Vintage Viz: The World’s Rivers and Lakes, Organized Neatly
Rivers and lakes have borne witness to many of humanity’s greatest moments.
In the first century BCE, the Rubicon not only marked the border between the Roman provinces of Gaul and Italia, but also the threshold for civil war. From the shores of Lake Van in 1071, you could witness the Battle of Manzikert and the beginning of the end for the Byzantine Empire.
Rivers carry our trade, our dead, and even our prayers, so when London mapmaker James Reynolds partnered with engraver John Emslie to publish the Panoramic Plan of the Principal Rivers and Lakes in 1850, he could be sure of a warm reception.
The visualization, the latest in our Vintage Viz series, beautifully illustrates 42 principal rivers in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, along with 36 lakes across the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Each river has been unraveled and straightened onto an imaginary landscape-–no meandering here—and arranged by size. Major cities are marked by a deep orangy-red.
Top 3 Longest Principal Rivers (in 1850)
According to this visualization, the Mighty Mississippi is among the world’s longest, coming in at 3,650 miles, followed by the Amazon, the Nile, and the Yangtze river in China. The bottom three are the Tay in Scotland (125 miles), the Shannon in Ireland (200 miles), and the Potomac in the U.S. (275 miles).
Surveying methods have come a long way since 1850, and we now have satellites, GPS, and lasers, so we can update these rankings. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Nile (6,650 km / 4,132 miles), the Amazon (6,436 km / 3,998 miles), and the Yangtze (6,300 km / 3,915 miles) are the world’s top three longest rivers.
The table below shows the rivers in the graphic above compared with today’s measurements, as well as the general location of rivers using 1850 location names (including modern day locations in brackets).
|River||Territory||Viz length (miles)||Modern length (miles)|
|Nile||Egypt and Abyssinia (Ethiopia)||3,325||4,132|
|La Plata||La Plata (Argentina/Uruguay)||2,450||3,030|
|Indus||Caubul etc (Afghanistan etc)||1,700||1,988|
|McKenzie||Indian Territory (Canada)||1,600||1,080|
|Oronoco||Gran Colombia (Venezuela)||1,325||1,700|
|Gambia||Senegambia (The Gambia)||1,300||740|
|Bravo del Norta (Rio Grande)||Mexico||1,150||1,900|
|Orange||Namaqualand (Namibia/South Africa)||1,100||1,367|
|Colorando||La Plato (United States)||600||1,450|
|Tague||Spain and Portugal||575||626|
These figures are a unique look into a time period where humanity’s efforts to quantify the world were still very much a work in progress.
Editor’s note: Some of the rivers and lakes are spelled slightly differently in 1850 than they are today. For example, the map notes today’s Mackenzie River (Canada) as the McKenzie River, and the Yangtze River (China) as the Yangtse.
O Say, Can You Sea?
The largest ‘lake’ in this visualization is the Caspian Sea (118,000 sq. miles), followed by the Black Sea (113,000 sq. miles), and the greatest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior (22,400 sq. miles). While the Caspian Sea is considered a saltwater lake and could reasonably have a place here, the Black Sea—possibly bearing that name because of the color black’s association with “north”—is not a lake by any stretch of the imagination.
And while many of the surface areas reported could also be updated with modern estimates, the story behind Lake Chad (called Ichad in the visualization), the Aral Sea, and the Dead Sea are altogether different. Human development, unsustainable water use, and climate change have led to dramatic drops in water levels.
The Dead Sea in particular had a surface area of 405 sq. miles (1,050 km2) in 1930, but has since dropped to 234 sq. miles (606.1 km2) in 2016.
|Lake||Territory||Viz surface area (sq. miles)||Modern surface area (sq. miles)|
|Great Slave||North America||12,000||10,500|
|Aral Sea||Tartary (Central Eurasia)||11,650||6,900|
|Great Bear||North America||4,000||12,028|
You Can’t Step in the Same River Twice
Over time, natural and anthropogenic forces cause rivers to change their course, and lakes to shift their banks. If Reynolds and Emslie were alive today to update this visualization, it would likely look quite different, as would one made 100 years from now. But so goes the river of time.
