

    Credit: Jimmy McIntyre – editor HDR One Magazine, CC BY-SA 2.0

    41. South Korea

    Coming in on 59th place, South Korea scores particularly poorly for air quality. One Filipino expat even finds the Korean air "rather horrible". The water and sanitation quality are rated a lot higher, though.

    42. Turkey

    Turkey's natural environment scores only slightly below average (78 percent versus 82 percent globally), as does the appreciation for its air quality (59 percent versus 62 percent). But the country scores well below global average when it comes to waste management (42 percent versus 60 percent). One expat laments the "traffic, pollution and lack of recycling" in the country.

    43. Mexico

    Mexico is the worst performer among the North American destinations. No less than 35 percent of expats are dissatisfied with the quality of water and sanitation. One respondent mentioned the "lack of clean and operational public restrooms."

    44. Cyprus

    The island nation scores particularly well on air quality (68 percent), but worse than average on many other indicators, notably environmental awareness. "Garbage is just left anywhere," complains one British expat.

    45. Greece

    Greece's worst score is for waste management and recycling (53rd), but it does better for air quality (19th). Overall, 89 percent of expats appreciate Greece's nature, but the country is "not environmentally conscious," a Canadian expat says.

    46. South Africa

    Being Africa's best-ranked country at #46 is a bit of a Pyrrhic victory. In fact, South Africa scores near the bottom in many categories, including green energy options and government interest in green policies (both 59th).

    47. Brazil

    The worst destination in South America when it comes to environment and sustainability. Just 23 percent of expats say the government supports green policies, only 32 percent think the population is interested in them. A Canadian expat lamented the "lack of empathy for the environment."

    48. Morocco

    Morocco's biggest draws for expats in terms of environment and sustainability are its air quality (67 percent) and its nature (80 percent). But "I wish there was a greater awareness (with regards to) littering," complains an American expat.

    49. Saudi Arabia

    Best score: 50 percent of expats believe the Saudi government supports green policies (still 5 percent below the global average). "I don't like the total reliance on cars, the lack of recycling, and the lack of green spaces," an Australian expat says.

    50. China

    29 percent of expats are dissatisfied with China's natural environment, more than three times the global average (9 percent). "The air quality is terrible, and the people are packed tightly together," says an American expat.

    Bad, worse, India

    man standing surrounded by garbage

    India scores worst in all three categories, but to be fair – some of its problems were imported from more developed countries.

    Credit: Jacques Holst, CC BY-NC-SA

    51. Hong Kong

    Hong Kong's two highest-ranked qualities are its natural environment and its water and sanitation infrastructure (both 37th). It does a lot worse for air quality (55th). "They still have landfill sites. And food waste is also a huge problem," observes a Hungarian expat.

    52. Malta

    The only European country in the Bottom 10, Malta performs poorly in all categories, but especially in terms of green policies. Only 33 percent of expats thinks the government cares about those, and only 48 percent think the same of the people. "It's a shame," says one British expat: "Wind farms and electric buses would be a good idea."

    53. Kenya

    No less than 72 percent of expats are unsatisfied with Kenya's waste management and recycling, versus just 28 percent globally, and just 23 percent of expats believe Kenyans are interested in the environment, versus a global average of 48 percent.

    54. Philippines

    The Philippines places in the Bottom 10 for each category. There is "no environmental care," laments one British expat.

    55. Thailand

    53 percent of respondents agree that the Thai government is not supportive of green policies, more than double the global average (25 percent). An American expat lists "air pollution and the government's inability to enforce air pollution laws" as their least favorite aspect of expat life in Thailand.

    56. Vietnam

    Expats rate only India and South Korea as having worse air quality than Vietnam. A Dutch expat lists "air pollution, noise, bad waste management and rodents" as things he does not like about living in Vietnam.

    57. Indonesia

    50 percent of expats are unhappy about the state of Indonesia's water and sanitation infrastructure (vs. just 15 percent worldwide). "There is no waste management. All rubbish is going to the rivers and into the ocean," says a German expat.

    58. Egypt

    The country on the Nile scores among the worst three in all of the survey's categories. There seems to be "no care for the environment," says a Polish expat. A French expat in Cairo laments the absence of "organic or pesticide-free foods".

