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Germany

The 'Atlas Of Stuff That Sucks' - A New Way To Document An Unjust World

German authors have found a new way of cataloging economic, social and environmental gaps between the Western industrialized world and developing countries. This sucky stuff atlas aims to heighten awareness of our wasteful society, a little bit of trivia

Laundry on the Niger (Julien Harneis)
Laundry on the Niger (Julien Harneis)
Claudia Ehrenstein

BERLIN - The title -- "Beschiss-Atlas," or Atlas of Stuff that Sucks – is not very refined. Then again, neither are the statistics that German authors Ute Scheub and Yvonne Kuschel list in their meaty 207-page collection of data illustrating the "economic, social and environmental injustices' in our world today.

For example: a domestic cat in Germany emits 2.2 tons of CO2 per year – about the same as an Egyptian person. The production of cat food, including its packaging, accounts for half the cat statistic; the other half is the disposal of used kitty litter and empty cat-food cans.

This is just one of the statistics the authors use to show the lifestyle differences between Western industrial countries and developing countries.

Nearly a billion people have no access to clean drinking water. A third of the world's population of seven billion suffers from permanent water shortage. Every year, about 17 million people die because they don't have enough money for medical treatment.

The choice of data is highly subjective. "We think everything that destroys nature, the economy or society -- short or long term -- is bad," says the self-critical foreword. Yet the authors also claim to have made a relevant selection by basing themselves on the shared "intuitive feeling" of all humans, the shared "sense what is fair and just."

And so astonishing, and often highly surprising, data fills the book:

  • In a single year, so much cotton is produced that 15 T-shirts for every inhabitant of planet Earth could be made from it.
  • If the Internet continues to grow at the present rate, by 2030 it will use up as much electricity as the whole world's population does today.
  • 7% of the world's population is linked on Facebook.
  • There are presently up to 800 million weapons in the world.
  • The mining of a single gram of gold for a wedding ring produces up to 750 tons of residue.

Some of the statistics are specific to Germany – for example, the value of a German pensioner's retirement money has fallen 7% since 2001 due to inflation and spiraling social costs. The unemployed are sick more often than those with jobs. Interestingly, those who are least sick are "people who write or produce art."

In the annex, the authors painstakingly document the sources of their data and facts. Sometimes the data is already outdated – the atlas gives the figures for the amount of food wasted in Germany as 20 million tons per year but that a recent government study in Germany now puts the amount at 11 million.

Despite such occasional disparities, it is absolutely worth perusing this unusual publication thankfully free of complicated flow charts and abstract diagrams – instead, it uses comics-style illustrations to render the material visually accessible. That doesn't suck.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Julien Harneis

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