Solarpunk Thoughts, Sources and Definitions
While I always felt drawn towards both utopian and distopian visions of the universe the new genre idea of solarpunk hits struck me like lightning. I am not alone with my thoughts on how we can save the world by finding different ways of operating our existence. What would a positive, sustainable future look like?
Let me start by quoting the
“7 reasons why solarpunk is the most important speculative fiction movement in the last 20 years” that are floating around the WWW.
and adding my own thoughts on them:
1. It’s hopeful.
Solarpunk doesn’t require an apocalypse. It’s a world in which humans haven’t destroyed ourselves and our environment, where we’ve pulled back just in time to stop the slow destruction of our planet. We’ve learned to use science wisely, for the betterment of ourselves and our planet. We’re no longer overlords. We’re caretakers. We’re gardeners.
I think one strong topic is the fact that we either brushed past the apocalypse and have learned our lesson. Solarpunk is about being in a new age of enlightenment. We learned that infinite growth is neither the answer nor sustainable. Our sources are limited. Normal SciFi get around this by enlarging the playing field. Modern tech makes our solar system or even new Stars and Galaxies reachable by FTL. In a utopian solarpunk SciFi it would be interesting how an enlightened humanity would fare and makes its way WITHOUT turning back to the old habits that come with perceived inifity of resources. Star Trek TNG made a great utopia by solving everything through replication of matter. It changes society greatly “By virtually eliminating material scarcity, replicator technology plays an important role in the money less human economy within the Star Trek universe.” What is missing thus, is again the fact that humans should come to terms with the definite and frailty of the universe (Ok fellow TNG nerds the was this: warp speed limit).
2. Scientists are heroes again.
And not just physicists and astronomers. Knowledge of biology and earth sciences matter, they’re the building blocks for a future on Earth. Scientific literacy isn’t just for academics – it’s part of daily life. People know how the things they use work, and if they don’t, they can access that information.
Just imagine how many more connections we nowadays perceive, get trained on and take for granted compared to our ancestors! If you are as old as I am you still remember a time when the green movement tried making people aware of what pollution actually would do: Acid Rain, Ozone Layer etc, ABC contamination. We are still at the start of connecting all the dots. Modern data processing shows up connections that were not easily seeable before. How will an humanity react to these connections once the data is available and widely accepted because its measured and true? How will the reaction be on actions that only benefit a few but cause harm to everyone? How will the economic future look if such actions are no longer possible: Why lead used to be added to gasoline.
3. It’s diverse. Solarpunk is rooted in using the environment, so it looks different in different places. Alternative energy is best when specific to place (I imagine geothermal, wind, tidal, and hydroelectric energy sources are still used in certain places) so no overarching government system is needed. Communities can organize themselves, taking their own location and needs and history into account. Brazilian, Inuit, Egyptian, Pacific Northwest, and New Zealand solarpunk can all look very different, but be unified in resourceful, intentional, low impact living.
4.Individuality still matters. In a post-scarcity society, ingenuity and self-expression are not sacrificed on the altar of survival. With solar power there’s no reason not to go off grid, if that’s what you want to do. Communities can self-organize. You can find a community that suits you, or go live by yourself if that floats your boat.
The tiny-home initiative comes to mind here as well as the modern data-processing and networking again. Ones work and social connection is no longer bound by location, on the other hand people love to have a small community of individuals with similar mindsets around them. The family is often one of mutual selection nowadays. Will this keep local specialties and cultures or lead to an intermix of everything “human culture” at one point? I think it will further involve new cultural developments based on the above mentioned: Location, personal perference and chosen community. So I am sure Solarpunk will look naturally based on location and personal preference of the small communities that agree on a certain way of living and designing their surrounding while the common cultural differences might fade into the gloabl culture that we see on the rise tight now. Actually why is the solarpunk society post scarcity? Because Energy is around aplenty? I think of it more because it is post growth and more accepting of limits. Positive use of resources, reuse of items. industrial design along the way of the fairfone where parts are easily replaceable, maybe even reprintable at home. No more products that are build to last only a certain time so you need to buy again.
