The new Star Trek is easily my favorite show this Fall. It’s a drama full of heart and so much sci-fi curiosity that I can barely contain how giddy I am with every watch.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead, for anyone who has not seen the new Star Trek: Discovery and plans to watch. Read at your own risk.
Yet, as we watch this future-show in a world full of literal garbage, one thing nags at me: all the fucking trash created in this show’s universe. I cannot pinpoint if this is a uniquely American – or uniquely Earthling. – construct but the amount of waste flippantly thrown into the space abyss is startling, so much so that I feel like any hyper-jumping or warp speeding will be met with billions of dings from literal shit you’d hit with your ship. I cannot not think about this.
For example: the entirety of Michelle Yeoh’s ship that, by episode three, is a deteriorating mass in space akin to a sunken shipwreck wasting away, its parts becoming intergalactic flotsam. What got the ship there – an incredible fight between Klingon warships and an overburdened Starfleet vessel – resulted in so much debris and trash getting thrown across the universe in general but the fact that the entire ship sits decaying, it’s parts blowing to space winds, is concerning. How is Starfleet this negligent in letting this garbage just “be”? I understand it might be in conflicted territory but leaving a giant vehicle to decay out in the open is so problematic not only from a trash point of view but from the point of view that these wasted resources open up opportunities for self-harm, a la the Klingons stealing dilithium to speed their ships, which they did in a recent episode. This could have been mitigated by practicing space recycling and waste reduction.
This isn’t the only instance. The space ship where the tardigrade was found? Space trash. The use of the warping mycelium to dump a bunch of Klingon warships into the middle of nowhere? Space trash. The mini-ship from which the (hot ass, bulge heavy) Captain was transferred out? Space trash. The tardigrade itself, surfing on superhighways of mycelium? Invisible space trash.
My concern with space trash isn’t entirely new in the Star Trek universe nor is it unwarranted in real life either. This trash (AKA, “debris“) has been fodder for many Trek plot points, to the point where excuses have been made about how this flying shit impacts the integrity of intergalactic vessels. Still, the behavior of space dramas like Star Trek and Star Wars as it relates to waste highlights the future problem of space junk, the fast moving, increasing, and unclean-able issue that we will be unable to warp out of.
Its proliferation threatens not only current and future space missions but also global communications—mobile phone networks, satellite television, radio broadcasts, weather tracking, and military surveillance, even the dashboard GPS devices that keep us from getting lost. The number of manufactured objects cluttering the sky is now expected to double every few years as large objects weaken and split apart and new collisions create more Kesslerian debris, leading to yet more collisions.
NASA’s Bacon puts it bluntly: “The Kessler syndrome is in effect. We’re in a runaway environment, and we won’t be able to use space in the future if we don’t start dealing with this now.”
Yes, Star Trek is science fiction but – like waste on Earth – the waste they show in space is unrealistic. We’re already reaching a tipping point and we’ve yet to put building-sized warships in the sky. Imagine when we do: how will our waste consume everyone and everything? Will this be how we first make contact with aliens? Because they’ll be knocking on our door to clean-up our shit? The irony of it all.
So, yes, the new Star Trek is fantastic but it also represents a very real problem we’re facing in the world: waste. We may look to other planets to solve the problem of our ruining this one but some things (Trash.) won’t escape us.