Global Flight-path Maps – A Trade Union Perspective

The BBC recently provided 5 perspectives on the work of Michael Markieta’s beautiful map of the world, lit up by powerful white streaks indicating the way our species moves around the planet via the air.  The perspectives: art critic, environmentalist, aviation consultant, data visualisation expert and philosopher all made interesting points but I found other issues came to the fore when I looked at the maps.  To a trade unionist the map reveals thoughts and feelings, some guttural and obvious and others needing further research.

The first and obvious point is that visualising air traffic and painting a map of the world in that way builds on a history of map making and that history has always been political as well as a matter of geography.  From the early Christian maps placing Jerusalem at the centre of the universe through to the Mercator projection, which over-emphasises the northern hemisphere at the expense of the global south, maps have told a story.  The Peter’s Projection distorts geography somewhat to present each country in relative size to one another which corrects some of the political bias inherent in the Mercator version.  There’s also a version of the Peter’s which places the southern hemisphere at the top so the eye is naturally drawn to the global south, although in this version Australia is very prominent.

The flight path map highlights hubs of air travel.  Europe is highlighted and the economically powerful regions of the Americas and Australasia stand out.  This is a map that exposes globalisation in all it’s inequality.  Air travel is something that the vast majority of people in the world do not take part in and it shows on this map.  This is a map that doesn’t just expose the rich areas of the world in comparison to the poor, it also exposes the more general inequality within societies between those who can afford to travel by air for business and pleasure and those who cannot.  This map highlights poverty and it also shows us by omission large sections of the world with populations working and living without ever experiencing air travel but forever influenced by it.  I recently heard that a pair of jeans sold in the USA might have been worked on by people in up to 18 different countries.  So this map poses questions about the way we work and adds to our understanding of processes such as those in the garment industry.

This map adds to our understanding of the world, it poses questions about how we handle our environment, and how we interact across nations and how we organise work.  It’s beautiful and thought provoking.


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