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Game of Thrones and Climate Change: Brace yourselves, summer is coming!

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Credit: Google

By Cassia Moraes Founder and CEO of Youth Climate Leaders (YCL)

Imagine a world where different political clans fight for increasing their power while ignoring a threat never seen before - and which can annihilate their societies without much consideration for man-made boundaries. The narrative above could be an introduction for the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, to be released soon, in which the fate of Westeros will be sealed as the army of the dead finally make its way through "The Wall". It could also be an accurate description of the current state of world politics, where names such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro wage a war against multilateralism at the moment which we needed it the most. Political distractions as billionaire walls and celebration of past dictatorships occupy their agenda while the real - and potentially irreversible - threats posed by climate change are already in our backyards.

While in HBO's show the Great Houses fail in addressing the major danger Westeros has ever faced, in real life the scenario is not much different. Those who have historically been the main contributors to climate change do not take the proper actions to offset their actions. In turn, emerging countries like Brazil and China, today's major emitter of greenhouse gas, use the poor response from developed countries as an excuse to postpone their own actions. Although the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities reinforces emerging countries' position, they will also be losers if we fail to tackle climate change as a global community. Perhaps the metaphor of white walkers makes it easier to understand why the prisoner's dilemma strategy of maximizing individual benefits is an illusion. If Westeros lose the war against the white walkers there will be no throne for Cersei or anyone to sit in.

So why is so difficult for most Westeros to respond to the imminent catastrophe coming from the north of the Wall? One can say that it is hard to understand something you have never seen, and which contradicts most of past experiences from your ancestors. Perhaps that was the reason why Jon Snow risked his life and the future of Westeros to capture a "living" white walker (is there such a thing?). As the shows' Don Quixote, or a medieval activist, Snow believes that he can win political inertia by literally throwing the problem at decisionmakers' faces. After all, who would still deny the existence of a creature which almost bit oneself?

"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. (...) There is only one war that matters. The Great War...and it is here!" (Jon Snow)

So how would people react when there were no more doubts about the existence or dangerousness of white walkers? There are three basic responses, all of which have their analogous version on the current climate change crisis:

1) The problem-solving approach: perhaps you did not believe in white walkers (or climate change) before, or underestimated their risk. However, recent facts forced you to rethink your position and everything you considered important so far. This happened to Daenerys Targaryen, who gave a break on her quest for the throne to deal with a more pressing and irreversible issue. Jaime Lannister also breaks his unwavering loyalty to his sister Cersei and joins their former enemy to fight for everyone's survival. Jon Snow goes even farther and teaches the enemy how to kill a white walker, revealing a military secret for the common good. In real life, actions such as Elon Musk's release of all Tesla patents remember us that there is no competitive advantage that would stand in a disrupted world.

2) The option of withdraw: similarly to the characters mentioned above, Euron Greyjoy had his world views and priorities shaken by his encounter with a white walker. Nevertheless, he did not choose to join the coalition led by Daenerys. After Jon Snow confirmed that white walkers cannot swim, Euron decides to abandon Cersei and everyone else and come back to his island, where he believes he will be safe when the army of the dead come. He even advises Daenerys to do the same, saying that they both could rule the world when this crisis ends. Would there be anything to rule by then though? Back to multilateral cooperation, countries like the United States or Brazil may have less at stake than Tuvalu and other Pacific islands, but it is an illusion to believe that they would be immune to the impacts of climate change. No one will.

3) The cold never bothered me anyway: Cersei might have never watched Frozen, but she also believes she can keep - or even increase - her power while the rest of the world freezes to death. She is not only not joining the resistance, but she is also planning to attack them to maximize her short-term gains. Countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia also block international cooperation for the sake of their fossil fuel industries. Although those industries provide short-term earnings to their GDP, fossil fuels will not protect their population from the increasing effects of climate change.

Another similarity between white walkers and climate change is the unpredictability of their attacks. Both threats are not something to which humans are used, and there is not much time left to prepare for it. After almost 25 years discussing what to do on annual UN Conferences (COPs), world leaders have been pressed by school children to stop talking and start acting. Brazil even gave up the Presidency of the next Conference of Parties (COP), set to happen this year in the country, thus closing the door for new investments and cooperation opportunities. The shows exemplifies what can happen to us if we do not hear the children's alert cry.

When Daenerys lost one of her dragons to the Night King, she intensified the impact of the Dead's Army, changing the whole scenario in a few minutes (and maybe condemning everyone else). Likewise, we also face the risk of abrupt climate change: a future level of warming that would push global climate to a tipping point, imposing unforeseen and irreversible changes to physical systems. There are several uncertainties about what this level is for different processes, but risks get increasingly higher for temperatures above 1-3C.

YCL climate warriors - Curso YCL Brasil 2018

Climate change, like Game of Thrones' white walkers, is something too big, complex and out of our daily lives' concerns. To really understand it, one must see and feel it for oneself. Therefore, Youth Climate Leaders (YCL) has designed a unique experience - the YCL 2019 Immersion: an intercontinental expedition where young people can learn more about climate change in theory, understand it in practice, and work on hands-on projects with other young people to start their careers as climate leaders. Like Jon Snow, our goal is to bring fearless explorers to an adventure where they can see for themselves the impacts and responses to climate change, helping us to document everything and spread the word to our Westeros. In a much safer way, of course.

Fans from all over the world are anxiously waiting for the premiere of the the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, to be released this Sunday (April 14). The deadline for applying to the YCL 2019 Immersion is also approaching, so make sure to send your applications before watching the Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere!


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