Here There be Dragons – GOT and Climate Change

April 14, 2019

Here there be spoilers.


I came to “Game of Thrones” late in the game. Feeling lame about the hundreds of pop culture references flying over my head — “Winter is coming?” Huh? — I gifted my husband the “GoT” boxed set for his birthday, and we spent a year catching up with the dragons and giants of Westeros.
The eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” starts Sunday. But my moment of realization — when “GoT” morphed from entertainment to existentialism — came in Season 7, episode 7.
About halfway through the episode, hero Jon Snow tries to convince warring factions to join forces against a common enemy: an army of zombies assembling in the north. But the various leaders don’t believe the zombies exist, and the discussion deteriorates into sniping and name-calling.
Snow steps between the two groups and announces, impatiently:

“The same thing is coming for all of us: a general you can’t negotiate with, an army that doesn’t leave corpses behind on the battlefield.”
To prove the point, Snow’s strongman unchains a wooden box and releases its contents: a screaming, rag-clad zombie who runs full-tilt, hissing and jittering, toward the enemy queen.
Jon Snow kills the zombie with a shard of obsidian, and turns to the queen: “There is only one war that matters. The great war. And it is here.”
I hit the pause button and turned to my husband: “This is all about climate change.”

“You think everything is about climate change,” he said. “This,” he pointed at the screen, “is about zombies.”
He is wrong, of course, and I am right. Because, as an environmental journalistand Mother of (two) Dragons, I am an expert on climate change and “Game of Thrones.”
Let’s look at the evidence. In “GoT”:
A global shift in climate, long predicted, emerges
A huge, icy structure crumbles
The climate shift allows noxious pests to move beyond their traditional habitat
… And forces people from their ancestral homes
Even as evidence of these threats mount, squabbling nations deny their existenceIn “Game of Thrones,” the climate is getting colder; our own is warming, but whatever. Their wall is Greenland’s glaciers (or Antarctica’s). Their zombies are our toxic algae, ticks and adeus egypti mosquitoes. Their Wildings are our climate refugees, and squabbling nations are our squabbling nations, with fewer beheadings but plenty of backstabbing. Their crisis mirrors our own.
A colleague pointed out that I am not the first person to draw this conclusion. George R. R. Martin, who wrote the series on which “Game of Thrones” is based, told the New York Times last fall that there’s a “great parallel” between his story and our current climate crisis.
Climate change, Martin says, “has the potential to destroy our world. And we’re ignoring that while we worry about the next election and issues that people are concerned about, like jobs.”

“Jobs are a very important issue,” he adds. “All of these things are important issues. But none of them are important if, like, we’re dead and our cities are under the ocean.”
Martin’s characters agree with their creator. One of “GoT’s” bad guys, upon witnessing Jon Snow killing the zombie, decides to flee back to his island home to hide. “I’ve seen everything — things you couldn’t imagine,” he says. “This is the only thing I’ve ever seen that terrifies me.”
Many people I know feel the same way. Each Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report brings a flurry of emails and texts from panicked friends, looking for a bit of hope. Who is our Jon Snow? Who is our Danerys Targarean?  And, where, oh where, are our dragons?
Good question.

I spend most of my time talking to scientists, politicians, policy wonks and regular people who are taking big and small steps to fight climate change: scientists converting spent cranberry bogs to salt marshes, students advocating for old trees, colleges committing to composting, moms working with gas companies to fix leaky pipelines, a Republican governor supporting wind power and proposing a carbon tax. I don’t necessarily agree with all these steps (and as a journalist I don’t advocate for any of them); but as a human, it’s heartening to see action on many fronts.
Is it enough to stop climate change? Nope. Winter is here. Climate change will hit us hard, and it will hit the most vulnerable among us the hardest.
I have two kids, ages 9 and 11, and I talk to them about climate change a lot. Our family spends summers in Breezy Point, New York, which was walloped by Hurricane Sandy and is still rebuilding. When we walk on the beach, we discuss sea level rise and super storms (and ocean warming and plastic pollution), and whether their beloved Coney Island will be under water in 50 years.
My kids know that the world is changing. But I tell them that they will make it better, and be better for it. They’ll build a world with far less consuming and much more recycling, reusing and upcycling. They’ll walk and bike because it will be cheaper than driving. They’ll eat less processed food with less packaging. Their houses will send electricity back to the grid. And all these things will be common sense, not political footballs.
I have a similar hope for the last season of “Game of Thrones.” My fervent wish is that Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark end up sharing the throne. They’ve both been through hell, and emerged as clear-eyed pragmatists. (And they are married, right? It’s hard to keep track.) The citizens of Westeros would see less drama under their leadership, true. They might even have a chance of surviving the long winter.

