“National Geographic” is, for many of us, a magazine that is full of nostalgia. It makes us think back to times in grade school: orange safety scissors in our fingers, we try to cut out a Koala or a volcano or a number of other gorgeous photographs in the yellow-blocked booklet. Or else we remember going to Goodwill and seeing them stacked in a milk crate. Or we remember the aunt who had the entire collection shelved in her basement.
Yet for being displayed and collected, “National Geographic” might be a publication to which you still haven’t given enough of your time.
Why does it deserve your attention? To start, I’ll note that “climate change” was the top phrase of the last decade according to Global Language Monitor. Also featured in the top five was “evacuee/refugee,” as in those facing the aftermath of Katrina. In such wakes, “National Geographic” is a lead in humane photo-documentation—that much you should already know.
But the journal’s writing also has the scientific foresight and insight to show how these things affect ecosystems, culture and even economics. Take, for example, the articles that have been published following the recent Gulf oil spill. One article discusses the less-noticed but very fragile Louisiana coastal marshes, which 98 percent of the region’s oysters and shrimp depend on for life and reproduction. The article goes on to talk about the implications this has on Cajun culture—what and how things are eaten.
Another article from that same issue stresses that the oceans are being over-fished. If you’ve been following, that much isn’t breaking news. But the article excels in showing what compounds the ecological footprint: catching the larger fish at the top of the food chain.
Why’s that? These already-scarce specimens (ex. tuna) will consume four times its weight in smaller (but still big) fish within a single year. The same thing is true of its prey. So, in applying this same series of multiplication down to the smallest oceanic specimens (like plankton), fishing for larger, less energy efficient aquatic life means we get about a thousand times less tonnage than if we had fished for smaller, more efficient fish. This is just one example of how the magazine’s informed journalists are able to give a more accurate sense of the details than you would from the average report.
Another great thing about “National Geographic” is that it is a well-developed multimedia experience. For a long time, the magazine has included inserts like maps or diagrams, which are usually very intricate. By now you’ve also noticed that “National Geographic” has its own television channel. While it contains good programs, it also corresponds with the magazine’s writing, rarely overlapping. So you can read about “Great Migrations” in the latest issue and then watch the mini-series documentary if you have cable.
Lastly, if you’re still only interested in the photographs, you’ll be happy to know that you’re a large part of the magazine’s perceived demographic. Each issue features not only spreads from its commissioned photographers, but also by more-than-capable freelancers.
If you go through their website, a subscription to “National Geographic” only costs $15 a year. In an increasingly globalized world prone to exploiting its ecosystems and cultures, it’s a good investment.