Game of Thrones and climate change
Tales of fiction on both the big screen and in book form often contain hidden messages that can often go unnoticed. Just as Star Wars is an allegory of the struggle to achieve sustainable development, Game of Thrones is another production to raise the spectre of climate change.
As stated by the original author and the show’s screenwriter, George R. R. Martin, in 2013: “climate change is something that can wipe out the human race. So, I wanted to do an analogue with the work, not specifically to the modern-day thing but as a general thing”.
Take a look at our gallery and spot the parallels and metaphors between global warming, climate change and Game of Thrones. Climate change is coming.
(WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS from Game of Thrones season 7, episode 6.)
The White Walkers represent climate change
Beyond the wall live “demons made of snow and ice and cold (…) The only enemy that matters”. They are the White Walkers, a threat which, much like climate change, lurks around the corner and which many people dismiss and even think was made up to scare children.
The two threats are the product of man’s actions: climate change deriving from our adopted energy production model, along with overexploitation and overconsumption of resources, is damaging the planet, while the arrival of mankind to the world of Game of Thrones demolishing everything in their path led to the emergence of the White Walkers.
In both cases, we are dealing with a superhuman destructive force that changes the climate and whose negative impact is not confined to rising temperatures in the case of climate change and freezing temperatures in the case of the White Walkers, but extends also to everything resulting from this change: the respective droughts and frosts that destroy crops, mass exoduses of people attempting to flee towards more promising lands, etc. It is, in a nutshell, one of the greatest challenges facing humanity and for the show’s protagonists.
A blight on the human race, our economy, the environment and the animal kingdom
In both cases, we have already witnessed irreparable damage to many people and their means of production; in Game of Thrones this is because of the White Walkers, who reanimate human corpses to form an army of the undead, while our world has sustained considerable damage and loss due to extreme natural phenomena, an ailing environment and air pollution, etc. In the real world, the cost of climate change in economic terms is a undisputed reality that varies by country. For instance, the cost of climate change for Mexico in 2013 was 7% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and for the world as a whole it is estimated that a “mere” 2ºC temperature rise would generate an economic loss of between 0.2% and 2% of global GDP.
Meanwhile, the natural habitat of both worlds has suffered hugely. As we can see in the image, the green, fertile landscape has succumbed to the snow and ice of the White Walkers, while desertification, droughts and flooding have destroyed and continue to threaten many ecosystems in our world.
A similar fate has befallen the wildlife. Some animal species have died at the hands of the White Walkers and have been turned into servants of evil, while climate change on Earth is a huge threat to many species and has caused many to become extinct.
The main Great Houses represent the most polluting countries
Just as the main greenhouse gas emitting countries only seem to care about their precious industry, transport system and internal economy rather than actually helping to mitigate the effects of climate change, the great houses in Game of Thrones fight for the Iron Throne seemingly oblivious to the huge threat looming over them, namely, the White Walkers. In both parallel cases, nobody seems to realise that if global warming and the White Walkers continue to advance, nobody will survive.
The Seven Kingdoms and western countries remain engrossed in their own private wars, thus hiding the real problem from the public eye.
Only by putting aside their warmongering can the Lannisters, Targaryens, Starks and Baratheons, Tyrells, Martells, Arryns, Tullys, Greyjoys and the other great houses hope to stop the White Walkers; similarly, the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases represented by China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, and so forth, which account for nearly 90% of global emissions, have a key role to play in halting climate change and meeting the targets enshrined in the Paris Agreement.
The Free Folk or wildlings are countries under development and SIDS
Beyond the Wall and closer than anyone to the White Walkers, live the Free Folk, also known as the wildlings. They were the first to suffer at the hands of the enemy and were forced to cross over to the other side of the Wall in a bid to protect themselves from the threat, as has happened to hundreds of thousands of climate refugees in our world.
As the number of White Walkers increases so does the threat they pose, and it remains uncertain what would happen if they eventually managed to breach the Wall. Much in the same way, as the Earth’s temperature increases so do the risks, and the scale of the ensuing natural catastrophes also remains uncertain were we to breach the 20C global warming cap stipulated in the Paris Agreement.
The same thing is currently happening across developing and poorer countries, making them more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change on their agriculture and means of production, which face a very real threat from global warming. A clear example in our world are SIDS (Small Island Developing States), which are presently in danger of disappearing below the waves due to rising sea levels.