22 Responses to “Here There be Dragons – GOT and Climate Change”

  1. 1happywoman Says:

    “But I tell them that they will make it better, and be better for it.”

    How naive.

    If we don’t do something NOW, things will be too far gone for her kids to “make it better.” Because what will they eat when plants’ life cycles get enough out of sync with pollinators’ life cycles? Or when a pollinator’s host plant disappears because it can’t survive the warmer temps? Or when there aren’t any more pollinators, because too many insect species have gone extinct? Or when the oceans acidify enough to affect fish populations?

    So much warming is already baked in. People just do not get that climate change could be an extinction event for humans.

    I’m preaching to the choir, I know. Nobody else wants to hear it.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      Happyfemaleperson, maintain the faith and rage. Maybe the world will get its act together, maybe some global change will save us and then the horse might learn to sing. In any event, you do not ‘actually’ lose anything by acting progressively. Easy to say, I know.

      • 1happywoman Says:

        Brent, thanks for the understanding and encouragement. I feel like I need to change my name to 1despairingwoman.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Brent beat me too it—-I was going to send a similar message. How about changing your name to 1oftendespairingbutstilhappyandhopingfemaleperson (1ODBSHAHFP for short)

          Just remember, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings!

          • 1happywoman Says:

            DOG, that video was the best 21 seconds of my day!

            i feel like my behavior is not matching my values. I’m doing what I comfortably can–donating monthly to The Climate Mobilization, eating only plants (cue Gingerbaker about how that doesn’t matter . . . .), living close to work to minimize driving, etc. But the operative word is “comfortably.”

            If I really believe climate change is the hair-on-fire emergency I keep telling other people it is, I should quit my job and volunteer full-time with Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

            But I can’t figure out what I would do for money. And if I “squandered” my remaining productive years like that, my son and his wife would probably let me starve on the street in my dotage because I behaved “irresponsibly.” And India would still burn coal no matter what I did.

            But enough hand wringing. I just need to remember that I can’t single-handedly save the world.


          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            Know the problem Chickaperson. Suffered debilitating guilt for not selling my first world mansion to feed refugees. A concentrated mental slap was applied, to wit: ‘IT AINT GOING TO HAPPEN STUPID’ so stop twisting the knickers to no effect. Backup was my family would rubber room me first anyway. And I drive my car to the super market. Your posts inform many people they are not alone.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            “I just need to remember that I can’t single-handedly save the world”.

            Yep. Remember too that you didn’t single-handedly create the mess—-we are each just one of 7,500,000,000 humans. The blame lies with the greedy rich who have pushed us to the brink, not with you or I—we unknowingly supported the real demons, and now find out we’ve been “ponzied” and can’t do much about it Do what you can and try hard to do more, but don’t sweat it (or is that an unfortunate choice of words on a warming planet?)

    • jimbills Says:

      Hi. So, I know this comment will come off like a wet fart in a crowded room, even here, but here goes.

      You’re frustrated because you think we have control, and we don’t. The only control the individual has is the small sphere of influence of friends, family, and acquaintances, and this is both quite finite in time and more often than not limited by humanity’s remarkable ability to reject uncomfortable or inconvenient influences.

      We ‘think’ we are greater than we are – our consciousness fools us into believing we are more capable, intelligent, and aware than other species – but it’s a facade. Some humans are quite intelligent about some things, and this helps promote the happy fallacy that we can do anything we wish. But when viewed on the macro level, at the mass of activity by people in sum, we are exactly like any other species. We compete, we thrive and expand given the right conditions, we fight when the conditions are bad, and we die when they are very bad.

      We face a certain fate both as a civilization and as a population – which is to collapse. It’s silly to put a time frame to this as there are too many variables in play and we can’t predict future surprises, but all civilizations collapse, and all biological populations that go into overshoot collapse. All – without exception.

      Our cleverness as a species (expressed especially in technological advance) might allow us a longer exponential phase, a more rounded stationary phase, and/or a longer stationary phase (although with our current economic system I doubt this), but the death phase is inevitable.

      We don’t want to accept this, I know. And like I said, we’re remarkably adept at denying what we don’t want to believe. But we have incredibly little to zero control over it no matter what we want to believe.

      But hey – here’s the good news. It’s unlikely humans will go extinct, because during the death phase fewer people will be able to be able to deplenish the environment, and it will regrow in some form (see Chernobyl). Plus, the thing that has brought us to this point, our cleverness, which has allowed us to reach and extend past overshoot, will also help to smooth the death phase a bit more than other species.

