On the Importance of Ecology in the Star Trek Universe
Imagine a Star Trek future where the Xindi-Avian species did not become extinct. The Xindi still went on to become Starfleet allies thanks to Captain Archer, and as seen in the future through crewman Daniels’s; a future where some Avians – presumably with other Xindi – migrated to Earth, flying above San Francisco liberated in the paradise that Earth becomes. What of that paradise? What of the ecology in that paradise? Next to nothing has been established regarding Earth’s ecology in the 24th century. We know, vaguely, that Earth is a paradise.
As Captain Sisko states in “The Marquise, Part II” (1994), “On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a Saint in paradise.” What do we know about how this paradise has been maintained. We know there are many professions in this era that are dedicated to the smallest detail of ecological order. Keiko O’Brien was a botanist, but what is more she was so skilled at her craft that she, and others like her, were able to move on from Earth botany and on to other worlds, Bajor in her case. This future universe opens professions not just in exobiology, but even comparative exobotany or, along the same course, comparative exobiology, etc, not to mention astromycology.
Even non-canon resources have little to add to a discussion of ecology. Yes, there have been environmentally minded episodes, certainly Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home comes to mind, but this certainly doesn’t come close to envisioning a future relationship on Earth between our species and the natural world. To credit, we are given the knowledge that humpback whales become extinct by human hands and through Spock’s ability to calculate time travel, they are brought back from extinction.
There is reason to believe the dangers of our current age, mass extinction, global warming, climate change in general, were not too far off from how canon describes Earth’s 20th and 21st centuries. Does the newer intonations of Star Trek have a responsibility to create or worldbuild what the future might be like, coming from where we are now? Yes, they do. It is understandable to proclaim that there were environmental losses from the Eugenics Wars, but we there is great room to dedicate to the nuances and details of how humanity fostered a paradise from such dismal. We have already been robbed of human to alien relationships, speaking specifically that only two alien languages have been developed (Klingon, most notably, and now Romulan).
Star Trek, I feel, has a duty to get more specific with the nature of the future of the Earth and its inhabitants, human and non-human animals alike. Are there zoos in the 24th century? Where does Starfleet stand on the Prime Directive of non-humanoid life on planets that are considered for colonization? We know from “Home Soil” (1988) that terraforming is forbidden on planets with any form of life and that this is strictly enforced. By all accounts this respect for the natural order does not resonate as clearly under the guidelines of colonization.
I argue there is demand for elaboration of the ecological world in the Star Trek universe. There have been many comments, collectively, over the concept of solar panels on the Golden Gate Bridge as shown in Star Trek Discovery’s “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part II” (2019) as well as Star Trek: Picard’s “Remembrance” (2020). This shows how excited the viewing public would be for Star Trek to examine future energy practices, which directly relates to future conservation practices. This returns to asking the question: What is the ecology of the 24th century? Also, what alien species have been rehomed, introduced, invaded? What Earth species were lost in the 6th mass extinction? To further the point, one of the most talked about details online during the week after “Nepenthe” (2020) was the beautiful natural domain and the poor alien bunnycorn.
Like Star Trek has created the Klingon and Romulan languages, Star Trek should invest in an ecology of the future. Green politics in art is not new. It started properly in the 1970s in poetry and literature, much earlier if you count the transcendentalists as an origination point or even the green terrains of the Romantic poets. An examination of the ecology of the future also helps build on what Star Trek: Discovery has invested so heavily on: getting the future generation excited about science. Yes, The Next Generation did this as well, but Discovery has been more direct about it. Star Trek ecology is gifted to us in small details at a time, but there is room to invest more closely in such an important factor that contributes to our well-being and how we envision the natural world also succeeding with the science fiction premonition of human flourishing.