STAR WARS (1977 – 2017)
Wikipedia: Star Wars is an American epic space opera media franchise, centered on a film series created by George Lucas. It depicts the adventures of various characters “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.
The franchise began in 1977 with the release of the film Star Wars (later subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope in 1981), which became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. It was followed by the successful sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983); these three films constitute the original Star Wars trilogy. A prequel trilogy was released between 1999 and 2005, which received mixed reactions from both critics and fans. A sequel trilogy began in 2015 with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
It started innocently enough. “What would you guess the carbon footprint of the Death Star is?” It was barroom talk by a special kind of nerd. A few years ago we launched a software platform called Rapport that provides carbon footprinting, so we had the tools to answer the question. We gave our Chief Science Officer at Rapport the task of attempting to calculate energy use, water use, and waste disposal. We know from A New Hope at least, that recycling isn’t a common practice since in it we see the Millennium Falcon float away with the trash. We also learned that turbo laser batteries make it crazy efficient. Kaber Crystals, the same crystals that power light sabers, also power the Death Star ray, so, again, very eco-friendly. That the eco-friendly efforts of the Death Star are used to destroy entire planets is beside the point of most corporate sustainability concerns.
Then we stumbled on a materials list for the Death Star on Wookipedia, and realized – like most companies are realizing today – that the carbon footprint of the Death Start is not its own operation (or intention), in its trapped in its supply chain. So, the question becomes more interesting and infinitely more difficult to solve. We produced a video as a kind of catharsis.15
We can prove that, even though far from zero waste, the operational footprint of the planet killer is super-green. Imagine though the Empire’s Sustainability Report with a cute infographic showing how much carbon carbonite it sequesters.
Short of performing an LCA on a materials list for the Death Star (some of you many know my stance on LCA modeling), there are some clues in the Universe as to the sustainability of the Death Star and of one possible future for us as well. I should note that this article does not follow either cannon or expanded universe, but rather pulls freely, unapologetically, and often unknowingly from both.
Sustainability is not addressed by name in Star Wars as far as I can tell, but as a forward-looking text, we can see what a world around us might look like. Since science fiction is a kind of speculative realism, we get to play that scientific philosophy game with not only our own existence on Earth as it is today, but on Earth What-If-Then. But it is What-If-Then backed by science (even if fiction). Sci-fi, as a genre, serves as a kind of scenario planning with a pessimist’s heart.
One Star Wars clue as to a possible future is a stark contrast to our Earth’s (current and dwindling) biodiverse ecosystem. For sure, plan ets and their physical features serve as plot touchstones – as visual and metaphorical reminders of where action is taking place – but they also present an opportunity to look at the homogenization of the environ ment. Each represents a fragment of a unified ecosystem that we enjoy today, for now.
Tatooine represents desertification. Think of California droughts and the need to develop new desalination tech to produce fresh water, much like the moisture farms Luke grew up around.
Endore is a lush, vegetative, forest. It is home to primitive cultures (Ewok) foraging and doing just fine using rudimentary tools and weapons. It is habitable and healthy.
Hoth, in contrast, is brutally inhospitable, it’s the last place you might look for a rebel base.
Naboo is the lake planet and an example of ecosystem collapse creating the mass migration of an entire species, the Gungan.
Rarely do we see a planet with a rich biodiverse ecosystem – desert, prairie, ocean, lake, ice – in one round sphere. These Worlds serve different metaphorical and philosophical purposes for the heroes and villains…the black and white world of Jedi and Sith, of Hope and Fear, Good and Evil. They are World With and World Without Us.
But there is another…
In Star Wars, Worlds can also serve as “For Us,” that is, there is human dominion over natural resources – the Quadrium mines on Despayre for example. Quadanium is the ore used to make the steel for the outer shell of the Death Star. Despayre (even autocorrect wants it to be called “despair”) is mined using slave prisoners. Mining seems to not have changed much over time. Minerals are still extracted using rape and pillage tactics, displacing locals, destroying ecosystems and cultures as we see in Rogue One with the mining of Kyber Crystals.16
The Kyber crystals that power the Death Star’s death beam (and also light sabers) are aggressively mined (stolen) from Jedha, displacing locals and destroying the culture first and ultimately planet. It’s a familiar story, surely Quadrium and Kyber Krystals are flagged as conflict minerals.
For the sake of argument, let’s accept that the Hypermatter reactor that powers the Death Star is a super efficient power source, real Elon Musk shit. Hypermatter is formed by a combination of solar radiation and a planet’s core, it takes some mining operations, but let’s think of it like a kind of renewable power. Solar panels require mining to manufacturer too after all (silicon, telluride, cadmium, copper). Nothing is made of nothing and there is no away. From an energy footprint perspective, the Death Star is fairly self-contained.
