Dune, Environment, and Power
The Novel Dune by Frank Herbert is a sprawling, gigantic mythology with a beginning, a middle, and an end. What few people remember about it though is that it is a polemic treatise on the state and politics of the environment.
Even today’s environmentalists, politicians and business owners owe a debt to the consciousness raising that Dune brought to consciousness. Even today’s electricians like 110220v in San Mateo owe a debt because they are especially susceptible to the influence of environmental degradation, and climate change.
Frank Herbert was a journalist in the 1950’s when he was hired to write for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ironically he was hired specifically to chronicle the backwater of Florence, Oregon and the sand dunes (“sand dunes”…get it?) surrounding it.
Frank was amazed at how sand dunes could take over the topography, like clogging rivers and lakes and over taking forests. He saw that a world taken over by dryness would be a devastating occurrence and decided to write about it.
This was one of the first science fiction novels to explore the nature of environment and alternative worlds. Previous efforts had focused much on space travel, but Dune dove head first into a complete mythos about a foreign world where the environment is endangered, politics is toxic, (Sound like anything you know?) and the biology and history of the planet are explored in detail.
Dune focused on the ecology of an entire planet, and how one action on the planet could affect the whole ecosystem and society.
Dune is a drought planet where water is very very rare and people have to wear space suits to make sure that any moisture is captured and not wasted. The people of Arrakis are environmentally conscious and teach ecology as a primary subject in all schools of thought.
This was an amazing insight by Frank Herbert. Ecology in the 1950’s was not a hot topic of conversation and people assumed that the earths resources were infinite. The fact that a science fiction writer was the first to bring the coming crisis to consciousness was a huge feather in the cap of all science fiction.
Another theme of the novel is economic power. Just as today blue collar businesses like feel dis-empowered by “paper pushers” in Dune the everyday people are ruled over by the “Harkonnens” who are outsiders that greedily suck an energy material (“Melange” or “Spice”) from the planet without giving anything back to the inhabitants of the planet. The “Harkonnens” are shown as capitalists while the everyday people (the “Fremen”) are shown as not having any access or knowledge as to how valuable the Spice is to the universal economy.
How does this parallel today’s energy environment?
We’ll we all know that even electricians have been dramatically affected by the drought in California. Companies like 110220v have to abide by stringent codes to prevent fire and preserver energy.
In addition the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is scheduled to meet in Paris in December of 2015 to develop agreements in carbon emissions, most dramatically affected by the dependence on oil. The comparison between “Spice” and oil isn’t subtle. In Dune, Herbert postulates huge conflicts which are sparked between the oil haves and oil have nots. The greed of the haves threatens many of our environments and climate change is threatening the way of life for millions of people.
In the meantime a sever drought that some attribute to global warming is affecting huge parts of the earth.
So what can we do to make it better?
1. Read Dune to get an understanding of the meta forces that are tearing our environment apart.
2. Reduce your oil usage. Buy electric whenever you can. Don’t use plastic (which is made from oil).
3. Preserve electricity. During droughts conditions make electricity more expensive monetarily and environmentally to product. For example electric power plants use tons and tons of water to run the turbines. So, unplug appliances, don’t use air conditioning, use energy efficient appliances.
So glad you have read to the end. We are smack dab in the middle of our own version of Dune. Heed the lessons it teaches and become part of the solution and not the problem