As to the individuality. Yes! once you learn to let loose of the web of owning item from a cycle of industrial planned obsolescence you are free.
5. There’s room for spirituality and science to coexist. Solarpunk is rooted in a deep understanding and reverence for natural processes. There’s room for spirituality there, be it pagan, Buddhist, Sufi, Transcendentalism – anything. There’s so much to explore, from nature worship to organized monotheistic religions, and how they interact with solarpunk.
With the diversification of small communities who live together by choice religion will also become more diverse locally but possibly also bigger through networking. As with the model/way/community you chose you can also chose whatever religion exists and join. With the mindset of the solarpunk nature conserving and individual thought supporting religions are more attractive then dogmatic ones. Shinto makes a very good solarpunk religion. Not only because of Amaterasu, the Sun Godess, Shinto is about the Kami (Spirits of nature and deceased) in everything and according to this Priest: “Living in harmony with Great Nature, showing gratitude for what you have, and being sincere in your actions.” Other religions like Humanistic Paganism take a human centric ethical view “that begins with human beings and defines the good in terms of human experience, not the will of any God or gods.” Again, the networked but individual society comes to mind as a big feature of the solarpunk future. No matter what you believe individually, a church might still be an overarching community to share spirituality and community bigger then your local one. As with the Concept of Ikigai I will cover in a later post, the quest for meaning can be a driving factor of the future as it has been in the past, especially in times of enlightenment. E.g. Universalists like the Church of the Larger Fellowship offer this networked kind of individual spirituality already to member all over the world.
6. It’s beautiful. The most common solarpunk aesthetic is art nouveau, but again there’s room for diversity, incorporating art styles from multiple cultures in respectful, non-appropriate ways. The most important aspect of solarpunk aesthetic is the melding of art and utility. The idea of intentional living is strong in art nouveau, but it’s not the only art movement with that philosophy.
The moment something is build to last more effort is put in to acutally make it a piece of art. Our modern trash away society has lost this in many items of daily use. One of the biggest eye sores is architecture I learned to call “purpose fatalism”. Buildings that are made to a certain purpose and that’s it. This applies to many products nowadays which are just build to do what they are supposed to do in the cheapest possible faction, design-less enough that they are easy to market and replaced. People lost interest in the beauty of many things they daily interact with. Who cares if the ice scraper for your car is well made and good looking? Its a plastic plate you use and throw away if it breaks. Sometimes even cheap throw away things have fantastic or at least quirky designs to make them stand out. But there is a difference between modern industrial design and handcrafted, benchmade, manufacture appeal. Modern production method such as 3d printing can bring back this individual value with a new easiness. Or just thing about all the custom knitting and cloth printing already available.
Only with items of personal reference, such as the smartphone the average person still has an opinion. Solarpunk is about beautiful lasting design that will reawaken people to the pleasure of owning fewer, nicer, long lasting things.
7. We can make it happen. Now. Earthships. Permaculture. Aquaponics. Algae lighting. Compostable products that turn into fields of flowers. Buy Nothing organizations. Tiny, beautiful, efficient homes. Solar power cells you can see through. That’s all happening now. Solarpunk is within our grasp, at least on a personal level. I’m not saying there aren’t still big, ugly infrastructures devoted to unethical consumption, but we can start to tear them down. We can build a solarpunk world with stories and small changes. And small changes lead to big changes. That’s the real beauty of solarpunk. It’s not a post-apocalyptic power fantasy. It’s not a wistful daydream, or an elite future only for physicists. It’s something we can work towards right now. It’s tangible.
This is what made me so hooked upon Solarpunk. In the end MY effort defines how Solarpunk the future will be. Last year, before I found the Solarpunk idea on the web I already had tried a year of not buying anything unless something broke or I needed it for sustenance. It worked until November, decluttering my life and giving me time to enjoy other things then shopping. Think about why and what you do, go off grid, move into a tiny home, buy ethical products, buy only things you need, repair and not throw away, make thinks you need, make peace with your existence! Dream Big and act to make an impact! Help and inspire others!
P.S: Links are examples, not endorsements!
V.0.9 German translation upcoming