From a New York Times article about desertification in China
One recent estimate said China had 21,000 square miles more desert than what existed in 1975—about the size of Croatia.
Does knowing that Croatia comprises 21, 851 square miles help you envision how big that is?
I thought not.
Where is Croatia, anyway? Is that really a country? Somewhere in Eastern Europe, right?
The name may not sound all that familiar because if you’re older than 25 you were born before the modern state of Croatia was created out of part of the former Yugoslavia. Remember Croatia? Bosnia? Serbia?
And that is where?
On the coast of the Adriatic Sea. That help?
You know where Italy is, right? Upper right is Venice. Look due east on the map. That's Croatia.
But wait, it's really a weird shape, looks like a gerrymandered electoral precinct. Lots of little inlets and islands, zigs, zags, and wiggles all over the place. Hard to use as an imaginary unit of measure.
Americans are notoriously fuzzy about geography outside of the US, but we have a couple of standard units of measure. The most common is the football field.
Examples from recent news stories:
Migrating monarch butterflies in Mexico cover an area about the size of 2 1/2 football fields.
An oil spill in Alberta covered an area the size of 5 football fields.
China's building a radio telescope the size of 30 football fields.
The new Tesla factory outside of Reno is going to be the size of 107 football fields.
And China has created 20 football fields’ worth of new land in the Spratlys.
Sort of clear, right?
But football fields aren't that helpful when we're talking about more sizeable areas. Croatia, for instance, is the size of almost 10 million football fields.
So we can go up to the second most common US unit of measure for areas: the Rhode Island.
Mark Twain may have been the first author to use this unit, in Following the Equator.
He remarked that the Australian state of Victoria was about the size “of fifteen or sixteen Rhode Islands.”
Journalists like Rhode Islands because Rhode Island is actually really small—the smallest of all the states—so it's easy to say something is several times bigger than a whole honkin’ STATE!
The valley in Pakistan where Malala Yousafzai grew up is about the size of 2 Rhode Islands.
Ted Turner owns a little under 3 Rhode Islands’ worth of property.
The ocean preserve that Obama recently created covers an area equivalent to roughly 550 Rhode Islands.
So. Croatia is about 18 Rhode Islands big.
That's a lot of Chinese desert.