The Jon Snow of climate change is emerging in Congress
By Mark Reynolds
This piece originally appeared on The Hill.
Being a big fan of “Game of Thrones” — yes, I’ve read all the books — I noticed early on that the overarching story of George R.R. Martin’s epic series is a metaphor for climate change. Winter is NOT coming, as many advocates have observed.
Now that the penultimate season of GoT has concluded, and with Congress about to return from an August recess that’s been anything but restful, I thought I’d take a deeper dive into the parallels between events unfolding in fictional Westeros and the nascent efforts in our real world to contain the global warming beast.
As an allegory for climate change, the storyline of GoT is uncanny, especially the current season:
With numerous houses waging devastating warfare with one another to control the realm and determine who will sit on the Iron Throne, an army of the undead rises in the north beyond the The Wall and is about to march south. This army, controlled by an ancient race of humanoid ice creatures known as the White Walkers, is commanded by the Night King.
As the character Ser Davos Seaworth suggests, “If we don’t put aside our enmities and band together, we will die. And then it doesn’t matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne.”
As with climate change, though, most of Westeros’ inhabitants are blithely unaware or dismissive of the impending doom about to descend. The thankless task of convincing everyone to unite and turn back this formidable foe falls upon the heroic-but-gloomy Jon Snow, former commander of the Night’s Watch and reluctant King of the North. (You’d be gloomy too if you’d seen the things this guy has seen.)
As I said, the parallels are uncanny. Here in the United States, the warring factions of Republicans and Democrats are preoccupied with the struggle to control Congress and the Iron Throne… I mean the Oval Office. Unless these factions set aside their differences and resolve to enact policies that drastically reduce heat-trapping pollution, we face a grim future, one marked with food and water shortages, flooded cities, mass migrations, horrifically extreme weather and extinction of species. Oh, and let’s not forget the deadly heat.
So, who emerges as the Jon Snow of Congress, the heroic figure who battles against great odds to forge an alliance against a threat not yet viewed with the urgency it demands?
That would have to be Rep. Carlos Curbelo, the Florida Republican and chairman of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus. Like Jon Snow, he has seen firsthand the greater enemy that must be defeated. Instead of White Walkers, however, Curbelo has seen the ankle-deep sea water that floods his district in Miami during certain high tides. For him, it isn’t winter that’s coming — it’s the ocean.
Encouragingly enough, his efforts to sound the alarm and bring Republicans and Democrats together to address the risk of climate change are bearing fruit. Since the start of this Congress, membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus has more than tripled and now stands at 52, with equal numbers from both sides of the aisle. Following an August recess when many constituents asked their members of Congress to join the caucus, that number is expected to grow.
With the caucus approaching the critical mass necessary to move solutions forward, its focus is gradually shifting from recruitment to action:
- In February, caucus members Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) introduced the Technologies for Energy Security Act (H.R. 1090) to extend tax credits for, among other things, small-scale wind power and geothermal energy. Among the 96 cosponsors of this legislation are half the members of the Climate Solutions Caucus.
- In May, caucus members John Delaney (D-Md.) and John Faso (R-N.Y.) introduced the Climate Solutions Commission Act (H.R. 2326), which would establish a bipartisan panel to review “economically viable actions or policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” and make recommendations to the president, Congress and states.
- On July 13, caucus Republicans overwhelmingly voted against an anti-climate amendment to the Defense authorization bill, marking the first time that the caucus voted as a bloc to defeat such a measure.
Baby steps, for sure, as it will take some time for caucus members to build the working relationships needed to draft and introduce the game-changing legislation that truly tackles the climate monster.
In “Game of Thrones,” the White Walkers and their army of the undead appear to be unstoppable and resistance doomed to failure. That is, until a weapon is discovered that can bring them down. In the show, that weapon is dragonglass, which is actually obsidian, a black, translucent igneous rock formed by volcanoes. Stab a White Walker with a knife made of dragonglass and they literally fall to pieces.
Carbon Fee and Dividend is the dragonglass that can slay the White Walker otherwise known as climate change. This is a policy that places a steadily-rising fee on the carbon content of fossil fuels. Making these dirty fuels accountable for the damage they do to our society will hasten the transition to cleaner energy — wind and solar, for instance — and cleaner forms of transportation, like electric vehicles.
Returning the revenue from the fee in equal shares to all households will shield Americans from the economic impact of the carbon fee. It also makes the fee revenue neutral, giving it greater appeal to Republicans who want to prevent the government from growing bigger.
One more feature of this policy is the application of border adjustment tariffs on imports from nations that lack an equivalent price on carbon, thereby maintaining a level playing field for American companies. These border adjustments provide a strong incentive for other countries to follow our lead with an effective carbon price.
The conservative Climate Leadership Council has proposed a similar policy. This group includes such distinguished Republicans as former Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker as well as former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.
Like the final season of “Game of Thrones,” the ending of our story is yet to be told. In both Westeros and our own world, much is riding on the ability of our protagonists to unite a divided society against a common enemy.
Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.