Frank Herbert's 'Dune' is a climate and environment story. Are you paying attention?

Conrad Swanson, The Seattle Times on

Published in Entertainment News

SEATTLE — House Atreides has fallen. Duke Leto is dead and his son, Paul, lives in hiding, gathering his strength and awaiting the right moment to leave the Fremen sietch and reclaim his birthright from the twisted Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

Will our hero succeed? Is he a hero at all? What new challenges must he confront living among the dunes, storms and sandworms?

You see, Paul Atreides' fate — and that of the intergalactic empire — is inextricably linked to the climate and ecology of the desert planet Arrakis. Frank Herbert designed his beloved story, "Dune," that way intentionally, as a critique of our own world and a cautionary tale for the future.

Millions will find out how it all ends this weekend when Denis Villeneuve's "Dune: Part Two" premieres in theaters across the country.

Or perhaps you've read the book(s) and already know how it turns out. Either way, "Dune" fans everywhere should be pleased that the trailblazing book finally has a good — dare I say great? — movie adaptation.

"Dune" has amassed quite a loyal following since the novel's debut in 1965. Herbert served as an early pioneer of science fiction with a climatological and ecological spin — "cli-fi" as folks in-the-know call it.


A Tacoma native and University of Washington attendee (not graduate), Herbert wasn't the first to explore the subgenre, but his insights carry over into today's world better than most. He cemented an uncannily prescient, even chilling, legacy for his most beloved work.

Without spoiling the second half of the story too much, let's take a look at some of Herbert's most enduring warnings.

"It's not a hopeful book, it's a pessimistic book," said Devin Griffiths, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. "It's deeply critical of business-as-usual."

Before we dive into the relationship between Herbert's planet and ours, let's get a few basics out of the way. In the story, we've got a barren and dry planet covered in sand, occupied by the indigenous Fremen people and imperial colonizers who occupy the northern hemisphere and harvest "Melange," also known simply as "spice."


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