[Spoiler Alert: The following article contains “Game of Thrones” spoilers]
If there is one thing I like more than talking and reading about politics, it’s talking about and watching the critically-acclaimed series “Game of Thrones.” For those who don’t know, “Game of Thrones” is a series about the fictional, Britain-like continent of Westeros in which various factions vie to rule the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Except that it’s not. As many have argued in the past, and as has been essentially confirmed this year, “Game of Thrones” is actually is about a deadly and seemingly unstoppable force that threatens to wipe out humanity, and the people who fight against that threat.
One could be forgiven for spending the first six seasons of “Thrones” focused almost exclusively on the infighting within the Seven Kingdoms only to discover shockingly that the true fight wasn’t between warring houses, but rather against a destructive force that threatens humanity (which is a result of humanity’s own destructive actions). After all, that has largely been what societies have done for most of our modern history. You see, “Game of Thrones’s” true plot of White Walkers threatening humanity, according to Vox, is actually an allegory for climate change. The article explains that “White Walkers are a threat to all humanity… yet instead of uniting to combat the shared threat to human existence, the houses in the show spend basically all their time on their own petty disagreements and struggle for power” (Vox, “‘Game of Thrones’ is secretly all about climate change,” 07.14.2017). If you swap White Walkers for climate change and houses for countries, it then resembles the predicament that our globe is currently facing.
As a disclaimer, I must admit I would not consider myself an expert on climate change, but I do my research and the basics of climate change are pretty easy to grasp. According to a World Bank study on climate change, “we’re on track for a 4°C warmer world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise” (World Bank, “Climate Change Report Warns of Dramatically Warmer World This Summer,” 11.18.2012). A combination of factors, mostly man-made—such as energy consumption, heavy use of cars and airplanes, production of meat products and widespread industrial and consumer waste—are responsible. These activities flood our atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which absorbs radiation from the sun and keeps it within the atmosphere, thus heating the Earth’s surface. It should be noted that this is not an opinion—it’s a fact.
Yet polls consistently show that climate change is not a motivating issue for most American voters. In one NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, just eight percent of voters said climate change “should be the top priority for the federal government” (NBC News/Wall Street Journal Survey, 05.15.2016). For comparison, 26 percent of respondents said the economy should be the top priority, while 20 percent said the same for national security.
The issue fares no better in other polls. One Quinnipiac poll has just six percent of voters saying it was the “most important issue in deciding your vote” (Quinnipiac University Survey, 07.23.2015), versus 37 percent who said the economy. Finally, a Bloomberg poll had just five percent, one in 20 voters, claiming that they see climate change “as the most important issue facing the country right now” (Bloomberg National Survey, 06.06.2014). One might argue that the chronological trend of these polls shows an increase in attention over time. But a three-percent increase over three years is so small, it doesn’t even quite surpass the margin of error for most of these polls. The reason climate change isn’t higher on people’s list of important issues is pretty intuitive if you really stop to think about it. Firstly, the average citizen participates in politics to make their daily life better. The only people who really suffer day to day from the effects of climate change at the moment are those on the coasts of southern states like Louisiana or who suffered from drought in California. One could also argue that victims of massive and devastating storms such as Harvey (and, to a lesser extent, Irma) would fall into that group as well, but I would counter by saying that it is harder to make the link between the hurricanes and climate change than between warming, droughts and wildfires. (Though, it should be noted, the link is definitely there to some extent.) However, even in the case of droughts and wildfires, some link must be drawn that makes climate change a particularly difficult policy issue to promote.
According to a comprehensive Pew Research poll on climate change, between 41 and 43 percent of Americans believe climate change is the cause of things like “harm to wildlife and their habitats,” “storms becom[ing] more severe,” “more droughts or water shortages,” “damage to forests and plant life” and “rising sea levels; eroded shore lines [sic]” (Pew Research Center, “Public views on climate change and climate science,” 08.04.2016). Furthermore, it would be safe to assume that more of the individuals who don’t believe in those links come from conservative states like Louisiana, Texas and North Dakota—all feeling the sting of climate change right now—than from liberal states like New York and Massachusetts. So there is seemingly a counter-intuitive correlation between being impacted by climate change and not believing in it.
Besides the difficulty of having climate change as a priority on most politicians agendas, there is also the issue of disbelief. In fact, nearly half of the country doesn’t view man-made climate change as much of a problem. According to the aforementioned Pew Research poll, just under half (48 percent) of Americans believe in man-made climate change. 31 percent believes it is “because of natural patterns” and 20 percent, one in five Americans, believes there is “no solid evidence” to support the claim that the Earth is warming (Pew Research Center, “Public views on climate change and climate science,” 08.04.2016). That’s essentially half of Americans who do not support the fact that human activities cause climate change, and an indicator that a significant chunk of the population does not take the urgent situation seriously. There are a couple of big factors that make maintaining the status quo in energy production and consumption, agriculture, waste and transportation—all major causes of man-made climate change—a preference for businessmen, certain politicians and many voters. After all, activities such as fracking and offshore drilling are not only a boon for the economy and huge producers of jobs, but also put us on a strong footing in the international political scene, in which strong oil production is essentially the foremost indicator of strength. An energy magazine, Oil Price, put it best when they wrote “‘Oil is Power!’ I don’t just mean power as in ‘energy,’ I mean power, as in being a primary factor in the process of asserting and maintaining political dominance and control” (Oil Price, “The oil industry and its effects on global politics,” 10.22.2009).
This brings us back to “Game of Thrones.” Many different micro-political priorities get in the way of focusing on the larger issue.
There are many other cases like this, in which groups with disproportionate political power pull strings and spend money to turn the people against one another and away from the focus on climate change. It’s all to protect their bottom line. Despite the fact that renewable energy is fast on its way to becoming more profitable and a bigger job creator than natural gas or coal, it is still relegated to a small place in our energy economy, especially in comparison to countries in Europe or Asia. There are many other innovations, such as fuel-efficient or hybrid cars and meat substitutes such as the impossible burger, that would significantly cut our carbon footprints, but which have failed to make it into the mainstream of our economy. I would like to encourage all readers to make themselves aware of these innovations, consume them, work in these sectors, vote for candidates who promote them as well as environmental regulation and continue to stand up to the Trump administration and malignant conservative billionaires on these issues.
While issues like healthcare and national security are important, make sure to also vote, protest and organize with climate change always in mind as well. Don’t let the “Game of Thrones” distract you. Winter (or summer) is coming.