Solarpunk – exploring radical optimism

Let’s start off with asking the question: “What is Solarpunk?” Then, while you read through this post, feel free to play some solarpunk themed music. Please comment your thoughts below!

Various Artists : Solarpunk : A Possible Future

What is Solarpunk?

Almost everyone has heard of Cyberpunk. So, let me share with you a few paragraphs, images, and a video that will help bring in the feeling and ideas of Solarpunk.

“The -Punk Family started with Cyberpunk, which spawned a series of literary subgenres. Of those, the most popular is Steampunk. Most of them are marked by a prime mover, an energy source or main motivating agent, that is part of each one’s name. They all incorporate a ‘punk’ aspect, that is, that at least one character rebels against some aspect of society. Finally, each one comes with its own décor, or visual style and clothing design.” (Poseidon’s Scribe, 2018)

“Solarpunk is a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?” The aesthetics of solarpunk merge the practical with the beautiful, the well-designed with the green and wild, the bright and colorful with the earthy and solid. Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en-route to a better world — but never dystopian. As our world roils with calamity, we need solutions, not warnings. Solutions to live comfortably without fossil fuels, to equitably manage scarcity and share abundance, to be kinder to each other and to the planet we share. At once a vision of the future, a thoughtful provocation, and an achievable lifestyle.” (Springett, 2017)

Unknown Artist – Please let me know; Google reverse image search didn’t help.

“Solarpunk – a plausible near-future sci-fi genre, which I like to imagine as based on updated Art Nouveau, Victorian, and Edwardian aesthetics, combined with a green and renewable energy movement to create a world in which children grow up being taught about building electronic tech as well as food gardening and other skills, and people have come back around to appreciating artisans and craftspeople, from stonemasons and smithies, to dress makers and jewelers, and everyone in between. A balance of sustainable energy-powered tech, environmental cities, and wicked cool aesthetics.” (MissOliviaLouise, 2014)

To me, one of the most promising and radically optimistic parts of solarpunk, is that we are using the technology we have available today, with changing our general societal mindset to better adapt those technologies for our needs. Please watch the short 1 minute long film “Dear Alice” by The Line (below), as it does a beautiful job of showcasing the powerful potential for solarpunk.

“Dear Alice” – By The Line – Produced for Chobani

“We’re solarpunks because the only other options are denial or despair.

The promises offered by most Singulatarians and Transhumanists are individualist and unsustainable: How many of them are scoped for a world where energy is not cheap and plentiful, to say nothing of rare earth elements?

Solarpunk is about finding ways to make life more wonderful for us right now, and more importantly for the generations that follow us – i.e., extending human life at the species level, rather than individually. Our future must involve repurposing and creating new things from what we already have (instead of 20th century “destroy it all and build something completely different” modernism). Our futurism is not nihilistic like cyberpunk and it avoids steampunk’s potentially quasi-reactionary tendencies: it is about ingenuity, generativity, independence, and community.

And yes, there’s a -punk there, and not just because it’s become a trendy suffix. There’s an oppositional quality to solarpunk, but it’s an opposition that begins with infrastructure as a form of resistance. We’re already seeing it in the struggles of public utilities to deal with the explosion in rooftop solar. “Dealing with infrastructure is a protection against being robbed of one’s self-determination,” said Chokwe Lumumba, the late mayor of Jackson, MS, and he was right. Certainly there are good reasons to have a grid, and we don’t want it to rot away, but one of the healthy things about local resilience is that it puts you in a much better bargaining position against the people who might want to shut you off (We’re looking at you, Detroit).” (Flynn, 2014)

If you want further reading, check out my post “15 Solarpunk Books and Stuff Worth Checking Out.”

So, do you feel any more optimistic about the future? Did you already know about solarpunk and were hoping to learn something new here? Do you feel this is all hoo-hah and I should go play glitchy Cyberpunk 2077? Tell me in the comments below!

Abundant Blessings!
– John

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