The Issue Trekkies Avoid
The Star Trek post-scarcity system sure is great. Warp speed gets you where you want to go. Replicators give you virtually free food and clothing. Transporters teleport you from one place to another.
Yeah, it's all fun and games as long as the Federation has that sweet, sweet dilithium. But what happens when that nonrenewable resource is gone? Take the idea of 21st century Earth's "peak oil" and expand it a thousandfold. Just like oil on Earth the dilithium supply can and will peak.
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Dilithium isn't a source of energy but its unique properties allow it to be used to control the power of a warp drive system by regulating the matter/antimatter reaction in a warp core. Dilithium is a rare and valuable substance in the Star Trek universe because it can be found on only a few planets in the galaxy. Just like petroleum once it is gone for all intents and purposes no more supply of dilithium will ever exist because it is nonrenewable.
The problem doesn't just begin when the all the dilithium in the alpha quadrant is used up. In the beginning you have an abundance of dilithium from all the places it is easily extracted. Then you have to work a little harder to get to it. That doesn't seem like much of a problem. Prisoners can be sentenced to "work camps" to mine it. You might enter into treaties with fellow Federation planets for the dilithium mineral rights. Once those planets are stripped bare of dilithium you can give those planets to the Klingons or Romulans as part of a new treaty with them for even more dilithium mnineral rights.
So far so good. But you need more dilithium because you want to go out to explore and see if more worlds have dilith...I mean go out and meet other civilizations even though you have self-imposed rules that you can't interfere with them. Well, Spock and Scotty developed a method of recrystallizing dilithium so that is a huge step forward...Except in the Star Trek universe ships tend to get destroyed during wars and battles on a regular basis. No matter how much you maximize the efficiency of your dilithium use all the dilithium on a ship that is blown up in space is lost.
Don't get me started about how under certain rare circumstances a large enough dilithium deposit can form in such a way that the crystals grow, become perfectly aligned lattices, take the radiant heat of the planet and convert it into enough mechanical energy that the planet explodes.
What's that? Trekkies know peak dilithium still won't be an issue centuries in the future because Epoch-class Federation timeships exist in the 29th century. No, that's just something Trekkies tell themselves so they don't start thinking about it during 3D chess matches. Federation timeships may exist in the future but the Temporal Prime Directive prevents any technical details such as the timeship's power supply from being known. An entire technological dark age of post-dilithium could occur before the 29th century. The Federation might have to revert back to older methods such as crystallized lithium until an alternate means of power generation are developed for use on the timeships.
The clues are there that peak dilithium may already be starting to occur in the Star Trek universe. Anthropologists studying a proto-Vulcan race use clunky fusion reactors. The Federation was funding at least one cranky old scientist's research into Krieger waves. Oh, and let's not forget about Omega molecules. That molecule that destabilized and destroyed a classified research station along with subspace throughout the Lantaru sector. The Federation quashed information about that little accident from publicly being known by its citizenry. Do you really believe the Federation is going to acknowledge a dilithium shortage is looming when everyone is enjoying the bread and circus life living under the Federation?
This blog post has been approved for publication by the Cardassian Obsidian Order.
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