Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map

News | September 30, 2010

For a recent EWI breakfast book series, Geopolitics expert, Cleo Paskal discussed her new book “Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises will Redraw the World Map.”

Paskal began her presentation with the aphorism “Geography makes history,” and went on to show how disasters change the course of history. Her main message: “In order to understand the geopolitical and the geoeconomic, we must understand the geophysical.”

To make her case, Paskal cited examples from China, the Arctic, and the U.S. , starting with Hurricane Katrina, a primary example of how one natural disaster can dovetail into an international crisis. New Orleans’ infrastructure was not designed with the natural landscape in mind, so when Katrina hit the coast, it wreaked havoc.  Not only was the city destroyed, but Katrina demolished the coastal infrastructure and oil rigs, bringing down 457 pipelines and diminishing the Gulf’s oil production by 57.37%.

"We need to look at not just how we’re affecting the environment, but how the environment’s affecting us,” Paskal pointed out.

To show how environmental change may lead to political conflict, Paskal explored territorial sea rights through the lens of the Maldive Islands.  A mere 6 feet about sea level, the Maldives have already lost 15% of their land area to rising sea levels caused by global warming. As islands like these disappear, the solution is to use materials like sand to build them up again, at which point the islands are no longer considered natural, but, rather, man-made. Why does this matter? A natural island has a 200 mile exclusive economic zone, while a man-made island has only a 500 meter zone.  This raises a myriad of issues such as water sharing, and how we govern international waters and international territories. 

As Paskal concluded, “Geography makes history, but environmental change makes geography.”