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The U.S. is Cow Country, and other lessons from this land use map
America's corn syrup fields are big enough to cover all its airports and railroads, and other surprising lessons from a 'tidied-up' map of America's land use zones
Yes, this is America. The borders are all new, but the areas are correct; this is a map of land use in the contiguous United States, each category corralled into a homogenous rectangle. As you can see, humans have a minority stake in the nation. The U.S. is Cow Country.
Of course, this is not what America really looks like. The 1.9 billion acres in the coterminous states are a coast-to-coast jumble of residential areas, industrial zones, farmlands and more. This map gives all that the Ursus Wehrli treatment.
Mr Wehrli is a Swiss artist with an obsessive-compulsive bent. He produces before-and-after images of, among other things: alphabet soup, alphabetized; a parking lot full of cars, rearranged according to color; or René Magritte's famous It's raining men painting (1), with the bowler-hatted gentlemen lined up in three size categories.
The results are strangely satisfying 'tidied-up' images, and so is this map, regimenting statistical data into coherent cartographic cohorts. It doesn't even look too much out of order, given that most U.S. states are at least partially rectangular in shape anyway. The result: an illuminating overview of land management in the Lower 48.
The map is based on the six major land use (MLU) categories as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but also shows various subdivisions.
- 654 million acres (about 35% of the total)
Judging by land use, the U.S. is dominated by cattle. More than one-third of the area of the contiguous states is given up to pasture—more than any other land use type. Most of it is for cows, with much smaller areas nibbled by horses, and sheep/goats/other.
About a quarter of pastureland is federally administered, mainly in the western states.
Adding up pasture and cropland used to produce feed (124.7 million acres), cattle dominate 41% of all land in the contiguous U.S.
- 539 million acres (28.5%)
These are forested areas outside of parks and reserves. About a quarter of the contiguous states are covered in these unprotected wooded areas.
About 11 million acres of timber are harvested every year, but thanks to regrowth, U.S. timber stock grew by about 1% per annum from 2007 to 2012.
The largest private owner of timberlands in the U.S. is a company called Weyerhaeuser. It owns 12.4 million acres or 2.3% of all available timber. Put differently: that's an area almost the size of West Virginia (or, on this map, a private fiefdom spanning the Arizona-New Mexico border).
- 391 million acres (21%)
More of it is used for livestock feed (127 million acres) than for human consumption (77 million acres).
Most of the land planted with food we eat is covered by wheat, followed by soybeans, peanuts and oilseeds.
More land is dedicated to sugarcane and sugarbeets and maple syrup than to vegetables.
More than a third of the entire corn crop, or around 38 million acres, is dedicated to ethanol, for bio-diesel.
Around 21.5 million acres are planted with wheat for export, 63 million acres are used for growing other grain and feed exports.
- 168 million acres (9%)
Most of this is nature reserves, either state or national parks (15 and 29 million acres, respectively), but most of all federal wilderness areas (64 million acres).
Military areas cover around 25 million acres. That's about the size of Ohio.
Perhaps surprisingly, rural highways cover no less than 21 million acres. Farmsteads add up to 8 million acres, almost enough to cover New Hampshire.
Airports and railroads cover 3 million acres each, equal to the area of Connecticut (each) or Vermont (together).
- 69 million acres (3.6%)
Swamps, marshes, deserts, non-harvestable forests and generally any barren land of low economic value. Most of this category (about 50 million acres) is made up of rural residential lands.
- 69 million acres (3.6%)
About four in five Americans live in urban areas, which is about the size of the Northeast. Sounds like a good balance with nature. But urban areas have quadrupled in size since 1945, and are adding about a million acres—that's four of the squares on this map—each year.
For reference, the map indicates the approximate outlines of state borders and, in thinner white lines, a grid of squares with an area of 250,000 acres each.
For instance, that's the area covered by Christmas trees (conveniently corralled into one location on the coast of Georgia for this map).
Double that area is covered by tobacco plants (half a million acres), and double again by flowers (a million acres), both growing on the shores of North Carolina.
Double again: America's One Giant Golf Course, taking up 2 million acres on South Carolina's central coast.
One of the fastest-growing categories: land owned by the 100 largest private landowners. Was 28 million acres in 2008, is about 40 million acres now—slightly larger than the entire state of Florida.
Strange Maps #928
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Actual name: Golconda. Painted in 1953. Now at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. No motion is implied, so it's deliberately unclear whether they're rising, falling or hanging still in mid-air.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.