World Maps, World Models, and World Views in Transition


Heiner Benking, Berlin,  (Presentation Powerpoints), September - October 2006


Presidents of the United States, like many of our decision-makers, seem to govern over a world without even knowing its dimensions and proportions,,,, said Heiner Benking on the occasion of the International Intercarto InterGIS 12 Conference, August 28 to 30, 2006 in Berlin. The topic of this event organized by the Berlin-Brandenburg Chapter of the German Cartographic Society and the international InterCarto was Geographic Information and Sustainable Development. -


FOOTNOTE: (( Benking makes reference to Jimmy Carter who used equal area maps for his Nobel  Speach, the UNESCO main internet portal, or "initiatives" like the Rule-Set Reset" New Pentagon Map "people", but in general he shows maps were in the public, in media, business, science, or eduaction mtypically only very distorted, inadequate worldmaps are used. Maps, which are not recommended by bodies in charge or knowledgable, but used because decision makers are used to them)).


The above purposefully provocative remark about many of our presidents and state secretaries is to be taken literally, as we have only recently - thanks to a microphone mishap - heard excepts from an off-the-record conversation between George W. Bush and his Chinese colleague Hu Jintao at the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, where Bush amicably asked Jintao what he had planned for the evening, assuming wrongfully that the latter would by then be back in Peking, while Bush himself still had a long journey home. To his surprise, he had to be told by Jintao that the journey from St. Petersburg was equally far for both of them. (Note: More information on distances, surfaces, proportions, dimensions and time below and in the references.)


Not only George W. Bush, but most of us seem to have an outdated view of the world, continued Benking, and worse: Due to modern computer visualisation, the distorted world maps are broadcast widely into schools and childrennnns rooms.... He showed examples of how unsuitable maps with various projections were used by international organizations, science, military, business, even Greenpeace to support self-serving claims.

Sometimes this occurs unconsciously, as these groups, like all of us, are largely map-illiterate and without even the slightest notion of "Earth Literacy", meaning the perception of a complex world with the awareness about the corresponding system of ecological balances.


This ignorance about maps, systems and models is being supported by the media, through confidence-inspiring individuals, like the well-known author, talk-show host and journalist Ulrich Wickert, who for over 15 years have wished us a pleasant evening from in front of a distorted, disproportionate and unsuitable world view map. (Note: Again, we would like to refer you to the annex for more information on past and present TV news world maps and current PhD dissertations on this topic.)


Benking told cartographers about old and new world maps and models, about fast-paced multi-media transformations and about how we visualize, model, gain new insights or are able to better manage environmental protection projects, but also about the potential dangers of charlatans demagogically or naively confusing the realities, areas, categories, proportions and consequences or presenting a "distorted" world. He wants to shake us up, as the subject of world map projections is not new, but often conveniently suppressed.

Just like during the time of Columbus, we are faced with an expansion of our world, which causes initial pains. It was far easier to consider the world flat and caution people not to think beyond or fall over the edge in fear of encountering the enemy. See Old & New Cosmologies at:


Mind you, models and maps of the world are one basic fundament of our worldview and thus part of our consciousness, as was the case back in 1507 when the largely unknown cartographer Martin Waldseemueller from Freiburg, Germany printed a map of the world showing America for the very first time. Until then, the Behaim globe had omitted the continent known only as a "strange, white spot" ... Waldseemueller, however, thanks to Gutenberg, was able to print parts of the map in the shape of orange peels, so that people could then build their own globe. He thus managed the leap from the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional 500 years before our time, though even today, many people have not yet followed suit.


Waldseemueller's map, at least, was't as distorted, considering for example the size and proportions of Africa, as the familiar world map inspired by Mercator. Mercator was a great cartographer born in Duisburg, Germany in 1512 and regarded as a genius due to his illustrations of history and the world. He encouraged trade and exploration like no other, as his maps were equiangular and thus easy to navigate with. Mercator himself was well aware of the distortions linked to the representation of world maps and warned explicitly not to use his projection for anything other than local or regional navigation, but all this was suitably forgotten or concealed. It was too convenient and flattering for the first world to see itself represented so large and central.


Ensuing generations dispensed with the southern latitudes, so that our maps now depict a northern hemispheric world, depriving the "third" world of its rightful place and thus of its voice and representation. Part of this "third" world are the tropical rainforests we are supposed to protect. Even worse distortions occur at the poles and one wonders how professional environmental organizations can use such maps. Even today, the oceans are considered roughly endless, though soon it looks like there will no longer be any free fish to be caught within them. Modern world maps often show no grids and frames, simply cut off the sea; partial extracts, incomplete sections and narrow, distorted images are sold as world maps.


Benking showed samples from his website (flatworlds) of how Greenpeace uses these misrepresentations to campaign for the protection of the oceans or how, on the official, international level, the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDG) or UNESCO's Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) still show, for example, Africa as contracted and shrunken, while Russia, in contrast, appears enlarged and expanded. Sometimes, however, these organizations are only subgroups of for example UNESCO, as the latter itself, at least on its homepage, as Benking points out, features a representational equal-area model.


