It started innocently enough. “What do you think the carbon footprint of the Death Star is?” Did I mention that Portland, Maine has recently been named the best craft beer city in the World? That fact may have contributed to the question. But what IS the carbon footprint of the Death Star, and, by extension, what can we learn about Sustainability from the Star Wars Universe? My software company provides carbon footprinting, so we have the tools to answer the question. We gave our Chief Science Officer at Rapport the task of attempting to calculate energy use, water use, waste disposal. We know from A New Hope at least, that recycling isn’t a common practice as the Millennium Falcon floated out 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 detrtoy entire planets is beside the point of most corporate sustainability concerns. Coca Cola wins bigly for reducing its water footprint while selling diabetes water. Then we found 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 become more interesting and infinitely more difficult to solve. We produced this video as a kind of catharsis.
It is far too easy to simply cast Trump as a Sith Lord, and make some political statement about climate change denial. The reality is that the Death Star is far more eco-friendly than the White House (read a quick history of solar panels on the White House here – hint they are removed and installed depending on which party is in power.) So Trump loses that battle too. #alreadysickofwinning. 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 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. 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. As science-fiction is a kind of speculative realism, we are forced 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 clue we have to a possible future is a stark contrast to our Earth’s (current and dwindling) biodiverse ecosystem. For sure, planets 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 environment. Each represent a fragment of an unified ecosystem that we enjoy today, for now.
Tatooine represents the desertification. Think of California droughts and the need to develop new salivation gear to produce fresh water, must 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 a 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 ownership 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. Side note: Quadanium is a registered trademark of the Empire. It’s as if Trump resided the White House with Trump Vinyl Siding(r).
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 Start 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. From an energy footprint perspective, the Death Star is fairly self-contained. It must be.
But the Empire’s approach to mining rights and operations, construction plans, employee rights shed some insight into the supply chain for the Death Star. From Wookipedia: “Components from almost all major 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..
I’m not saying Apple is like the Death Star, but I kind of am.
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.
This reads like any modern major mining company’s post-project briefing. This is the World For Us. This concept is best explored by Eugene Thacker. Close your eyes and think 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 Eugene 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 philosophical relationships to World.
Thacker distinguishes the “world-for-us” (the human-centric view of the world), and the “world-in-itself” (the world as it exists in essence apart from us), 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 dominion. 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. Its sad and horrific because the constructs operates as if we are no longer part of it. This World is explored in the book World Without Us by Alan Weisman offers an utterly original approach to 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. We’re no more special than a boa constrictor, a swamp rat, a bug, a muppet.
World-in-itself is neither with or without humans. It just is. It is the world of the Jedi, 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. It is described as culturally diverse, biodynamically diverse, ecosystem diverse. Verdant is often the word most used.
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 a lens 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 operations 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 80% 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 woefully unsuccessful in driving waste (and cost$!) out of the supply chain. Surveys, as Foucault and Orwell remind us, only serve the surveyor. I’m interested in developing a sense sousveillance for sustainability – survey from the bottom.
Tom Delay (not that one), Chief Executive at The Carbon Trust, an independent, 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.