Denis Villeneuve’s screen adaptation of Dune wowed audiences and critics alike in 2021, gaining an 83% score on rotten tomatoes, with its sequel due out in November this year.
Coming out of the theatre, you may have been thinking about the stunning soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer, the fantastic cinematography of Greig Fraser, or the great performances by the likes of Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson.
And with all that going on, you’re forgiven if you didn’t come out of the theatre thinking about the world’s climate catastrophe, yet this is the message that author Frank Herbert perhaps most wanted to get across.
Released in 1963, Dune was way ahead of its time, with Herbert spending five years researching to create the book’s detailed environment and political system.
Central to Dune’s story is the battle to control ‘Spice’, the product produced by the desert planet Arrakis’s sand worms, which the ruling houses of the universe fight over because of its importance in space travel and Mentat powers.
Dune’s royal houses represent imperial powers, with their actions mirroring the real-life domination of the Middle East by both Western countries and corporations to gain control over the region’s oil resources.
Caught in the middle of this conflict are the Fremen; warrior tribes who are on one side violently oppressed by the Harkonnens’ and used by Paul and the Atreides family on the other for their crusade.
There are many comparisons to imperialism you could make here, with perhaps the most obvious being T.E. Lawrence who used the people of the Middle East for the benefit of the British Empire during the First World War, himself being a very charismatic, almost superhero-like figure in many people’s eyes.
Herbert felt the need to warn the world against following these charismatic, superhero-like figures, who he felt would soon be using climate change as a battleground for gaining popularity and power.
He further explained this concept in Dune Genesis, an essay he wrote in the now discontinued Omni Magazine in 1980: “I had already written several pieces about ecological matter, but my superhero concept filled me with a concern that ecology might be the next banner for demagogues and would be heroes, for the power seekers and others ready to find an adrenaline high in the launching of a new crusade.
“Our society, after all, operates on guilt, which often serves only to obscure its real workings and to prevent obvious solutions.
“An adrenaline high can be just as addictive as any other kind of high.”
In other words, we shouldn’t put our faith in charismatic individuals to solve the climate issue, since they are just as flawed as everyone else. Instead we should have distrust in government, since the power structures it creates attract easily morally corruptible people.
Later in the Dune Trilogy, it is revealed that Paul is unwilling to fix Arrakis’s environmental issues (something the Fremen have been working towards for decades), because it would mean an end to Spice production, and therefore an end to the huge power it grants the Atreides clan.
This has come to mirror real life, where countries as well as huge energy corporations (reminiscent of the Spice Guild in Dune) are unwilling to progress towards renewable energy to alleviate the climate crisis.
So, what should we do about it?
Herbert moved to a six-acre farm in 1971 and created a solar collector, wind plant and methane fuel generator, so it seems he thought the best solution was to take action ourselves rather than rely on others.
Arthur is a journalism student at The University of Sheffield. As well as being a founding member of BLOT, he has also written for Forge Press, Sheff Central and One2Football. His hobbies include climbing, going to gigs and of course, reading.
Favourite genres: Magical Realism and Historical Fiction.