Mapped: Carbon Pricing Initiatives Around the World
This graphic maps the 70 active carbon pricing initiatives worldwide, their established price of carbon, and the global emissions they cover.
Mapped: Carbon Pricing Initiatives Around the World
Over the past two decades, governments around the world have responded to climate change through various initiatives and policies, with carbon pricing at the forefront.
A recent example is the Canadian province of Ontario’s Emissions Performance Standards program, first launched in 2022. The program sets annual carbon emissions limits for industrial facilities, with a fee on excess carbon emitted.
This graphic by Jonathan Letourneau maps 70 active carbon pricing initiatives around the world and highlights their global impact as seen in the 2022 World Bank report.
But first, let’s look at the different types of carbon pricing:
Carbon Tax vs. ETS
Broadly speaking, carbon pricing gives emission generating organizations a choice between reducing their carbon emissions and paying for them.
The two typical initiatives used to offer this choice are carbon taxes and emissions trading systems (ETS):
- Carbon tax: This tax or levy is directly applied to the production of carbon emissions or fuels that release greenhouse gases. This makes products or services that release substantial carbon more expensive than greener alternatives (or reducing emissions).
- Emissions Trading System (ETS): Also called the cap-and-trade system, ETS puts a cap on the total level of greenhouse gases a licensed industry can emit. Companies with low emissions can sell their unused emission allowance with larger emitters that have exceeded the cap.
The World’s Carbon Pricing Initiatives
As of the end of 2022, Europe was home to 24 of the 70 active carbon pricing initiatives in the world.
|Location||Carbon Pricing Type||CO2e Price Per Tonne (USD)||Emissions Covered (Tonnes)|
|🇦🇷 Argentina||Carbon tax||$4.99||79.46|
|🇨🇦 Canada||Carbon tax||$39.96||167.67|
|🇨🇦 Canada - Alberta||ETS||$39.96||140.36|
|🇨🇦 Canada - British Columbia||ETS||$19.98||N/A|
|🇨🇦 Canada - British Columbia||Carbon tax||$39.96||46.41|
|🇨🇦 Canada - New Brunswick||ETS||$39.96||7.05|
|🇨🇦 Canada - New Brunswick||Carbon tax||$39.96||5.50|
|🇨🇦 Canada - Newfoundland and Labrador||ETS||$39.96||4.59|
|🇨🇦 Canada - Newfoundland and Labrador||Carbon tax||$39.96||5.01|
|🇨🇦 Canada - Northwest Territories||Carbon tax||$31.97||1.33|
|🇨🇦 Canada - Nova Scotia||ETS||$23.10||14.02|
|🇨🇦 Canada - Ontario||ETS||$31.97||41.12|
|🇨🇦 Canada - Prince Edward Island||Carbon tax||$23.98||0.97|
|🇨🇦 Canada - Quebec||ETS||$30.83||60.92|
|🇨🇦 Canada - Saskatchewan||ETS||$39.96||10.23|
|🇨🇱 Chile||Carbon tax||$5.00||36.93|
|🇨🇳 China - Beijing||ETS||$6.53||31.89|
|🇨🇳 China - Chongqing||ETS||$5.66||67.14|
|🇨🇳 China - Fujian||ETS||$1.83||125.13|
|🇨🇳 China - Guangdong (except Shenzhen)||ETS||$12.51||259.23|
|🇨🇳 China - Hubei||ETS||$7.24||63.80|
|🇨🇳 China - Shanghai||ETS||$9.28||78.48|
|🇨🇳 China - Shenzhen||ETS||$0.64||13.17|
|🇨🇳 China - Tianjin||ETS||$4.40||53.08|
|🇨🇴 Colombia||Carbon tax||$5.01||44.68|
|🇩🇰 Denmark||Carbon tax||$26.62||17.21|
|🇪🇪 Estonia||Carbon tax||$2.21||1.41|
|🇪🇺 EU - Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein||ETS||$86.53||1,626.60|
|🇫🇮 Finland||Carbon tax||$85.10||26.93|
|🇫🇷 France||Carbon tax||$49.29||157.78|
|🇮🇸 Iceland||Carbon tax||$34.25||2.72|
|🇮🇪 Ireland||Carbon tax||$45.31||27.05|
|🇯🇵 Japan||Carbon tax||$2.36||952.66|
|🇯🇵 Japan - Saitama||ETS||$3.84||8.16|
