Game of Thrones (GOT) fans will recognize actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as one half of the Lannister twins. He’s also a climate change advocate and a United Nations Development Program (UNDOP) Goodwill Ambassador.
Last weekend, he spoke at the 2017 Social Good Summit – a place where world leaders and activists congregate to talk technology as a force for positive social change.
A GOT fan theory that posits the White Walkers are an allegory for climate change came up.
“[T]he parallels [between GOT and the real world] are you have a world where you’re trying to get all of the powerful houses, all of the countries, to get together to fight this enormous enemy and the most powerful house says ‘Yes I’m going to do this’ and then suddenly decides not to,” said Coster-Waldau.
“But the truth is that reality is always much more extreme than fiction. We couldn’t make up what’s happening now.”
Coster-Waldau is not the first to make the connection. This popular theory comparing the fictional White Walkers to the (unfortunately) very real climate change has been doing the rounds for a while now. However, Climate-denying presidents, rising numbers of climate refugees, and a summer of extreme weather (which may or may not have something to do with man-made climate change) make it more pertinent than ever.
As Charli Carpenter, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, explained in a 2012 paper titled Game of Thrones as Theory: "The slogan 'Winter is coming' is meant literally as well as metaphorically: planetary forces are moving slowly but inexorably toward climatic catastrophe as the infighting among kings and queens distracts them from the bigger picture."
Depending on where you are from (fantastical Westoros or 21st-century Earth), the White Walkers or climate change pose a huge, existential threat to humanity – so the theory goes. But the problem is either too difficult to face or too abstract to understand. So, instead of finding solutions, the nobles and politicians ignore it in the face of growing evidence and focus on (relatively) insignificant problems, such as land disputes and the economy. Meanwhile, it's the Wildlings (or the world's poor) who suffer.
Ultimately, we'll all be forced to work together, says Carpenter.
"The answer will eventually come from alliances with northern barbarian hordes, fringe populations who are the first victims of environmental change, and with these alliances will come dramatic tradeoffs in political culture, as newcomers bring with them distinct ideas about politics, society, and religion," she explains.
“Our species, we’ve been so successful," said Coster-Waldau. "We’re almost 7 and a half billion. By 2030 we’ll be 8 and a half billion people. It’s like, wow, we did really well. The irony is we’re about to destroy all of this. We think we’re invincible. If we go above 2.5 degrees, it’s going to end in tears."