How The World Is Turning Tropical Before Our Eyes

How The World Is Turning Tropical Before Our Eyes This Vietnamese school girl is growing up in a new era: by the time she is middle-aged, 60% of the world’s children will be living in a tropical region. UN Photo/Mark Garten, CC BY-NC-ND How The World Is Turning Tropical Before Our Eyes A marble bust of Aristotle, copied from a Greek bronze original from 330 BC. Jastrow/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

More than 2000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle declared that there were three zones of the world – the Frigid Zone, the Temperate Zone and the Torrid Zone – and only one of these, the Temperate Zone, was a place where civilised human beings could live.

Fast forward to 2014. The Tropics are now home to four out of every 10 people alive on earth today, as well as 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Some of the most pressing issues of our time – including rapid population growth, rising obesity rates, reducing poverty, and the need to preserve vital freshwater and forests – are all playing out in Aristotle’s Torrid Zone.

As our new report on the State of the Tropics reveals, by 2050, 60% of the world’s children will be living in a tropical part of the world, shown in the map below. Whether you live in the Tropics or not, it’s a vast and diverse region that no one can afford to ignore any more.

How The World Is Turning Tropical Before Our Eyes Tropical areas of the world. State of the Tropics, CC BY-NC-ND

Launched by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar over the weekend, with simultaneous events in Singapore, Townsville and Cairns, the State of the Tropics report shows where life is getting better, but also where the biggest challenges for the future lie. Its findings include:

  • Life expectancy has increased across all regions of the Tropics in the past 60 years, but is still well below that of the rest of the world.
  • The rate of adult obesity in the Tropics is lower than the rest of the world, but increasing at a faster rate.
  • Globally, extreme poverty has declined by almost 50% since the early 1980s, but more than two-thirds of the world’s poorest people live in the Tropics.
  • Education is patchy: adult literacy rates have increased faster in the Tropics than the rest of the world, but are still considerably lower. And despite those improvements, the number of illiterate adults in the Tropics is growing.
  • The Tropics has just over half of the world’s renewable water resources (54%), yet almost half its population is considered vulnerable to water stress.

A race around the world’s centre

The Tropics are an extraordinarily diverse region, covering an area surrounding the equator between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer that includes parts or all of countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

How The World Is Turning Tropical Before Our Eyes Countries that fall within the Tropics. State of the Tropics 2014, CC BY

It also takes in parts of nations that often don’t see themselves as belonging to the Tropics, including southern China.

Of all the world’s developed countries, Australia has the largest tropical landmass. That places Australia at the intersection of two great axes of global growth: the Asian axis that everyone recognises as vitally important to the world’s future, and the Tropical axis that is now being revealed.

Three years ago, 12 universities and research institutions from around the world, dedicated to the Tropics through either their location or their mission, determined it was time to take a fresh look at the Tropics.

With this in mind, our group set the parameters of an historic report on the State of the Tropics.

Our main aim was to answer a very simple question: is life in the Tropics getting better? But we also had a geopolitical goal in mind too, which was to change the way the world views itself.

Seeing the world anew

In viewing the world more recently as a set of dichotomies – north/south, east/west, developing/developed, Asian/the rest – Aristotle’s powerful lateral notion of the world in general and the Tropics in particular have been consigned to obscurity.

How The World Is Turning Tropical Before Our Eyes An engraving by Gustave Doré for an 1876 edition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It depicts a sailor with water-serpents in the sea around him. Gustave Doré/Wikimedia Commons

But even today, among many people living outside the Tropics the word still evokes some of the negative sentiments that Aristotle popularised all those years ago.

Directly or more subtly influenced by Aristotle, Western philosophers and explorers over the centuries have overwhelmingly portrayed the Tropics as a place of pestilence: inhospitable, disease-ridden and backward.

Writing some centuries after Aristotle, Pliny the Elder riffed on these themes. The Torrid Zone was full of human troglodytes who ate vipers and men who moved like serpents. Ancient Indian geographers described the Tropics as a place inhabited by evil daemons, as a gulf like that between the living and the dead.