But the Empire’s approach to mining rights and operations, construction planning, and employee rights shed some insight into the supply chain for the Death Star. From Wookipedia: “Components from almost all ma jor corporations of the galaxy were sent to this planet [Despayre], and labor was found on the penal and slave colonies below.” Think of Apple’s supply chain and its relationship with conflict minerals, and confirmed human right violations, worker suicides, underage workers, etc.17
Again from Wookipedia: “When the Death Star was completed, the construction process left behind a shroud of industrial debris in orbit, making passage to and from the surface virtually impossible. This was anticipated and provided for; Despayre was intended to be declared off-limits, and the prisoners and slaves would have been expected to fend for themselves, either until their supplies ran out or until the jungle came in.” No Construction Site LEED points for them. “Until the jungle came in” sounds remarkably like Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us.
This reads like any modern major mining company’s post-project briefing. This is “the World For Us” world, a concept best explored by Eugene Thacker in his book In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy (Volume 1).
Close your eyes and picture of the look on Leah or Obi Wan’s pain face when they suddenly know that Alderaan has been destroyed by the first Death Star.
Now open your eyes and read the In the Dust of This Planet by Thacker. In it, Thacker argues that “‘horror’ is a non-philosophical attempt to think about the world-without-us philosophically.” In it, he presents a nice series of relationships to “World” – relationships that can help us understand our ideological underpinnings with and for sustainability. Thacker distinguishes the “world-for-us” (the human-centric view of the world – world as resource), and the “world-in-itself” (the world as it exists in essence apart from us – the jungle), from what he calls the “world-without-us”, “the world-without-us” lies somewhere in between, in a nebulous zone that is at once impersonal and horrific. The Star Wars Universe has all of these worlds.
Mining colonies in the Hydian Way or Naboo are World-For-Us. World-For-Us is the view of World held most clearly by modern translations of Christianity (dominion) and capitalism (monopoly). This is the Empire’s World View. Peace is only possible through domin ion. This is a Capitalist view of world. Your view (ideology) defines your politics and politics defines the screen size for science in your filter.
Degoba is an untouched swampy space that in theory exists as World Without-Us. It’s sad and horrific because the construct operates as if we are no longer part of it. This world is explored in the aforementioned World Without Us which offers an utterly original approach to the questions of humanity’s impact on the planet: he asks us to envision our Earth without us as either steward or virus. What happens to World when we are no longer there to either take care of or destroy it? It might be the most horrific of the Thacker World series, as it implies that we (humans) don’t matter to the world. We’re no more special than a boa constrictor, a swamp rat, a bug, or a Muppet.
World-in-itself is neither with or without humans. It just is. It is the world of the Jedi, called Tython. Be One with the Force. I like this world. It is the old World, perhaps that mythical pastoral perfect past of green marketing we see today on the T.V. and in sustainability reporting. And, it was most like Earth I think. Tython is described as culturally diverse, biodynamically diverse, and ecosystem diverse.
Tython possessed a breathable atmosphere and a temperate climate, and it featured a number of continents separated by oceans and seas. The planet was geographically varied, as Tython’s continents were marked by plains, hills, mountains, and even canyons, and for much of the planet’s history, Tython was a particularly verdant world. Tython was orbited by two moons: Ashla and Bogan, satellites that inspired the Je’daii Order’s philosophy of balance between the light and dark sides of the Force. Sounds lovely.
For Thacker, our world is increasingly unthinkable so it makes perfect sense to look at the horror genre as a philosophy to understand it. The unthinkable, the unnamable, or literally indescribable in a Lovecraft sense of the concept, this is the realm of the horror writer. I will return to this theme at a later date – perhaps in sustainability and Halloween (1978). He’s not talking about a made up World written about on Wookipedia. He’s talking about how we navigate our only world, Earth.
The operational footprint of the Death Star is not unlike the operation al footprint of, say, General Electric. Both can manage their footprint fairly easily with renewables and sustainability programs as they creep towards Zero Impact. But their supply chains – that’s where 90% of the footprint is. And not just Tier 1, but Tier 2,3,4 and so on into the Dark Tiers of the footprint of the things they make that they want use to buy. This is where shit gets real. Real complicated, real ugly and real meaningful. Many large companies send annual sustainability surveys to their supplier. These are a glance in the rearview mirror, and they are woe fully unsuccessful in driving waste (and cost) out of the supply chain. Surveys, as Foucault and Orwell remind us, only serve the surveyor. I’m more interested in developing a sense sousveillance for sustainability – survey from the bottom.
Tom Delay (not that one), Chief Executive at The Carbon Trust, “an in dependent, partner of leading organizations, helping them resource low carbon technologies,” said:
“Supply chains are the next frontier in sustainability.”
It sounds like a line from the opening scroll of Star Wars Episode XX: The Dark Tiers.
16 Quadanium is a registered trademark of the Empire. It’s as if Trump re-sided the White House with Trump Vinyl Siding(r).
17 I’m not saying Apple is the Death Star, but I kind of am.