A 16-year-old 'Star Trek' episode nails the most troubling thing about Trump's new climate research proposal

Last night, I took a break from the news to watch an episode of “Star Trek,” and it turned out to be the most relevant commentary on science and President-elect Donald Trump I’ve seen so far.

Early Wednesday morning, Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, told The Guardian that his administration was “poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by NASA as part of a crackdown [on what Walker called] ‘politicized science.'”

Donald trumpScreenshot via YouTubePresident-elect Donald Trump.

This is the clearest policy stance on climate science that we’ve seen so far from the Trump administration.

As far as Trump the individual goes, his stated opinions on human-induced climate change have wavered. In 2012, he denied it, saying instead that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to cripple US manufacturing. On Tuesday, however, he acknowledged that it could be real, telling a room full of New York Times reporters yesterday that he believed there was “some connectivity” between humans and climate change.

Of course, his policy speaks louder than his personal opinion.

And if this morning’s statement is any indication of what climate change policy will look like under President-elect Trump, we should be worried. Essentially, Trump is proposing to halt future NASA research on climate change. NASA currently does a ton of work in this field — just take a look at climate.nasa.gov. That would mean that NASA researchers would be significantly limited from working on the climate models that show how and why our actions are contributing to a warmer planet.

On a more positive note, Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which studies the changing atmosphere, previously told my colleague Rafi Letzter that he maintained that it won’t be simple for Trump to purge federal agencies of climate researchers during his presidency.

“Chopping off science just to prevent people from talking about climate change won’t work,” Schmidt said. “You need science for hazards, for weather forecasting, and climate comes along for the ride.”

I hope he’s right. Still, I’m terrified by the prospect that climate change research would be limited in any way. So last night, I turned away from the news and towards science fiction television for solace.


I re-watched a classic episode of Star Trek’s “The Next Generation,” an episode I saw for the first time when I was just a kid. I’d seen it with my father, a self-proclaimed Trekkie and a man from whom I continue to draw endless inspiration.

Turns out the episode was one of the most powerful critique of Trump’s proposal — which is essentially a ban on future NASA-led climate change research — that I’ve yet come across.

“Force of Nature” (Season 7, Episode 9, available on Netflix), takes place aboard the main ship, the Enterprise, and focuses on its reliance on warp drive, a faster-than-light spacecraft propulsion system that they use skip around the galaxy. Basically, if warp drive allows the Enterprise to ferry themselves around in a Ferrari, without it, they’d be reduced to something like crawling around on all fours.

The warp drive is to the Enterprise what fossil fuels are to us

Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the crew, every time they engage their warp drive, they’re slowly contributing to the creation of a phenomenon they call “a rift,” which is causing terrible damage to multiple solar systems. Essentially, the rift is like a massive tear — every time someone uses warp drive, they wreak havoc on the solar system nearby. The rift does everything from shifting the planets’ tilt to triggering massive earthquakes, both of which are small now but will destroy the planets as the rift grows.

In the episode, the crew is using warp drive for a rescue mission — they’re travelling to an area of space where a friendly ship has been stalled. On the way to the ship, the Enterprise is rendered powerless by an unrecognised ship and boarded by a pair of strangers.

When they come aboard, the strangers — a brother and sister from another planet — tell the Enterprise that they must immediately stop using warp drive. “You are killing us!” proclaims the sister.

‘Maybe I was a little threatened, the thought that warp engines might be doing some kind of damage’

The crew of the Enterprise, while initially outraged that they have been shut down by an unrecognised vessel and boarded without permission, eventually agrees to look into the pair’s claims.

The Enterprise’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard essentially tells them their claims are reasonable and promises to ask the powers in charge (the Federation Council) to conduct “more research” on their behalf in exchange for the stranger’s agreement to let the Enterprise go. One of the strangers — the sister — responds angrily and says it isn’t good enough. She leaves aboard her ship and sends herself into warp drive to prove her point. In the process, she destroys her ship and kills herself.

They all soon see that she and her brother were right. Some of the crew members who earlier dismissed her claims say they feel responsible.

“Maybe I was taking the whole thing personally. Maybe I was a little threatened, the thought that warp engines might be doing some kind of damage,” Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge says.

Finally, the Enterprise sends their report concluding that warp drive is harmful to the Federation Council. The agency responds by announcing strict policies limiting the use of warp drive except for specific situations when it is necessary. At the end of the episode, Captain Picard acknowledges he feels partially responsible for using warp drive even though he wasn’t aware of the damage it was doing.

Star trek 3Netflix / Star TrekCaptain Jean-Luc Picard.

“I’ve charted new worlds, I’ve met dozens of new species. I believed that these were all valuable ends in themselves,” says Picard. “And now it seems that all this while I was helping to damage the thing that I hold most dear.”

This is an editorial. The opinions and conclusions expressed above are those of the author.

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