Editors note 1: This whole post is one giant spoiler alert related to Season 1 of Game of Thrones. Read no further if you intend to and have yet to watch.
Ned Stark, the Environmental Sector, and the Great Pause
This has been a heavy news cycle for climate change. The President addressed it head on in the State of the Union; there were a number of (slightly befuddling) votes in the Senate about the existence/drivers of climate change;the seemingly interminable battle over Keystone XL is reaching its climax; and it was recently announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record. The latter disproves the so-called ‘Great Pause,’ a common (though specious) argument made by climate change deniers/skeptics. Strikingly, the discourse surrounding 2014-as-a-record seemed, at times, to toe the line of celebratory. As if this was the last data point needed to assuage climate deniers’ concerns and move all of us towards collectively addressing climate change. Which, naturally, brings me to the subject of this post, season 1 of Game of Thrones.
After intense negotiation, my girlfriend and I recently agreed to commit to watch Game of Thrones. It’s well-liked, multiple seasons are available, and I have my friend’s HBO GO password (check, check, and check!). We both liked it… But one event, one predictable, inevitable event, really sullied it for me: the beheading of Ned Stark. My severe chaffing over his death was equally comprised of an attachment to the only honorable man in Kings Landing, and an unshakable sense of symmetry between Ned and the modern-day environmental movement. I am not lionizing Ned nor the sector of which I am a part – but at their core both are well-intentioned, principled, and let’s face it, naïve.
There is no better metaphor for the climate change discourse in the US than Cersei’s response to Ned after he hands her the note from King Robert Baratheon, which makes Ned Protector of the Realm, and thereby removes Joffrey from power. Coldly, Cersei tears it up and asks, “Is this meant to be your shield Lord Stark, a piece of paper?” Or, to put it in terms of climate change, “Is this meant to be your argument, environmental community? Peer-reviewed literature and comprehensive reviews by thousands of climatologists?” Did we, and do we still, think data will overcome ideology? Basically, we just offered our Cersei yet another piece of paper, and they responded, as we should have expected, by voting in force that climate change is not anthropogenic (but that it does exist). Indeed, the IPCC’s fifth assessment may still be scattered about the Senate floor. As a slight aside, kudos to Senator Lindsey Graham of HURDL’s home state of South Carolina for being one of the few Republicans who didn’t toe the party line and instead voted consciously.
The Great Pause is at best a fallacious argument – motivated reasoning at its worst and most deceptive. Proving that the Great Pause is over is no more a reason to celebrate than being stuck in traffic, late for a flight, because your friend didn’t take your advice about the [insert many expletives] Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
2014’s dubious honor of being the hottest year ever is no reason to celebrate; it is reason be pessimistic. It means, as I stated before, that the conservation community has all the evidence we need to sway the entirety of public opinion on anthropogenic climate change. Yet we haven’t. And if we think that this data will change the hearts and minds of climate deniers, we ought to save our breath for the heavy blade of Joffrey’s henchman. We must acknowledge the fact that the logic and processes we hold so dear don’t matter when we’re interrupting someone’s narrative. We were – we are – Ned Stark.