One of the core elements of the Star Trek story (whether you are a TOS grognard, an original timeline die-hard, or a JJ-verse aficionado) is the partnership between the planets Earth and Vulcan. Vulcan is a harsh desert planet whose people have an ancient culture based on the pursuit of logic. Earth is a young and adventurous blue planet whose people provide the intuition and sense of adventure that the Vulcans lack.
The other day I was thinking about this, however, and I realized that we probably aren’t the humans in that story. We could have been once, probably even as late as the 1960’s when Star Trek first hit the air. But at this point we’ve pretty well squandered our chance to play the humans, so we had better start studying for the part of Vulcan.
Think about it:
- Vulcan is a desert planet with harsh weather: While scientists argue about the exact concentration of CO2 that represents the “point of no return” for a runaway greenhouse effect, many of them believe that we have now past it. The world is already hotter than when we were born and it is going to get worse for the rest of our lives, at least. And not only is the mean temperature going up, but the temperature range is getting wilder, producing higher wind speeds and overall rougher weather. We will be lucky if the whole world doesn’t become as hard to survive on as The Forge, on Vulcan.
- Vulcan is a planet with limited biodiversity: I think this is only implied in canon, but it is stated explicitly in several of the Star Trek novels. With two thirds of the animal population expected to be dead by 2020 and the current wave of extinctions, we are well on our way.
- Vulcans have a history of horrible violence: I’m not even going to bother to cite any articles for this one. Let’s just hope that someone like Surak teaches us to see reason and control our emotions before we wipe ourselves out.
- Vulcans are an old culture: Let’s face it, with all these problems at home we aren’t going to be able to get serious about deep space exploration for a few centuries (at least). So by the time we get out there we may well seem like a pretty old culture to anyone we meet.
- Vulcans are stronger than most races and have special adaptations to survive on their planet: Once our planet gets harsh enough we will probably need to let go of our qualms about human genetic engineering just to produce humans who can survive here. And if we are tinkering with the genome anyway, we might as well add some cool pointy ears. But even if that doesn’t happen there is likely to be plenty of natural selection as the climate kills off all but the strongest of us.
So, have I convince you that we are living on Vulcan, or at least that we will be in a few generations? Now we just need to hope, most earnestly, that someone comes up with a rational philosophy that will actually keep us alive as a species. But if we get through that, we are likely to have become so specialized and culturally ossified* that to advance further we will need a young energetic culture to pull us along. So we’d better start looking for some humans.
*See Toynbee. A Study of History (Abridged) III.IX. (1946). for the theory of why this will happen.
Here in LA traffic jams have become a sort of a tradition on the first week in May. That is, worse traffic jams than usual. Immigrants and laborers stream on the streets to demonstrate for their “rights”, blocking downtown traffic for hours. It poses no problem, of course, for people like me who travel by bicycle, but all of those crowds lead one to start thinking about immigrants and the working class in general .
I can sympathize with immigrants rights. My own people were poor Irish farmers who worked like dogs for the first hundred years they were here before finally breaking into the middle class. I am not sure how much help they should get from the government; we did not get any help at all and we did alright. That is a civil rights issue, however, and this blog is about transportation policy.
There is one observation I can make about working class immigrants which is apropos to my topic: they tend to be completely apathetic about the environment. I need to make a disclaimer. All of the statements I am about to make are based on completely anecdotal evidence. I have a feeling, however, that the statistics would bear me out.
During the week I usually spend the night in the town of La Habra, California. It is not a place I would ever have chosen to live, except that it happens to be where my office is located. It is a solidly working class town with a majority Hispanic population. Most of the town was designed in the 1950’s which means that the whole town is functionally obsolete. In other words, it is almost an exact carbon copy of every other working class neighborhood in Southern California.
The inhabitants of La Habra are completely and totally oblivious to environmental concerns. Every restaurant serves drinks in Styrofoam cups. No business has bike racks: most of them have “No Bicycles” signs prominently displayed. Everyone drives the biggest SUVs they can afford. Bringing your own bags to the grocery store is likely to get you stared at blankly. Riding in the slow lane of any of the major streets causes people to scream profanity at you and tell you to “get on the sidewalk where you belong.”
As bad as the situation is, the really sad thing is that none of the population sees anything wrong. Its as if they just have not been paying attention to the news for the last twenty years. In La Habra (and all of the other towns like it) it is still 1989.
The middle class in North America is already changing their lifestyles, but the working class is not with the program at all. Considering that there is now more of them than their is of us, it is becoming imperative that we get through to them. How do we do this? Environmental ads on ESPN? Spanish language flyers? Maybe critical mass bike rides down La Habra boulevard? I have no idea.