    59. Kuwait

    Only 12 perent of expats are pleased with Kuwait's natural environment. That the emirate's worst result, but not the only bad one. "Poor sanitation and inept waste management" are among the worst things in Kuwait, says one Australian expat.

    60. India

    India is the worst destination for all three categories. 87 percent of expats are dissatisfied with India's waste management and recycling efforts, 82 percent rate the air quality poorly (with 55 percent saying it's "very bad"), and 69 percent are unhappy with the quality of the water and sanitation infrastructure.

    World Bank data suggests India's output of renewable energy is 15%, significantly lower than the global average of 23 percent. However, in terms of the ubiquitous rubbish in India, it should be noted that the country has been used by western countries as a dumping ground for plastic waste.

    Maps and data from Expat Insider 2020 by InterNations. Read the entire report here.

    Strange Maps #1053

    Got a strange map? Let me know at

    • AI analysis of satellite images sees trees and shrubs where human eyes can't.
    • At the western edge of the Sahara is more significant vegetation than previously suspected.
    • Machine learning trained to recognize trees completed the detailed study in hours.

    Satellite imagery of the Sahara desert presents an arid expanse, the endless rolling dunes we know from movies. The thing is, normal satellite images don't show individual trees, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're not there. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen and NASA taught artificial intelligence about trees and had them take another look. It turns out there is lots of vegetation in the Western Sahara: an estimated 1.8 billion trees and shrubs.

    "We were very surprised to see that quite a few trees actually grow in the Sahara Desert, because up until now, most people thought that virtually none existed," says lead author Martin Brandt of the university's Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management. "We counted hundreds of millions of trees in the desert alone. Doing so wouldn't have been possible without this technology."

    The research is published in the journal Nature.

    Why this matters

    Area in which trees were located

    Credit: University of Copenhagen

    As important as trees are in fighting climate change, scientists need to know what trees there are, and where, and the study's finding represents a significant addition to the global tree inventory.

    The vegetation Brandt and his colleagues have identified is in the Western Sahara, a region of about 1.3 million square kilometers that includes the desert, the Sahel, and the sub-humid zones of West Africa.

    These trees and shrubs have been left out of previous tabulations of carbon-processing worldwide forests. Says Brandt, "Trees outside of forested areas are usually not included in climate models, and we know very little about their carbon stocks. They are basically a white spot on maps and an unknown component in the global carbon cycle."

    In addition to being valuable climate-change information, the research can help facilitate strategic development of the region in which the vegetation grows due to a greater understanding of local ecosystems.

    Trained for trees

    Credit: Martin Brandt/University of Copenhagen

    There's been an assumption that there's hardly enough vegetation outside of forested areas to be worth counting in areas such as this one. As a result the study represents the first time a significant number of trees — likely in the hundreds of millions when shrubs are subtracted from the overall figure — have been catalogued in the drylands region.

    Members of the university's Department of Computer Science trained a machine-learning module to recognize trees by feeding it thousands of pictures of them. This training left the AI be capable of spotting trees in the tiny details of satellite images supplied by NASA. The task took the AI just hours — it would take a human years to perform an equivalent analysis.

    "This technology has enormous potential when it comes to documenting changes on a global scale and ultimately, in contributing towards global climate goals," says co-author Christian Igel. "It is a motivation for us to develop this type of beneficial artificial intelligence."

    "Indeed," says Brandt says, "I think it marks the beginning of a new scientific era."

    Looking ahead and beyond

    The researchers hope to further refine their AI to provide a more detailed accounting of the trees it identifies in satellite photos.

    The study's senior author, Rasmus Fensholt, says, "we are also interested in using satellites to determine tree species, as tree types are significant in relation to their value to local populations who use wood resources as part of their livelihoods. Trees and their fruit are consumed by both livestock and humans, and when preserved in the fields, trees have a positive effect on crop yields because they improve the balance of water and nutrients."

    Ahead is an expansion of the team's tree hunt to a larger area of Africa, with the long-term goal being the creation of a more comprehensive and accurate global database of trees that grow beyond the boundaries of forests.