Thursday, December 23, 2021


“We’re at the tipping point, we haven’t got time to wait 30 years and argue about a few billion dollars. Burying your head in the sand another instant about global warming and the destruction of the planet is suicide for all of us.”

– William Shatner aka Captain Kirk
Collective action in the face of an overwhelming existential threat is a pretty common sci-fi trope. From asteroids to viruses, the people come together, often at the last possible moment, to save us all from annihilation. Sadly, it would seem we aren’t quite as evolved as the cardboard cutouts that populate many a Hollywood alien invasion/disaster blockbuster. We are busy fighting among ourselves while the zombies eat us.

Watching mainstream media (MSM) cover the pandemic, exposition masquerading as dialogue in genre films doesn’t seem nearly as far-fetched as it once did. Even with the recent surge of the Omicron variant, MSM seems to be missing the obvious earlier foreshadowing in our particular film. Feel free to yell “VACCINE APARTHEID” at the screen, but it’s not going to stop those teens from going in the basement.

We had a moment there, at the beginning of the pandemic, when the endless wars were suddenly and starkly put into perspective. A truce perhaps? Just long enough to keep our species from going the way of the dinosaurs? But the overwhelming existential threat didn’t do the trick. What would we be without our individual conflicts? How would we define ourselves if not by our judgements of the other?

Alas, Covid, like Climate Change, will not ask who you are, or where you are from, when it comes for you, your kids, your grandchildren… But like we saw earlier with HIV/AIDS, there are always those that think they will not be affected, it’s not their problem; their privilege and power will protect them. For those folks, the suffering of others has long been just another coldly calculated opportunity for profit.

When Bezos sent William Shatner to “space” a couple months back, there was this odd blip of a media moment, where despite themselves, the MSM gave Bill some airtime to do a bit of Climate Crisis crazy talk, or at least that must have been how it sounded to them:

“What’s coming our way, we all know this, what’s coming our way is horrific. So it’s easier to, bury your head in the sand, say well I’m not gonna think about it. You have to think about it! And it”s terrible to think about! It’s terrible that they’re building twenty foot walls in Miami in front of people’s homes who spent millions of dollars for the view of the ocean, and they’re erecting a twenty foot wall because the seas are rising. Half of Florida is gonna be underwater. Do you realize half of Florida’s gonna be underwater in our children’s lifetime?!”

I followed @WilliamShatner on twitter, hoping to see the 90 year old Captain shutting shit down in the streets with Extinction Rebellion, or at the very least calling for direct action in light of his overview effect fueled environmental passion... C’mon Bill, make us proud.

Unlike most current sci-fi narratives, Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek de-emphasized conflict between individuals in order to present a vision of how collective action can function. Rodenberry’s Trek is the narrative antithesis of the obstructionism on display in our politics, economics, world affairs. It dares to move beyond the perennial “if only” austerity/scarcity models that have so thoroughly poisoned our ability to imagine, to even consider, alternative possibilities.

Will the United Federation of Planets be able to overcome the greatest challenge it has ever faced? Will life continue?! Of course it will. But how will they do that? The answer is almost always, together.

Can stories influence us? Successful mass movements don’t simply protest, they demonstrate what is possible. It can be challenging to have a conversation about the open sea and the sky above while trapped in the belly of the beast. Sometimes we need to see it before we can believe it. What does the world look like on the other side of the struggle?

Unapologetically allegorical, a dramatization of current events processed through sci-fi storytelling, the franchise continues to tackle issue after issue. Episodes (over 800 of them now between the many series) often play like a 45 minute debate, examining social issues from multiple angles, allowing the characters (and the viewers) to explore the gray area where absolute moral judgements are questioned.


The current season of Star Trek: Discovery is no exception. When I saw the teaser, I couldn’t help but notice that the “big bad” was not a person, but some unexplained anomaly. Something larger that affected everyone, everywhere – there’s that existential threat again. The allegorical mystery begins... will it be Covid? Is it Climate Change?

In last week’s episode “The Examples,” the crew determined that the planet eating anomaly is not a natural phenomenon, but created. Oh boy, are we down the rabbit whole of ultimate evil again? Is it arch-nemesis time? I hope the writers are smarter than that.

The crew is horrified by the notion that anyone would create such a destructive force, they cannot conceive of the motivation of those who would do such a thing! But perhaps that is the point? What if the big bad this season isn’t just another all powerful malicious entity with malevolent motivations – what if it’s us? What if we just didn’t take the science seriously? What if we were too busy counting our profits? What if we thought that our actions couldn’t actually influence the fabric of god’s perfect universe? What if we thought we would be smart enough to fix it later? Sound familiar?

There is a rather unassuming episode in the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled “Force of Nature;” a fairly obvious allegory for global warming. The episode does a good job of exploring how oblivious one can be to the detrimental effects of ones actions on others, especially when in pursuit of some lofty goal that disguises those potential dangers.

“I spent the better part of my life exploring space. I've charted new worlds, I've met dozens of new species, and I believe that these were all valuable ends in themselves. Now it seems that… all this while, I was… helping to damage the thing that I hold most dear.” 
– Captain Jean-Luc Picard

It occurred to me that the subspace rift (caused by warp drive) featured in “Force of Nature” doesn’t seem that far off from the anomaly they are facing on Discovery. Even if it’s not an evolution of the same catastrophic event, it may be an inspiration for the current story. Whatever the case, an allegorical exploration of Climate Change, of the Climate Crisis is long overdue…

Next Generation’s syndication made its stories available for years to come, accessible to a wide audience that might not otherwise get involved with the types of narratives it so skillfully presented. Its entertainment value offered an easy entry into an unexpected world of information and ideas.

Discovery is only available through a subscription streaming service (pay-per-view), which limits its audience to those who can afford it, those who are willing to pay for it, and those who are looking for it. There is little possibility of the show being randomly stumbled upon by those unfamiliar with the ideas being presented within. Discovery’s potential as a teaching tool has been effectively reduced to zero by this restricted access. For a franchise concerned with inclusiveness and representation for more than half a century now, this certainly seems like a step backward.

Even if this season turns out to be a brilliant allegorical opus on collective action in confronting the Climate Crisis, who will have access to that message?

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