In the news, the state of our planet is doom and gloom: another species is always disappearing, an exceptionally violent storm is ravaging another unprepared city, and some of the weirdest weather ever breaks another record. Scientists and policymakers are getting depressed, and our collective consciousness is turning to tales of apocalypse, not narratives of recovery. Welcome to the Anthropocene, the period during which human activity has become the dominant influence on the Earth's climate and the environment, and the result is horrifying.
Solarpunk is the first creative movement consciously and positively responding to the Anthropocene. When no place on Earth is free from humanity's hedonism, Solarpunk proposes that humans can learn to live in harmony with the planet once again.
Solarpunk is a literary movement, a hashtag, a flag, and a statement of intent about the future we hope to create. It is an imagining wherein all humans live in balance with our finite environment, where local communities thrive, diversity is embraced, and the world is a beautiful green utopia.
In the Guardian, writer Rebecca Solnit reflects on the uneven impact of climate change on poorer communities around the world. She writes: "Climate change is global-scale violence, against places and species as well as against human beings. Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality." If climate change is a slow violence on the Global South, then Solarpunk represents peace.
A sunny disposition
The "solar" in Solarpunk is both a description and metaphor for the movement's commitment to a utopia that is accessible to every human on earth, as well as to all of our planet's lifeforms. No single business can capture and privatize sunlight to hoard it for itself or sell it at a cost. It's one of the only universally accessible goods. Solarpunk futures envision a world of distributed clean energy, available and benefiting everyone.
"The re-distribution of power, whether it's political or electric, is at the heart of my story," Solarpunk author, Alia Gee, tells Hopes&Fears. "Getting the power aspect taken care of is the only way I believe there can be a better future for everyone. (I'm very keen on the everyone part. Not just white males or CIS or human-like life forms.)"
In that way, Solarpunk centers on outsider and marginalized groups because it must. Those with the least access to power in today's paradigm will be those we must closely listen to if the Solarpunk dream is to be made a reality. For if it is to be sustainable, it will be essential to distribute power and infrastructure throughout independent communities.
Traditionally, science fiction futures—like most fiction—have glorified the heroes; proud men who are smart and physically strong. Post-apocalyptic fiction, where anyone with any difference or difficulty is openly considered "dead weight," is largely ableist in nature. So while Solarpunk at first glance centers around technologies that help create green utopias, the most important part of the movement is dealing with the real human challenges of living together on this planet.
That is likely due to the Solarpunk belief that the technology we need for a utopia is already here; we just haven't found the political will to enact one. As Solarpunk author, Claudie Arseneault tells Hopes&Fears, this is what makes Solarpunk so powerful, it "works from existing technologies, from things we already know are possible." Arseneault believes that, "Solarpunk is a genre that says both here's what our future needs to look like and here's how we can get there. That's fantastic."
The blossoming movement is positioned in contrast to the darkness of exceedingly popular apocalyptic science fiction today, offering instead a bright future. The "punk," of course, references and builds off of the two literary genres that predate it, Steampunk and Cyberpunk. Instead of looking back in time and relying on outdated technologies like steam power, Solarpunk makes use of the best technologies available today. And, instead of imagining dystopian futures of networked crime and surveillance, Solarpunk taps into an extant community.
The -punk predecessors
The king of the “-punk” sci-fi subcultures. Coined by Bruce Bethke in his short story of the same name. The sub-genre focuses on dystopian futures and alienated loners fighting authorities in tech-heavy worlds. Neuromancer is the quintessential example. Also, Blade Runner.
A form that is very much like Cyberpunk but incorporates Neo-Victorian influence and advanced technology that is powered by steam. Examples include The Difference Engine and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.
Similar to Steampunk but with a focus on the aesthetics of the time between World War I and II in which diesel reigned supreme for powering the most advanced machines. See: The Rocketeer, Bioshock.
The shinier, chrome-plated version of Dieselpunk that is more influenced by Art Deco and Streamline Moderne styles. The animated Batman series and Bioshock: Infinite fall into this category.
An aesthetic that's highly influenced by the Space Age and Atomic Age styles of the Sputnik era and the Chernobyl meltdown. Many post-apocalyptic films and the Fallout video game series are examples.
Contrasts with its fellow "-punk" derivatives in that it looks to the future for its style. Imagining advancements in bioengineering and body modification. Examples include Never Let Me Go, Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, some of David Cronenberg's work.
A sub-genre of Biopunk that focuses on legal limitations on biotechnologies and the spread of nanotech. Examples include The Diamond Age and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.
