Monday, November 05, 2007

What you feel about population doesn't matter.

Over at the BBC web site Mark Mardell runs his Euroblog. His blog entry for November 5th is one expressing shock and surprise that Evan Davis said that the UK was not nearly as populated as Belgium or the Netherlands. Mardell’s response is basically summed up with this phrase “it certainly doesn’t feel that way.”

He dislikes London saying it is “sucking the life out of the suburbs” while Burssels “is just a much quieter place.” And in the Netherlands “it doesn’t feel head-bustingly bad.”

Mr. Mardell has a right to his feelings but feelings are not necessarily indicative of facts. Mardell does say that Mr. Davis, “I’m sure, is right.” And that is why I find his entry so odd. If you acknowledge that another persons statement “is probably right” then what is the purpose of telling the world about your feelings?

Mr. Davis is right. He says:
Indeed, if the UK had the population density of the Netherlands, it could accommodate 90 million people. And believe it or not, if the UK had the population density of the quaint island of Jersey, we would actually accommodate another 120 million people on top of the 61 million we already have.
The reality is that most people have incorrect perceptions regarding the population densities of various countries and regions. It is just widely accepted that Africa is heavily populated, ignoring the vast size of the continent. It is, in fact far less densely populated than any other continent, with the exception of Antarctica which only hosts a few scientific communities.

The most densely populated nation of the world is Monaco with 23,660 people per square kilometer. It is still known as the playground of the rich and famous. In fact many well know resorts, where people go to relax and have fun, are densely populated. Bermuda has a density of 1,211, Barbados is 627, Saint-Martine is 622, Mauritius is 610, Aruba is 553.

In comparison the United Kingdom is 246. And the Netherlands is well above that with 392 while Belgium is 341.

Mr. Mardell’s column did tell us what he felt. We even learned what his wife and and son felt. The one thing he never did was present one fact or figure. Unfortunately, these days, many people seem to think feelings are tools of cognition and if they feel something it must be right. It is indicative of the many people who can’t express a position on any issue without starting out saying: “I feel that....” In debate on important issues we need less feelings and more information.

People tend to spend more time in cities than they do in empty fields. Based on that limited sampling they tend to exaggerate the facts about population. The reality is that there is much more empty land than there is urban jungle.