THE NEW MAP
By Daniel Yergin
'Geophysical maps change very slowly. But political, technical, and economic maps can change quickly, revealing new topographies that present multiple challenges and need to be traversed with care and thought. The drive for net zero carbon in a matter of just a few decades will mean remaking the global economy…while it will present new avenues for cooperation, it will also create new risks for conflict.'
In The New Map, Yergin takes us on a journey through historical and current political, technical, and economic maps: America’s new map, Russia’s map, China’s map, and maps of the Middle East as well as a roadmap for the future and – of particular interest to me – a climate map.
If your aim is to engage with climate issues in a meaningful way, then context is critical. Books like this one, covering the geopolitics of energy and climate recovery, are vital reading.
Geopolitical and economic context is key to developing nuanced views and kick-starting your thinking. Take an example: divestment.
Divestment is an easy knee-jerk reaction to the need for us to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Why don’t we demand that organisations stop holding shares in fossil fuel companies and fund renewables instead?
Books like this one encourage deeper and more practical consideration. Would divestment work? If demand cannot easily be switched – we can’t all ditch our petrol cars and gas boilers tomorrow, shipping and therefore world trade relies on fossil fuels, and our healthcare system relies on fossil fuel-derived plastics – will divestment achieve any reduction in the production of fossil fuels? What will the wider consequences be? Could widespread divestment make it difficult for petro companies to operate or invest, robbing us of climate gains (like investment in cleaner natural gas) or driving up prices? At times, dividends from BP and Shell have funded 20% of British pensions; what investments will replace investment in fossil fuels, and are those alternatives in a position to support pensions in the same way? What happens to the thousands of students whose scholarships are funded by universities’ dividends from fossil fuel companies when that income is gone?
Similar thought-provoking questions arise in relation to objections to oil pipelines, and many other issues. The real problem is demand (much of which is driven by necessities, like keeping us warm and fed), so is a focus on supply and funding helpful? If it is, how do we mitigate the wider impacts?
These aren’t necessarily unsurmountable issues – and Yergin doesn’t argue for or against any policy but instead presents the challenges on both sides and, crucially, the context that makes matters more complex than they appear.
To go beyond surface-level calls for change and move into discussions about how that change can happen we need to engage with the complexity of our global economy. This book is a great place to start.
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