Review: Talk by Tim Marshall

Benjamin Bissett (Year 8) & Tom White (Year 13)

On the 28th February 2019, GSAL and councillor Dan Cohen (Conservative councillor for Alwoodley) hosted and sponsored a talk by Tim Marshall, former diplomatic editor and foreign affairs editor for Sky News.

Marshall, who was educated at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley, spoke about how world politics are constrained by geography and the impact that natural features like mountains, rivers, seas and plains have on their outcome. He talked specifically about countries including Russia (which has a bewildering eleven different time zones), India and Pakistan, the USA, China and Syria, how geography played a vital part in their dealings with other countries and how large expanses of water, be it oceans or rivers, affected their communication and transport strategies.

These same features also had a great effect on the movement of people, particularly migrants and refugees who were trying to escape persecution.

He referred briefly to his new bestselling book, The Prisoners of Geography, which deals with many of the issues raised in his talk and then opened the floor to questions before ending a very interesting presentation.

Having done some initial research on the book, it is clear that it provides a fascinating insight into world affairs. Tim Marshall divides the world into a series of ten maps to explain significant events.

I found his explanation of the annexation of the Crimea by Russia in order to retain access to warm water ports, particularly interesting. Benjamin Bissett (Year 8 – Media Society)

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Tim Marshall is a world-renowned journalist, with on-the-ground experience in conflict zones stretching from Gaza to Kosovo. His knowledge of geopolitics is second-to-none as illustrated during his talks where he would constantly have some statistic to back up his own realist views.

I particularly enjoyed the segment of his talk on how sub-Saharan Africa is overcoming the problems that its physical geography has created for itself, for example the steep, unnavigable rivers mean trade routes that were the catalyst for western development are simply unattainable in Africa because boats cannot bypass the terrain easily due to the prominence of waterfalls and natural obstacles. Secondly, the climate of Africa is almost perfectly suited for the Tsetse fly which hosts diseases such as the Nagana pest, which affects “beasts of burden” like horses lethally. This means that horses as a species struggle to survive in this climate, which is a huge loss for the African population given the potential benefits horses provide as a tool for development. Once again, this is something that the entire western world took for granted during their own progress along the hockey-stick chart of development, but something that Africa simply can’t utilise due to it’s physical geography.

I asked Mr Marshall how he foresaw technology being able to counter-act these innate disadvantages, and he gave three solutions he thought could be attainable. Firstly, the use of artificial intelligence in the desalinisation industry, which he pointed out Israel as a world-leading developer of this technology. He believes that by solving the water crisis using intelligence that we currently do not possess, countries are no longer in direct competition for an increasingly scarce essential resource and so can focus their attentions on development and improved healthcare.

I found the talk to be very well-constructed, combining fresh perceptions about how we see the world with a light-hearted and accessible manner, and I look forward to reading his new book Divided. Tom White (Year 13 – Geography Student)

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