The human population of earth, of course, is not distributed evenly over its surface. The “Valeriepieris Circle” is perhaps the most shocking implication of this fact: more than half the people on earth live within a 2,000-mile radius of the town of Mong Khet in northeast Burma. But there’s another way to visualize the way humanity clusters, and for this one, we have to travel from Burma to Switzerland. Let’s call it the Rankin Hemisphere.
Meet a geographer who wants to halve it all.
Bill Rankin is a historian who teaches in the History of Science program at Yale University, and studies the politics of 20th-century cartography in particular. He’s also an all-purpose map lover whose blog, Radical Cartography, is full of cool maps and visualizations. In 2015, Rankin wondered how to define the hemisphere with the highest population, essentially a larger version of the Valeriepieris circle. In other words, if you were going to slice the earth in two with a giant samurai sword, where would you place the cut if you wanted to put as many people as possible in one half? And how many people would that be?
Thirteen out of every fourteen humans live in the same hemisphere.
By crunching global population data from the year 2000—not just the populations of countries, but where people live within them—Rankin was able to plot what he calls the “human hemisphere,” centered near Switzerland’s Lake Geneva. Remarkably, the half of the earth closest to western Switzerland holds 92.9 percent of the entire human race. The other half, divided this way, holds just 7.1 percent (mostly in Indonesia and the Philippines).
Earth’s two hemispheres are surf and turf.
Why does almost the entire human race live in just one hemisphere? Mostly because the Pacific Ocean is so big. The “human hemisphere” has almost the same boundaries as the “land hemisphere,” the half of the earth that has the most dry land. It’s centered about four hundred miles west of Geneva, in the city of Nantes, France, and it contains about 85 percent of all the dry land on earth. Even the “land hemisphere,” however, has slightly more water than dry land. (Earth has an awful lot of ocean.)
Misanthropes: try the Bounty Islands.
Rankin’s data also allowed him to calculate what percentage of the human race shares the hemisphere where you’re sitting right now. The number peaks in Switzerland at 92.9 percent, and drops the farther you get from Central Europe. It’s fairly low in North America, especially the farther south you go. If you live in Alaska, between 70 and 75 percent of people share your hemisphere, but that number drops below 25 percent by the time you get to southern Texas. To really get away from your fellow man, I recommend the Bounty and Chatham Islands, east of New Zealand. If you live there, just 7.1 percent of humanity shares your hemisphere. Almost 93 percent of the human race is half a world away.
Explore the world’s oddities every week with Ken Jennings, and check out his book Maphead for more geography trivia.