Ask Umbra: What can the Star Wars planets teach us?
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Q. Dear Umbra,
This might sound a little out there, but whenever I think about climate change, I picture us all ending up on a planet like Tatooine. Hot as hell, two suns, broken dreams and unhappy people all around. Am I just getting carried away here, or does Star Wars have some lessons to offer us?
A. Dearest Jim,
Sometimes I think I’ve seen it all, and then someone like you comes along to ask if we can learn anything from a galaxy far, far away. I suspect my knowledge of the planetary system of Star Wars does not hold a candle to yours, but I don’t mind taking a break from the problems of this galaxy to explore another one. Luckily I also have a couple of experts in the family Fisk to whom I can turn for guidance.
Isn’t it remarkable how science fiction offers such fascinating ideas for surviving brutal, apocalyptic situations? For decades, imaginative writers have put forth super-creative notions that really might be worth a closer look, especially as we creep closer to our own climate apocalypse. In fact, some of the boldest geoengineering concepts out there seem like they are straight out of a sci-fi novel. It’s a fine line, I suppose, which may be why many people cast aspersions on that field. (Then again, I know others who are fully convinced that cloud-seeding will save us.)
But back to Star Wars. The more I poke around, the more I think the planetary lessons on offer are a bit grim. On Bespin, home of Cloud City, life revolves around gas mining and artificial urban constructs. The swamps of Dagobah, where Yoda trains Luke, apparently cause frustration and hallucinations. Coruscant, political hub of the galaxy, has to propel its garbage into space and scrub its atmosphere of toxic gases. And then there’s poor old Alderaan, where Leia grew up, which boasted a lovely variety of habitats, built an advanced civilization, was deeply committed to peace — and got blown to smithereens for not kowtowing to Evil Corporate Forces. What sort of take-home message is that?
I actually think Tatooine might offer some of the most useful lessons for withstanding a scorched future. Two suns and a desert don’t sound all that pleasant, but build yourself a sunken hut and wear light colors, and you’ll keep cool. If memory serves, I believe Luke’s family also practiced “moisture farming,” the practice of drawing usable water from the air. This is a skill that real-world engineers are working on all around us, and they are coming up with some fascinating solutions: In Lima, Peru, a billboard produces drinking water for local residents; a French company has created a wind turbine that does the same; and researchers have even dreamed up a self-filling water bottle (unless this is one of MIT’s notorious pranks — those are some seriously silly brainiacs). With water scarcity one of our greatest global concerns, such investigations and ideas are going to be vital.
Tatooine also offers another lesson, of course, which is that the right theme music makes all the difference. Sometimes I just hum that Cantina ditty to myself when I’m in the library stacks researching my dearest readers’ questions. It makes a dusty hour go by quickly, I’ll tell you that.
P.S. Happy first of April.
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