Spock’s Enduring Legacy for Earth Governance

As the world mourns the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the role he most memorably represented and the marvelous mythology he helped to create will remain timeless. As an environmental planner interested in better ways of governing natural resources, Star Trek‘s fabled future and specially Spock’s role provides me surprising inspiration.

The creator of  Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry,  suggested that in the distant future humanity will be able to have adequate governance structures that transcend financial and political constraints. A Star Trek future for Earth would be essentially devoid of scarcity, and our most prized medium of exchange, money, would be entirely absent from planetary life.[i] The only fictional civilization to use money in Star Trek are the primitive Ferengis who are universally despised for their lack of material ethics. Whether or not such a universe will remain a figment of fiction remains to be seen in the very distant future. However, what we clearly need to do in this moment in our temporal continuum is to seek paths of channelizing our quest for material gain more constructively and find better ways of sharing our collective treasures.

In this regard, the model of planetary governance that was envisaged by Roddenberry where no countries existed could only be realized when there was a perceived external planetary threat. The unification of Planet Earth in Star Trek occurred when Spock’s paternal civilization, the Vulcans, had First Contact with humanity following a Third World War. The Vulcans made humanity realize that they were only part of a much larger story of existence, replete with many friends and foes, and therefore planetary unity was in their best interest. This was presented in the Next Generation of Star Trek in the film Star Trek: First Contact. The specter of borderless governance of the Earth seems so remote in our current world of terrorism-defined border security and visas. Yet, the possibility of an external threat, whether an asteroid impact or contact with extraterrestrial life, or some other broader planetary challenge that is beyond our individual national controls, has the potential to lead to some modicum of cooperation.

Spock’s hybrid persona as half-Vulcan / half-human, also immortalized the tension between logical reasoning and emotional response. Our current global challenge of absolutist ideologies battling against rational adaptive discourse, often framed as a struggle between science and religion, could perhaps learn from how Spock negotiated such matters with his comrades aboard the Enterprise. In Spock’s own words uttered during Star Trek VI: “Logic is the beginning of wisdom; not the end.”

The world on April 5, 2063 – when First Contact between Vulcans and Humans occurs in the Star Trek mythology — might be closer to the fictional representation in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner , or maybe even reminiscent of Disney’s Wall-E. Regardless of the trajectory, the quest for planetary unity that Star Trek presented, and which Leonard Nimoy represented with such poise in his life, must endure.

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[i] For an engaging account of the philosophical aspects of the Star Trek universe see Judith Barad and Ed Robertson,  The Ethics of Star Trek (New York: Harper Perennial, 2001). On the scientific validity of some Star Trek narratives and the rejection of others see Lawrence Krauss The Physics of Star Trek (New York: Basic Books, 2007).

Changing Planet

Saleem H. Ali is Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware (USA) and a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is also a Senior Fellow at Columbia University's Center on Sustainable Enterprise. Dr. Ali is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2010 and World Economic Forum "Young Global Leader" (2011). His books include "Environmental Diplomacy" (with Lawrence Susskind, Oxford Univ. Press) and "Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future" (Yale University Press). He can be followed on Twitter @saleem_ali.