‘Winter is coming.’
The Stark family’s mantra foreshadows the biggest threat in Westeros. Intentionally or not it serves as a warning for you and me, for all the inhabitants of this spinning supporter of life we call Earth. The Game of Thrones series can be viewed as an allegory for the challenges facing man on a global scale.
Game of Thrones has encapsulated the attention of our society with more fervor than climate change ever has. Anxiously anticipating the unfolding story of Westeros I find myself often pushing the White Walkers to the back of my mind as chaos unfolds to the south. The same happens in the series as most every character places their pursuit of gold, power, and glory over the potential threat from the north, the coming of the long winter. They either denounce this threat exists altogether, labeling it a myth or a hoax, or they are too focused on other battles to even pay note as they play their games to control the iron throne.
With all the talk of possible nuclear war with South Korea, immigration bans, healthcare reform, and the constant battling between democrats and republicans this sounds mighty familiar as climate change is pushed to the back burner, or even dismissed by those in office. Some aspects of life are widely accepted facts; like the fact that Tyrion Lannister loves him some wine or that carbon dioxide contributes to global warming. So how the hell is Scott Pruitt still head of the Environmental Protection Agency when he doesn’t believe this fact about carbon dioxide that his own agency, NASA, and countless other studies have proven*? Something is seriously wrong when the director of an agency dedicated to protecting the environment seemingly does not even understand or acknowledge the threats he is protecting against.
Ironically, today in real life here on Earth there is a looming threat to the north in the form of the endangered polar ice caps (also to the south). Behemoths of ice are melting into the ocean; potential energy transforming into kinetic energy. Similar to how it has taken thousands of years for the White Walkers to make their advance, climate change has been a cocktail chilling on ice for a long time now. Human advancement in the past hundred years has been exponential. So too has our impact on the environment, speeding up the ice melt. Here no army of the dead exists, only the living army of the mostly ignorant and indifferent. If we do not take action soon all of the cocktails we so enjoy are going to be thoroughly watered down.
Those in power would rather focus on the military and defense of their sovereign nation rather than defending our true universal home, Mother Earth. The US government pulled out of the Paris Treaty, decreased funding for many environmental protection programs, and increased the military budget. In Westeros wars cost gold and if debts aren’t paid…we’ll have to see the ramifications of the Iron Bank collecting the Lannister’s debt. I bet they’re pretty unforgiving. What is paying for these wars? Even in Westeros the people have to pay taxes.
If we decreased our insane spending on the military could we not fund much needed educational, environmental, and social programs and still have money left over for lower taxes?
The US military budget for the 2018 fiscal year is over $800 billion**. The Environmental Protection Agency’s budget is well below $10 billion and diminishing even further under the current administration. Compare these two rounded figures and the government spends less than 1.5% of funding on protecting the environment than it does on the military. By the numbers, we are focusing over 80x more on killing more efficiently than protecting our habitat and promoting healthy life. I have great respect for the men and women in the military, but I find this disparity both alarming and appalling. Does this accurately reflect the value we place on human life? Is our money where our mouth is? (This spending disparity is endemic to the US in general, it is not just a fault of the current administration but past administrations as well.)
We humans owe a debt to the Earth. She willingly shares her bounty with us, asking for harmony and respect in return, demanding them when we fall too far out of line. We have accumulated so much interest that the task of paying back our debt is daunting indeed. The word sustainability is thrown around a lot with good intentions, yet I believe it sets the bar too low. We need to restore the Earth. Humans have damaged nature to the point that we have collected interest on top of our principal. Sustaining our current, mostly negative relationship with nature would be like staying in a toxic relationship, even though we recognize we are the one poisoning the situation..
There are many qualities that Cersei Lannister, the self proclaimed Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, shares with the current POTUS, Donald Trump. (As my housemate Kimberley pointed out, Cersei adores her brother Jamie and the President has made suggestive comments about his own daughter, but that’s not the point I’m going for.) Cersei would rather watch the whole world burn than relinquish her power over others. She uses banned wildfire to burn the Great Sept to the ground with thousands of citizens inside. When her pride is affronted, her enemies are met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which Westeros has never seen (dragons notwithstanding). Do these words sound familiar? The familiarity between aspects of Cersei and Trump sends chills down my spine, the kind that won’t go away in this hot summer air.
Are we Americans first and humans second? To the narrow minded anyone who is different is a threat. We fear that which we do not understand. Do the forces of nature give a rat’s hairy ass about the color of our skin, the language we speak, what country we pledge allegiance to? An earthquake does not rattle the homes of Catholics and spare the Jews. A tree does not provide oxygen to Canadians but not Mexicans.
As much as we belong to America, America belongs to us. We the people. We the people who in a democratic society theoretically have equal say as any other fellow citizen to direct the future of the country. When we feel our priorities are not reflective of the collective we have the right to speak up.
The Lannister royals rule through their wealth and their promises to ‘always pay their debts’. Men follow them to war for the spoils they are promised. Do you think Bronn would risk getting his ass burned to a crisp without the promise of gold and a castle? Hell no. He’d probably be in a tavern somewhere with a lusty wench or two until the next wealthy patron bid handsomely for his services.
The spoils of the fight for nature are clean air and tolerable temperatures, and a many other gifts that contribute tremendously to our quality of life. They are all things we take for granted that don’t glitter with promise of fortune or fame. (Walk the polluted streets of Delhi and you quickly realize how fundamental a blessing clean air is.)
We are promised economic prosperity and US competitiveness. Yet are we promised environmental protection? I don’t consider building a divisive wall protecting my environment. We need to broaden our scope of action beyond the country rather than closing it off, for we are all one species in many shades and creeds.
The Earth does not belong to us humans. We humans belong to the Earth. We evolved over the course of millenia on this home before countries existed. Man is a creature and the Earth is our habitat. Now it is up to us millennials, and all other citizens of the earth, to pull the finger out and change our behavior and demand accountability for our actions.
We have freedom of choice and there is inherent power in those choices we make every single day. Do we recycle or reuse when possible? Do we use our purchasing power to support businesses that pillage the Earth or use child labor? Do we over consume meat and gasoline, or engage too much in other activities that contribute to harmful emissions? I don’t mean to imply everyone should become vegetarian or only ride bicycles. That would make hypocrites of us all. Rather I implore that we should not be ignorant or indifferent to how our actions affect our environment. If we think only of ourselves we risk burning the world to the ground around us, in true Cersei fashion.
Look at how many families have been eradicated in Westeros. The Tyrells, the Boltons, half of the cast is no more. Imagine a world without Miami, without Bangladesh. These low altitude lands are projected to be some of the first to suffer from rising water levels. Bangladesh has over 150 million inhabitants despite being smaller than the state of Florida. That’s almost half of the US population that could theoretically be displaced if projections prove true. If we are so concerned about immigration and refugees, why don’t we stop a crisis before it starts? A man will do almost anything to provide for his dying family. No travel ban is going to keep him out regardless of the laws in effect.
Florida in blue, Bangladesh in red.***
Would you rally to the cry of Jon Snow, knowing that the long winter is coming?
We do not live in Westeros. Their threat is a song of ice, ours a song of fire. Scientists may not stir the passion in men’s hearts before battle like the King in the North. Yet climate change is coming, and we’re going to need a unified army to win this war.