Why don’t we start using a more accurate world map rather than the conventional Mercator map?
What are the problems with Mercator?
1. Distorted sizes
The most obvious criticism is that it distorts the size of countries near the poles. The classic example is Greenland vs Africa. On a Mercator projection, they look about the same size.
In reality Africa is *way* bigger than Greenland.
You can play around with the size distortions yourself on thetruesize.com
2. Cultural bias
The distorted sizes are not only a problem because they give a mistaken idea of what the world looks like. Mercator also increases the size, and arguably the perceived importance, of white nations in comparison to non-white nations.
Mercator maps are also commonly cropped in an uneven way that adds even more prominence to Europe and North America. The map below is from the North Dakota Historical Society. The equator was drawn on by Max Galka to show how far off center it is.
3. Mercator is infinitely tall
Why is Mercator susceptible to being cropped as in the image above? Because it does not have a bottom or a top and always has to be cropped, leaving a lot of discretion to the person doing the cropping.
Here is what Mercator would look like if you were to crop its bottom further down.
That structure in the center is Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station. And those shapes at the bottom are individual snow flakes. If you were to continue even further, you would eventually reach the scale of individual atoms, and beyond.
Mercator may seem “normal” since we are all accustomed to seeing it, but it is really a very strange way of mapping the world.
4. Mercator is NOT well suited for navigation
Defenders of Mercator often claim that it is well suited for navigation, since straight lines on the globe appear as straight lines on the map. That is actually a fallacy.
It’s true that lines of constant compass bearing appear straight on the map. But lines of constant compass bearing are in fact curved. To illustrate, imagine you wanted to fly from New York to London. Looking at a Mercator map, you would think it’s a straight route across the ocean.
In reality, , the route that airplanes actually take, crosses over a large chunk of Canada. This is clear when you see it on a 3D globe.
Although the lines in this next map appear curved, they are all actually straight on the globe. These are the routes that ships and planes actually take.
Why are we using Mercator in the first place?
As mentioned above, lines of constant compass bearing appear as straight lines on a Mercator map. At one time, before the invention of GPS, ships did used to travel this way — keeping their bow pointed in the same direction with respect to their compass along the entire route. In those times, Mercator really did serve a practical purpose.
These lines of constant compass bearing are known as rhumb lines. And though it may seem counter-intuitive, following the same direction on your compass actually takes you along a curved path.