Dateline 2010: the world-historical situation

In the twilight century of western civilisation, the US, the last resting place of western power, has as its primary purpose the containment of rising China. China has as its primary purpose to put the world 'back to rights'. It is playing a waiting game, and is anxious not to jump the gun.

Dark Age Watch (DAW on hold.)

Issue du jour 1: War with Iran--important to containing China but delayed over two years

Issue du jour 2: The world economy--unbalanced, interwoven, delusional--some predict its unravelling

Issue du jour 3: Somalia--leading the world into a dark age

Issue du jour 4: Pirates exploit the decline of international order

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Specific coastline and development

Sea transport was more efficient than land transport throughout most of the development of civilisation - from the late neolithic or early bronze age until today. Coastal areas had higher scale, and were more populous and more advanced than inland regions.

Therefore, other things being equal, regions with a large amount of coastline for a given landmass developed faster and further. Europe benefited from this, since it is a relatively small continent with a long, convoluted coastline. By contrast, Africa and Asia, with smoother, more rounded shapes that encompassed a much bigger area, were at a developmental disadvantage.

We call the ratio of a region's coastline to its surface area, the specific coastline. Values of the specific coastline for various regions are as follows:

Specific coastline (km-1)
4.1 x 10-3
1.7 x 10-3
1.0 x 10-3
Western Europe
6 x 10-3

Source: N Rashevsky Looking at history through mathematics (Cambridge, MA 1968) pp. 132-3.

The advantage of Europe, especially western Europe (excluding Russia and Poland), is clear. Its high specific coastline helped it to develop faster than other regions during the last half-millennium of ocean-going transport. This advantage has diminished with the growth of land and air transport, and will all but disappear as humanity transitions to a space-based economy.

Europe - specific coastline = 4.6 x 10-3

Asia - specific coastline = 1.7 x 10-3

Africa - specific coastline = 1.0 x 10-3

Europe appears even more advantaged when we consider the specific river coastline (ratio of total river length to area). For Europe, this is 9 x 10-3 km-1, compared with 1 x 10-3 km-1 for China, and 5 x 10-4 km-1 for India. Europe's total coastline (river and sea) is nearly ten times that of China or India (Rashevsky Looking at history through mathematics p. 133).