Whereas most "-punk" derivatives focus on fantasy and sci-fi technologies, Dreampunk concerns itself with the dream logic and an unacknowledged flow between the unconscious and real life. Examples include the work of David Lynch and Lewis Carrol, Paprika.
What's so punk about hugging trees?
So what is the "punk" in Solarpunk? "It's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism," says Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism. Is There No Alternative? quoting Fredric Jameson. Stopping or turning around the most heavily funded sinking ship is a near impossibility, and that is the precise challenge of most environmental groups. The most powerful people in the world rely on the status quo. Fighting against all the momentum and money that is invested in destroying the environment is as big of a battle as one could imagine. In other words, it's super punk.
Those battles are already breaking out. There are the legal wars blocking sustainable tech and descaling. A conservative Floridian government is fighting against citizens choosing to live off the grid, Australia is undermining the benefits of household solar, and Spain is trying to "tax the sun." American environmental activists are even being labeled and treated as terrorists.
While any rational person should admit that we are heating the planet, many are very much in disagreement about the specifics. Timelines vary drastically, how bad the news actually is constantly differs, and what we can do to reverse it is hotly debated. Some say, "absolutely we can turn this around," while others believe that, no, the apocalyptic momentum is so strong that it's "unstoppable." Many scientists feel that talking about how bad the state of the world really is isn't even productive. What's more, they are repeatedly silenced when they finally do.
Much of today's science fiction is dystopian; we cannot fathom creating a stable society in which we are at peace with each other or the material realities of our planet. "Solarpunk is a genre whose time has come," Solarpunk author, Sheryl Kaleo, tells Hopes&Fears, "it has the artistic and literary power to push beyond our cultural doomsday mindspeak and make us believe in the future again."
In the West, we've grown so comfortable with consuming that there is a failure to even imagine what our lives might look like in a carbon-neutral society. It's easier for us to imagine a reset-button; a collapse, a major natural disaster, or great die-offs than a stable transition to sustainability. While it may be important to tell these stories, prominent Solarpunk thought leader Adam Flynn believes that to only envision an apocalyptic future is dangerous. "They let the reader go back to their everyday without any sort of urgency or imperative to keep this from happening." Flynn fears that people will simply give up.
What's a planet without a plan?
The real question humanity faces today is how to feed, shelter and build a life for over seven billion humans that is both comfortable and sustainable. The pessimists say it's impossible. This sense of a global community, where we treat all living creatures as neighbors, doesn't come easily, and maybe literature and art can help. Solarpunk, Flynn adds, "is about building a sense of a larger entity beyond the self, and erasing this perception of the world around us as something separate from us that's there for us to exploit." It's meant to inspire and mobilize everyone for action today.
While there are several books that fit into the Solarpunk genre, the term precedes any concrete literary or artistic movement. Aside from a few active Solarpunk Tumblrs, the most noteworthy publication from the genre is a Solarpunk anthology, which is only available in Portuguese. The editor of the anthology and a science fiction writer himself, Gerson Lodi Ribeiro, told Hopes&Fears that, "It's difficult to imagine the survival of humanity for the next one hundred years without shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources."
So far, Solarpunk is more a political imagining, or a statement of intent than a concrete body of work. However, like Solnit, Solarpunk believes in the power of words. The term Solarpunk is a call to enact a green utopian vision, and to fight against the slow but inexorable global violence that Solnit decries. Similarly, Ribeiro continues, "Solarpunk narratives show to its readers that it's possible and logical to conceive of a civilization without pollution, waste, and global warming.”
Works are quickly being added to the Solarpunk genre, and bigger projects are coming together. Flynn is working to move beyond the conceptual stage and is already planning a Solarpunk publication of some kind in the near future. There are the tremblings of a Solarpunk Press, which has begun accepting submissions. Arseneault just announced the line-up of a Solarpunk dragon anthology she is co-editing.
Scholar Donna Haraway, who has published extensively on environmental issues, writes that the imperative now is to foster refuges in which all animals can find shelter. Haraway writes, "our job is to make the Anthropocene as short/thin as possible... Right now, the earth is full of refugees, human and not, without refuge." Can the Solarpunk movement create a literary and aesthetic narrative that can grow into a physical refuge for all the refugees, human and non-human of today and tomorrow? Can Solarpunk be such a refuge?
Paris-based architect. He has received many awards and honors over the course of his career and in 2011 Time Magazine referred to him as the best eco-utopian architect for "imagining fantastical projects that address the world's environmental and social ills."