|🇯🇵 Japan - Tokyo||ETS||$4.42||13.26|
|🇰🇷 Korea, Republic of||ETS||$18.75||554.44|
|🇱🇻 Latvia||Carbon tax||$16.58||0.38|
|🇱🇮 Liechtenstein||Carbon tax||$129.86||0.15|
|🇱🇺 Luxembourg||Carbon tax||$43.35||6.80|
|🇲🇽 Mexico||Carbon tax||$3.72||352.61|
|🇲🇽 Mexico - Baja California||Carbon tax||N/A||N/A|
|🇲🇽 Mexico - Tamaulipas||Carbon tax||N/A||N/A|
|🇲🇽 Mexico - Zacatecas||Carbon tax||N/A||N/A|
|🇳🇱 Netherlands||Carbon tax||$46.14||25.96|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||ETS||$52.62||41.61|
|🇳🇴 Norway||Carbon tax||$87.61||44.73|
|🇵🇱 Poland||Carbon tax||N/A||15.94|
|🇵🇹 Portugal||Carbon tax||$26.44||25.04|
|🇸🇬 Singapore||Carbon tax||$3.96||56.42|
|🇸🇮 Slovenia||Carbon tax||$19.12||10.65|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||Carbon tax||$9.84||459.17|
|🇪🇸 Spain||Carbon tax||$16.58||6.23|
|🇸🇪 Sweden||Carbon tax||$129.89||25.83|
|🇨🇭 Switzerland||Carbon tax||$129.86||15.75|
|🇺🇸 United States - California||ETS||$30.82||309.47|
|🇺🇸 United States - New England Area (RGGI)||ETS||$13.89||67.92|
|🇺🇸 United States - New England Area (RGGI)||ETS||$0.50||6.07|
|🇺🇸 United States - Oregon||ETS||N/A||27.09|
|🇺🇦 Ukraine||Carbon tax||$1.03||197.46|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||Carbon tax||$23.65||97.38|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||ETS||$98.99||129.85|
|🇺🇾 Uruguay||Carbon tax||$137.30||4.38|
Europe’s position is not surprising given many of its countries have set ambitious carbon neutral goals. The region’s European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is the world’s largest carbon market, covering 1.8 billion tonnes of emissions annually.
Canada has also implemented numerous regional and national carbon pricing initiatives, with many provinces falling under both main types of carbon pricing. For example, carbon emissions in British Columbia—the first jurisdiction in North America to implement carbon pricing—are priced under both a carbon tax and an ETS.
Meanwhile, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2021, China, implemented its much-awaited national ETS the same year. In just one year, the country’s traded carbon emission allowances crossed 200 million tonnes.
In the U.S., several states have implemented their own carbon pricing initiatives. California’s cap-and-trade initiative covers emissions from electricity, transportation, and industry, while the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative sets a cap on emissions from power plants of nine Northeastern states, including New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
The Impact of Carbon Pricing
Putting a price on carbon emissions seems to have made an impact in reducing emissions.
In Europe, the EU ETS has helped reduce emissions from the power sector by 43% in the region since its inception in 2005.
Likewise, California’s Cap-and-Trade program has helped the state meet its goal of reducing carbon emissions back to 1990 levels.
In many jurisdictions, including China and Canada, there are plans to double down on carbon pricing plans, either by increasing the cost of carbon or lowering emissions limits.
But while many economists and policy makers have found carbon pricing to be the most efficient tool to curb emissions, they also point out that the programs themselves need to be designed well. Initiatives with limits that are too high or prices that are too low can be ineffectual, as well as giving certain major polluters exemptions from programs.
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