Later literature reflected these themes as well. Consider Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Becalmed in the tropics, the sea boiled like a pot, throats were parched, and slimy things crawled upon the slimy sea.

Beyond pestilence and paradise

Yet some Iberian explorers saw the Tropics as places of great wonder. For them, the Tropics represented the completion of the world: it was the Garden of Eden, a world lost when Adam and Eve were cast out.

You can hear and see the wonder of exploring paradise in 18th century poet Rafael Landivar’s exultation of plants and animals, and a century later in the beautiful art works of Paul Gauguin.

How The World Is Turning Tropical Before Our Eyes Arearea by Paul Gauguin. Musée d'Orsay/Wikipedia

There is much more to the rich history of the Tropics and it is fascinating to dwell there. But given 21st century statistics, it is well past time that we rediscover the Tropics, and the power of Aristotle’s lateral conception of the world.

 How The World Is Turning Tropical Before Our Eyes A boy at a sing-sing village ceremony on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Mark Ziembicki, CC BY-NC-ND

To do so means charting the Tropics, not in ships, but through data on the region’s power and potential.

And we need to understand it not through an outdated Western lens that lurched between pestilence and paradise, but to consider it as a vitally important place where most of the world’s children will be living by 2050.

The trends we have identified in this State of the Tropics report demand the attention of global policy makers, as they show how the Tropics will, to a large extent, determine our global future.

The world is changing: we all know that. The news is it is changing in ways that defy current conceptions of our world. There is every good reason to be gripped by the power and potential of the Tropics, and what it means for global development.

The Tropics was lost, but now is found.

The ConversationAbout The Author

Sandra Harding, Vice-Chancellor, James Cook University

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

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…
Majority of US Adults Believe Climate Change Is Most Important Issue Today
by American Psychological Association
As the effects of climate change become more evident, more than half of U.S. adults (56%) say climate change is the…
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
by Mangulina Jan Fichtner, et al
A silent revolution is happening in investing. It is a paradigm shift that will have a profound impact on corporations,…

LATEST ARTICLES

Heatwaves Too Hot And Wet For Human Life Are Here
Heatwaves Too Hot And Wet For Human Life Are Here Now
by Tim Radford
Lethal heatwaves carrying air turned too hot and wet to survive are a threat which has arrived, thanks to climate…
How Dangerous Is Low-level Radiation To Children?
How Dangerous Is Low-level Radiation To Children?
by Paul Brown
A rethink on the risks of low-level radiation would imperil the nuclear industry’s future − perhaps why there’s never…
What We Do Now Could Change Earth's Trajectory
What We Do Now Could Change Earth's Trajectory
by Pep Canadell, et al
The numbers of people cycling and walking in public spaces during COVID-19 has skyrocketed.
Marine Heatwaves Spell Trouble For Tropical Reef Fish — Even Before Corals Die
Marine Heatwaves Spell Trouble For Tropical Reef Fish — Even Before Corals Die
by Jennifer M.T. Magel and Julia K. Baum
Despite the many challenges facing the world’s oceans today, coral reefs remain strongholds of marine biodiversity.
Warnings of Worse-Than-Usual Hurricane Season Point to Trouble Ahead
Warnings of Worse-Than-Usual Hurricane Season Point to Trouble Ahead
by Eoin Higgins
Hurricane season is about to start and its risks will only grow and potentially compound any impacts from the pandemic.
Australia, It's Time To Talk About Our Water Emergency
Australia, It's Time To Talk About Our Water Emergency
by Quentin Grafton et al
There’s another climate change influence we must also face up to: increasingly scarce water on our continent.
Fossil Fuels Are Heading Down, But Not Yet Out
Fossil Fuels Are Heading Down, But Not Yet Out
by Kieran Cooke
Renewable energy is making rapid inroads into the market, but fossil fuels still wield enormous global influence.
Human Action Will Decide How Much Sea Levels Rise
Human Action Will Decide How Much Sea Levels Rise
by Tim Radford
Sea levels will go on rising, because of human action. By how much, though, depends on what humans do next.