Encyclopedia terra firma

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Sunday 31 October 2004

-- Signposts 2004: Essential Data, Timelines and Analysis of Global Trends Worldwatch Institute USA

There is something irresistible about the digital world; it makes the world of information small -- as small as your computer screen -- and at the same time highly relevant to your existence. The Worldwatch Institute's Signposts 2004 is just that: in a 225 mb cd it chronicles 40 years of the world environment. It's right there on your palm and you fiddle with it like a veritable toy version of the earth.

A user-friendly start page is the base camp before you venture into the other sections. Signposts 2004 has three basic content classifications: trends datasets, Worldwatch annuals and a timeline. A very comprehensive trends datasets direct you to the world of statistics on world environment. It has 230 indicators for environmental, economical and social changes. This virtually leaves out nothing to search for. To make things easier, this section further divides into eight subjects starting from agriculture and food to transportation and communication. Moreover, each subject has two distinct sections: trends and overview. For example, under the head climate and pollution, the disc brings out emission data from 1751 ad till today and analyses the emission levels to argue for climate change.

The inclusion of famed annual publications of Worldwatch, such as the State of the World and Vital Signs, in the cd comes as a huge value addition. It contains the two annuals from 2001 to 2004. This is particularly significant because these publications are crucial references to understand global environmental, social and economic problems, as well as their solutions. The State of the World's chapters focus on a specific issue every year and provide in-depth analysis and recommendations for policy change. Vital Signs presents quick overviews of key indicators, such as growth in wind power or the steep rise in sea levels.

Another interesting feature of the cd is its timeline section. It comes with a very compact graphical chronicle of the most important happenings related to the environment. Starting from the book Silent Spring in 1962 to records of extinction of flora and fauna in 2004, the cd is a one linear track to all milestones that have shaped our thinking about the world and its environment. And, every milestone has hyperlinks to present details.

Sometimes, with its comprehensive and well thought out data presentation, Signposts 2004 seems like an insistent reminder to look into the world and its lives. The in-built search facility for getting specific information just reinforces this exhortation.

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