The climate crisis has rapidly become one of the defining issues of our time, with Greta Thunberg’s decision to skip school to protest the climate inaction of world governments turning her into the voice of a generation. After Pokémon Sword & Shield though, Pikachu might just be coming for her crown, as the latest installment addressed pollution in stark terms.
Galar, based on the rainy isles of Great Britain, brought with it over a hundred new ‘mons, plus a handful of old favourites reinvented by the unique climate of Galar. It’s two of these – Weezing and Corsola – which were inspired by the climate crisis. Surely, this was a deliberate choice by Game Freak; these aren’t just two new Pokémon you can turn away from and ignore if you don’t like their messaging. While not Charizard/Pikachu level icons, both Weezing and Corsola have a bit of a cult status in the fanbase; Weezing from the anime and Corsola as a single stage Pokémon whose hypothetical evolution was one of the most requested. Corsola finally got its evolution in Galar, and that just doubles down on how keen Game Freak obviously were to have the climate crisis as a central theme in Sword & Shield.
Of course, Weezing’s original form was based on pollution as well. The Galarian reinventions of these two are far from the only time Pokémon has addressed this. Way back in Gen I’s Kanto region, Koffing and Weezing were inspired by air pollution, while Grimer and Muk were based on land pollution. Later, in Gen V’s Unova region, Trubbish and Garbodor were built off all of the trash piled up in New York City streets. It’s the depth of thought with these two though which makes them stand out.
Corsola especially is not pulling punches here. The original Corsola is a pink coral, and naturally is a Water type. Here? Deathly grey, and it’s a Ghost type, apparently having died from all of the plastic in our oceans. It’s even more graphic with evolution Cursola, a suitably cursed looking Pokémon. It’s basically Corsola’s corpse floating inside a discarded plastic bag. With the equivalent of a truckload of non-biodegradable materials being dumped into our oceans every minute, Corsola and Cursola are shining a light on a massive problem.
In other pollution news, one of Britain’s most famous contributions to the world was the industrial evolution. If you’ve ever had to learn about this boringly bleak period in History class, I apologise on behalf of my people. It did seem fairly straight forward to reference this through Weezing, but the reinvention of the Pokémon as an air purifier forced into evolution by factory smoke had a clear implication; we need to adapt, we need to change, we need to fix this.
This need for action is mirrored by the game’s eventual antagonist, Chairman Rose. Not an out and out villain in the style of Giovanni, instead Rose simply loses sight of his motivation on the road to his goal. After realising Galar is facing an energy disaster 1,000 years in the future, he rushes into rash action, unleashing Eternatus. It’s like this weird space chicken thing, and is Galar’s chief Legendary, but that’s not too important now. The point is, Rose could have laid down a long term plan to help avoid this crisis, but instead attempted the quick fix and only made things worse.
There’s something of a parallel to our own world, where quick fixes and disposable solutions to other issues have left the Earth without a tangible long term plan to tackle our climate crisis. It’s certainly not a like for like parable, but with Rose’s past as a coal miner and his assistant Oleana having Garbodor as her partner Pokémon, you only have to squint a little to see it.
Pokémon’s focus on such an important issue comes hot on the heels of the UN revealing their Playing For The Planet initiative, aimed at using gaming to educate players and inspire positive climate action through gaming. Their three central ambitions were to make young people agents for change, games should help foster a relationship with nature, and to perform a study which monitors whether environmentalism in games leads to a change in real life behaviour. Given the closeness Pokémon inspires with the creatures in your party, it certainly seems like Pokémon has that middle point wrapped up already.
Game Freak’s decision to cut hundreds of Pokémon from Sword & Shield caused huge controversy when it was revealed, but if we don’t act soon, there’ll be much more real life species going extinct.