      So, don’t worry, be happy. And keep doing the best you can personally, because the very limited influence you do have ‘might’ still rub off on those around you. I’m not saying at all we should do nothing. If we have any personal morality at all, we should still care and try to be positive influencers, because in the end the extremely limited control we do have still exists, and there is the however slight chance it might extend into a positive influence for some handful of people in the future.

      But, the false belief that we have real control over our fate as a species and civilization leads only to madness, despair, and anger. It ain’t there. It never was.

      Don’t be like this guy:

      He was probably a very good person, but he succumbed to the madness of thinking we have real control.


      • dumboldguy Says:

        Very well said. I’ve been saying the same thing for a long time—we are just a too-smart animal species that must obey the same laws of nature that all living things “live” by. It’s not IF or MAYBE but WHEN.

        It’s interesting that in the year since David Buckel did himself in, there have apparently been NO other “suicides for the earth” anywhere on the planet—after the monk immolated himself in Vietnam in 1963, four Americans did so here in the USA to protest the war.

        There was hardly any mention of what Buckel did after a couple of weeks of the usual sensational coverage. I guess in the world of Trump’s endless madness, madness for good (if there is such a thing) gets ignored.

      • 1happywoman Says:

        jimbills, I don’t usually feel comforted by fatalism, but the way you point out that we’re just behaving like the animals we are and that the arc of our species will look like the arc of every other species that has ever existed–that truth shattered whatever remaining illusions of control I might’ve had! Thank you for taking time to write so eloquently.

        I’m bookmarking this page so I can come back and read these comments by you and DOG and Brent whenever I feel discouraged.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          There’s fatalism and nihilism for those who want to give up—-and then the “rational fatalism” that jimbills, brent, I and other educated Crockers, and now YOU have adopted.

          Not to be cliched, but it is what it is, and just because one of the less developed attributes of the human brain lets us get all worked up about it is no reason to succumb to gloom. Be happy, do what you can to fight AGW, and pay no attention to the fat lady warming up in the wings.

          PS Yesterday I wore my OUR EARTH IS WORTH FIGHTING FOR T-shirt from the LCV, and am wearing my RESIST T-shirt today in honor of you.

    • otter17 Says:

      It may be of comfort attempting to work towards a leadership goal, or assisting those that can make bigger top-down impacts. Obviously, personal reductions and lifestyle are important as well. I have felt quite good recently getting into politics and speaking truth to power. At least by doing that and being on record in some fashion, you might be remembered as one of the “good people” that lived during our abundant era.

  2. jerry falwell Says:

    Google Modtran and run it for 1600 AD and today, apply the percentage to the current average world temperature. 1/3 of a degree increase due to the increase in CO2. The sun is the actual driver of climate.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Or don’t bother googling it, since Modtran is nothing but a model, a string of computer code rather than anything real. Instead, read the thousands of actual studies by thousands of actual climate scientists about AGW things that have actually happened and are continuing to happen on the planet, often times getting worse in an exponential way in just a few years.

      Go away, Jerry—-go over to WUWT where you belong. The morons over there just LOVE people who ignore tons of scientific evidence and instead cherry-pick irrelevancies to support their ignorance. You are a WIFI of the first order.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      The sun? Our star which has had cooler than average maxima the last few decades? It is somehow magically warming our planet’s troposphere faster than its stratosphere? Uh, no.

    • redskylite Says:

      Look at March 2019 compared to the 20th Century average, at a low time of Sun’s influence, tell me again, dreamer, what is the driver ? You wish

      The Japan Meteorological Agency (気象庁) – Monthly Anomalies of Global Average Surface Temperature in March (1891 – 2019, preliminary value)

      The monthly anomaly of the global average surface temperature in March 2019 was +0.45°C above the 1981-2010 average (+0.90°C above the 20th century average), and was the 3rd warmest since 1891.

      • redskylite Says:

        Half my life
        Is books, written pages
        Live and learn from fools and
        From sages
        You know it’s true, oh
        All these feelings come back to you

        Dream on

    • redskylite Says:

      For some climate change deniers, no amount of data will be enough. . .

      “The study confirmed findings that 2016, 2017 and 2015 were the warmest years on record, in that order.

      But the research, set to be published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, also found an important difference in the results: Arctic temperatures produced by the satellite system were higher than those documented at weather stations and ocean buoys. ”

  3. redskylite Says:

    This chart shows the fall in coal-power plants being planned around the world.

    “The news that the amount of planned new coal-fired generating plants reached a new low last year must be good for the planet. The amount of planned capacity fell by over a third last year and was 84% down on the figure for 2015.

    Two-thirds of new coal-fired capacity coming online last year was in China and almost a fifth was in India. Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam also increased coal burning capacity in 2018.”

  4. […] via Here There be Dragons – GOT and Climate Change — Climate Denial Crock of the Week […]

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