In 1984, around the time that the Dune movie was coming out, Frank Herbert gave an interview to Jean Marie Stine of the Los Angeles Reader:
JMS: In Dune, written in the early ’60s, you were one of the first to question the danger of modifying the ecology of a particular environment to try to “improve” human conditions.
Herbert: Let me give you a little example on that one. About 20 years ago the U.S. and West Germany pooled their resources — well, we put in most of the bucks and the people — and went into North Africa, and all across most of the southern veldt of the Sahara. We dug a lot of tube wells — we drilled them, put pumps on them and brought water up. We did a good thing and then we walked away from it, more or less. Technologically we sure as hell walked away from it.
What happened was that they had more water and more grazing areas. More arable land was opened up, more cattle were put on the land, and the population grew to equal the new food supply. Then about five years ago, the rainfall, cyclic rainfall, decidedly decreased. Three years ago it went, practically dry. Of course the water table went down much faster because they were pumping. Right now as we sit here talking, 2,000 people a day are dying in that area. You can’t go in and fix one thing to make everything all right in a complex situation. It’s like an internal combustion engine. If there is only one thing wrong you may happen on the one thing that fixes it. But chances are much larger that by just doing one thing you create other problems you’re going to have to adjust. And you have to keep adjusting until you create a balance.
For instance, one of the side effects of what we did in some of those North African villages was that we broke down the social system. Women previously went to the well for water, which they carried back on their heads, and the well was where they solved all their community problems. By piping water into the houses we cut off that link in their society and all hell broke loose. There were family feuds, murders, all kinds of things that had never occurred in these places, in that particular way, ever before. The Green Revolution was another, similar con game. We went in with a technologically based system into primitive countries, and where before they had depended on manure and animals to pull their plows and that sort of thing, we made them dependent on special soil additives and special seed stock which was, by the way, very vulnerable to disease.
I’m reminded of The Logic of Failure.