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A Warning from the Year 1986

Nick Englehart

Posted on January 6, 2020 17:27

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My yearly Star Trek marathon reminded me of some not-so-distant problems.

We should all re-watch Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, a Star Trek original series movie directed by the beloved Leonard Nimoy where the crew goes back in time to 1986 with a mission to retrieve humpback whales and communicate with the alien probe destroying Earth's atmosphere. I’ve seen this movie about once per year for the last ten years. Despite being a movie from 1986 (Which is now 34 years old… ouch) it hasn’t stopped being relevant.

This movie did not stop whaling. Though the International Whaling Commission banned whaling the same year it was merely a coincidence. However, this movie perfectly represents the external threat of Climate Change in a way our brains are adept at handling. Humans are notoriously bad at planning for the future, even when it only involves the individual. 

Princeton psychologist Emily Pronin conducted an experiment that showed when students were asked to drink a gross liquid for SCIENCE they on average committed to drinking way more when the experiment was scheduled for the next semester than when it would take place the next morning. This "Me Next Week" problem is one of biology.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says, “The human brain evolved to respond to immediate threats but may completely miss more gradual warning signs.” He goes on to list four qualifiers for a problem to gain our attention. It should be human, it should test our morals, it should be short term, and it must be happening now!

A Voyage Home does exactly these four things. It takes the non-human, vaguely moral, long term, existential threat of Climate Change and flips it. The Earth-destroying probe is here now, it is a threat to all humanity, and it's as close to a baseball beaming toward your face as you can get. The only problem -- the solution is long gone. Only the forethought of generations previous could have saved the world from the extraterrestrial threat. Luckily for The Federation, Commander Spock could calculate for trans-temporal warp and fling that Klingon Warbird back to the year 1986.

The movie is more than environmental, it is a vast exploration of humanity. It discusses the failings of our 20th (and 21st)- century selves. It dictates our everyday cruelty and immense apathy toward those closest to us and especially those most distant. It not only highlights our disservice to the intelligent creature that is whale but also to the environment, other nations, and other peoples. Australia burns at an unprecedented scale, and for many of the younger generations, the world appears bleak and often without hope.

A Voyage Home paints a picture of what the eventual future could look like. We cannot undo the damage, but perhaps those who come after us, those who are growing into their own now, will find more compassion for others and the world we inhabit.

Hopefully that, and maybe we eventually discover warp capabilities, the Vulcans take notice, and lift us from a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Nick Englehart

Posted on January 6, 2020 17:27

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Source: EW

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