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DunEcology: Just fill out this terraform...

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In Frank Herbert’s novels, the Fremen of Dune (formal name: Arrakis) are at work on a multi-generational project (or rather portfolio of projects) to transform Arrakis into a more habitable, temperate - even forested - planet. This was being done under the guidance of a planetologist (Liet-Kynes), who aimed to transform Arrakis into a livable world.

NOTE TO READER: There's a great glossary of terms here if you're getting distracted by (or are curious about) the 'lingo' here.

The process of making a world (or moon) habitable for humans is called terraforming.  You can read more about it here:

The idea of doing this very same thing to Mars – or Venus – or moons of the larger planets, for human habitation, is covered in this fascinating article which relates back to Dune’s ecology:

Carl Sagan proposed terraforming the planet Venus by injecting photosynthetic bacteria into Venus' atmosphere, which would convert the carbon dioxide into reduced carbon in organic form, thus reducing the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which, in turn, would remove CO2 and reduce the greenhouse effect until surface temperatures dropped to comfortable levels.  You can read about that in his 1961 (!!) paper here:

Robert Zubrin, the founder of the Mars Society has proposed (and continues to propose) terraforming Mars with a mission called Mars Direct. Check it out here:, and in his paper here:

In fact, this started me down a ‘rabbit hole’ of research on terraforming and it’s not just science fiction – there are serious projects (programs – or portfolios, really) that have been proposed:

Research on terraforming

Back to Arrakis

Doing this terraforming on Dune, however, dooms the sandworm.  Water is poisonous to the this huge creature.  Yet, the sandworm provides the basis (through its production of Spice) of  the planet’s economic well-being, as well as a being worshiped by the Fremen.  In this ironic twist, ecology defeats economy.  On earth, a focus on a carbon-based economy – at least some say - could defeat the ecology. 

For the Fremen, they have to think about a long-term view (many generations terraforming their planet to be more habitable) and a hugely long-term view (they may destroy a creature they worship, which provides the planet with its main source of income, and which enables space travel).

And now, back to Earth

How about Earth?  If you believe in the Anthropocene (see the link for details), we humans are doing the opposite of terraforming (anyone have a suggestion for a name?  Terradissolution?). 

I think that anything we’re doing (starting with being conscious of our impact on the planet) to reduce the effects that humans have on the planet is important to avoid terradissolutioning the earth.

I find the project/program/portfolio aspects of these initiatives fascinating in and of themselves, because they are such sweeping, huge, literally interplanetary efforts involving disciplines as far-flung as chemistry, aerospace, urban planning, and ethics.  Maybe one day you will find yourself (if not on Mars) part of a terraforming portfolio!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: May 20, 2024 02:22 PM | Permalink

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Michael Browning Director, Cybersecurity| Vanderbilt University Nashville, USA
Great insight - thank you for sharing!

Kwiyuh Michael Wepngong Financial Management Specialist | US Peace Corps / Cameroon Yaounde, Centre, Cameroon

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