There are deniers across the Seven Kingdoms, just as there are deniers in the real world
Deniers or sceptics of climate change and of the White Walkers live in the corners of the world furthest south from the Wall and in developed countries, respectively. These naysayers have still not noticed the effects of global warming –or the existence of the White Walkers– and therefore do not believe they are a real threat. In the words of Tyrion Lannister himself: “I don’t believe that giants and ghouls and White Walkers are lurking beyond the Wall”.
As happens in the real world, those actually experiencing the problem first-hand are more aware of the problem, a prime example here being the Starks, who are more concerned about the White Walkers. Many of the climate change deniers –perhaps because they have not suffered enough– show little interest in the fates of those living close to the problem.
The Night’s Watch are the experts in climate change, much like the IPCC
Probably the oldest order of the Seven Kingdoms is tasked with defending the Wall from the dangers lurking beyond the northern border. This watchdog and fighting unit is similar in many ways to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
Both IPCC scientists and the Night’s Watch and maesters to have experienced the problem in previous eras know that the danger is imminent and try to alert others to the threat posed by global warming and the White Walkers. They fight against these forces to defend those living within the Wall even though many refuse to believe the threat is real; and while at the outset many were sceptical, both groups now are in agreement that a very real threat is upon us, with consensus among the scientific community now standing at 97%.
Meanwhile, the Citadel is home to the Order of Maesters, who provide sage advice to the lords of the Seven Kingdoms and who in our world represent a whole wealth of universities, governments, the press, companies and NGOs. If only the maesters of the Seven Kingdoms would agree to release the knowledge locked away in the Citadel, perhaps they could achieve a real awareness of the problem; and if governments, universities, companies, NGOs and the press would lend their support in disseminating information and awareness of the dangers of climate change, then perhaps we might manage to slow it down.
“Everyone in Westeros trusts and respects you If you advise all the lords to send their men north to hold the wall, they'll do it"
The Wall or the false belief in technological security
The Wall separating the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms keeps the threat of the White Walkers far away from the civilised world. However, we would be foolish to think that this vast monument can hold off the enemy indefinitely.
Meanwhile in the real word, an element of our society wrongly believes that our state-of-the-art technology and industrialisation will be enough to combat the forces of nature forever. However, what we have achieved so far is not enough to avoid the natural disasters bound to result from climate change and we need to create more specific and more resilient structures to tackle the phenomenon.
In the television series, an army must be called forth to meet the threat head-on, while in our world creating structures to combat climate change and decarbonise the economy will not be enough, in the sense that we will also need a global army of people willing to fight against global warming, which will in turn require greater social awareness and cooperation.
- Samwell Tarly: The White Walkers sleep beneath the ice for thousands of years. And when they wake up...
- Pypar: And when they wake up... What?
- Samwell Tarly: I hope the Wall is high enough.
Dragonglass, the key to winning the battle against climate change
Dragonglass or frozen fire is the one known weakness of the White Walkers. Weapons fashioned from this material are deadly to the Others and are perhaps the only solution to the danger they pose.
Closer to home, decarbonising the economy, or curbing greenhouse gas emissions as we shift towards renewable energies, is one of the main weapons at our disposal when mitigating the effects of global warming. After all, renewables provide numerous environmental advantages, cannot be exhausted, are autochthonous, create employment and therefore improve the economy and afford countries added security by reducing their reliance on energy.
Just as Dragonglass is an invaluable weapon against the White Walkers, renewable energies were until recently a relatively unknown weapon in the fight against climate change.
Global cooperation needed to defeat the huge threat facing us
To fight against the White Walkers, we all need to put aside our differences and turn our attention to our common enemy; and this commitment is also reflected in the Paris Agreement, whereby all member states must meet the emission reduction targets in order to slow climate change, thus requiring the collaboration and support of the press and media, universities, NGOs, etc.
"If we don't put aside our enmities and band together, we will die. And then it doesn't matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne"
Ser Davos Seaworth
Yet this is not the only point of the Paris Agreement that is mirrored in Game of Thrones. The Iron Bank funds the great houses as they fight it out to win Westeros when what it should be doing is funding the common battle of all the houses against the huge threat of the White Walkers. Here, the parallel in our world is that the treaty stemming from the COP21 envisions developing nations providing financial support to developing countries as they attempt to adapt to climate change.
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