The lecture, however, did not stop at world maps, but also included world models and the integration of the media and other forms of illustration in an age of rapid technological change. Benking spoke of new frontiers and conquests, such as the micro- and nano-cosmos, challenging our traditional cosmology and worldview; of how we blindly shield ourselves from the unknown, refusing to question, but prefer to be superficially lulled by colourful images.


The example of world maps demonstrates that one can not and must not turn the multi-dimensional into something flat just to fit it in between the covers of a book. One can learn to dispense with rectangular coordinates, one can learn to compromise and consult different representational or near representational models simultaneously, and one can learn to recognize the fatal tendency of considering many things to be the one and only acceptable truth.


From the example of world maps and the representation of the world in people's minds 500 years ago, we can learn how the current en-vogue change of paradigm look and feel like and have impacts the better or to the worse.

We can learn a lot from history, when we see how people dealt with change and what kind of tools they invented to be able to imagine something or talk about it.


Benking also mentioned the PNYV! project of the UNESCO's Decade of Education for Sustainable Development initiative, because it brings positive, constructive news into the classroom and tackles questions and challenges like the above mentioned Earth Literacy and Map-Analphabetism debate.

Please see the link below! and the BLOG of the author: - with articles on DROPPING KNOWLEDGE, KOFI ANNAN, or Earth Day, just to name a few SEEDS OF CHANGE contributions related to this subject matter and of possible interest. 



Earth Literacy:

Positive News Youth Magazine PNYV:

and Literacy at the 2006 Frankfurt Book Fair (with UNESCO and GOOGLE)


Literature-Links (Recommendations):

On the Gerhard Mercator Projection:

On the Gall-Peters Projection:

On Martin Waldseemmmller:

Encyclopaedia of Systems and Cybernetis. Francois, CHarles (ed.), Saur, Munich:

François, C. and Benking, H.:

Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, ed, UIA Brussels, Judge, Anthony J. N. (ed.), Saur, M√ľnchen:

Benking, H. and Judge, A. on Spatial Metaphors:

Dror, Y. and Benking, H., Summary Points on Capacity to Governnnn. Club of Rome Report Book Review, UN Climate Summit, Berlin, 1995:

Mann-Borgese, Mother of the Oceans ******

Burkhart, Helmut, Morton-Marr, Peace & Sustainability Education: (See also: Education and Sustainability Education and Peace:

Schneider, E.: Old and New Studies for a Culture of Sustainability:

Benking, H. et al. (1990), íńķGlobal Change.íńý Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Groooforschungseinrichtungen (AGF), Bundeskanzleramt Bonn:

Benking, H. (1993), "Our View of Life is too flat" in COHERENCE AND CHAOS IN OUR UNCOMMON FUTURES -Visions, Means, Actions. XIII World Conference of World Futures Studies Federation, -

Dazu AKTUELL: Die Welt ist eine Scheibe und andere Missverständnisse der Globalisierung, Schwerpunkt Ortsbestimmung, brandeins, September 2006,

Benking, Heiner: Skizzen f√ľr Weltbilder und Welth√§user - Haus-Aufgaben zum Thema Weltbetrachtung und Naturverstttndnis, IN: Band 4. Die Natur, Reihe Postmaterialismus, Seite 103-112, Passagen Verlag, Salzburg, Wien,

Benking, H.: Old and New Spaces, Ordnungen und Modelle f√ľr Orientierungen und Vereinbarungen, oder: Steuern und gemeinsam auch in neuen modernen Welten zurechtkommen, IN: Das Verbindende der Kulturen, Sektion 8.3, Dialog und Lernen, Internet-Zeitschrift fffr Kulturwissenschaften, 15. Nr., J√§nner 2006,

Zur Ausstellung Geographie und Kartographie in der fr√ľhen Neuzeit, Ausstellung aus den Bestttnden der Niederssschsischen Staats- und Universittttsbibliothek, G√∂ttingen, von 24. 2. - 7. 4. 2002:



Title of Heiner Benking's contribution: Worldmapping and Worldmodelling revisited

Keywords world view and und environmental awareness (filter, focus, orientation, visual demagogy, maps on TV íńž recent PhD dissertation!)

Current and old images from Uli Wickert and Tagesthemen

WESTWING - President and Oval Office ! ******** There used to be a comedy series on the US entitled something like: Mr President you have the wrong Mapppp in the White-House (ROUGHLY) There should be a quote from Benkingggg on this STORY! Also mention that the Bush situation isnnnnt that far fetched and concerns other heads of state, too, that they not only err in terms of distances, but worth yet, in terms of the relation and size of areas!!

Mann-Borgese, Mother of the Seas *** Quote: Benking Elisabeth ***

Dedicated to Carl Ritter, friend and companion of Alexander von Humboldt ** see powerpoint slides !!

Reaction from cartographers and the world!! UNEP/GRID-Warsaw. Marek Baranowski: quote: ****

PROBLEMATIQUE Dispute over methods CLUB OF ROME and Ozbekhan-Aleco, see LOVERS OF DEMOCRACY and NEW AGORA: