Society & Solarpunk
Source: own design, vector graphics from Pixabay
The world is looking very bleak right now. Conflicts, wars, impending famines, discrimination, economic decline — the list goes on. The future, like the present, provides little reason for optimism. All the more important is a new movement that is about to change the world. This movement is known as Solarpunk, and you, too, can be a part of it.
Solarpunk is a movement of hope, a return to harmonious coexistence — without hierarchies and capitalism, without destroying our environment and our children’s futures — and a return to nature and the things that truly matter in life.
Note: In a previous article, we discussed why we need Solarpunk and how this movement can give humanity hope. Check it out here:
In this article, we will explore what exactly Solarpunk is, how it came to be, its evolution from a fringe science fiction genre to a social, revolutionary movement, and its connections and differences to other political groups. In future articles, I will then go into much greater detail regarding the economic, political, and social aspects of Solarpunk (subscribe here to make sure you don’t miss out).
One thing is certain: we need Solarpunk; we need more hope in this cold, harsh world. To achieve this, we must spread the word. So let’s talk and debate Solarpunk. Share the message, join the movement, tell your friends and family. This is happening.
What is Solarpunk?
The answer to the question ‘What is Solarpunk?’ is both simple and complex. Let’s begin with a simple definition and then gradually increase the complexity in subsequent articles. In short, at the moment, Solarpunk is still primarily a genre. A genre that, roughly speaking, has positioned itself as the antithesis to Cyberpunk.
Instead of a destroyed, ultra-capitalist dystopian world, Solarpunk represents a utopia in which humans and nature live in harmony. Solarpunk worlds, for the most part, are no longer capitalist. They do often involve sophisticated technology, but these are used in a sustainable and mutually beneficial manner.
However, Solarpunk has evolved into much more than that. It has reached into the real world. Solarpunk is activism. Solarpunk is exactly what its name implies: punk. It is a counter-movement to the current profit- and growth-oriented society. Solarpunk is anti-capitalist, ecological, anarchist, communal, and socialist. At the moment, Solarpunk is still a lot of different things.
Solarpunk activism can take many forms. Mutual aid, community projects, self-organization, decentralization, urban and guerrilla gardening, sustainable designs, green technologies, and a variety of other activities. Solarpunk is many things — and thus can help bring people together. It is a movement that has yet to find its footing to become significant. An evolving movement that everyone can help shape.
A short history of Solarpunk
Solarpunk, both as a genre and as a social movement, is still in its infancy. While several classic novels can be attributed to Solarpunk (for example, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed), they were not written under that banner at the time. In general, several novels from the New Weird era are, at least in principle, Solarpunk, as are some of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, one of Studio Ghibli’s co-founders.
In the early 2000s, Ecopunk emerged as a fictional genre. It can be considered one of the predecessors of Solarpunk. The term Solarpunk was then coined, popularized, and probably used for the first time in 2008, when the blog ‘Republic of the Bees’ published an essay titled From Steampunk to Solarpunk.
Then, in 2014, a Tumblr blog started posting Solarpunk artworks and aesthetics. This helped increase the genre’s visibility on the platform (which had far more users back then, than it does today) and in general pop culture. As a result, a few more Solarpunk books — mostly anthologies — were released in the following years. Solarpunk as a genre was born.
It was, however, still not a movement. Finally, in 2019, the Solarpunk Manifesto was released (Solarpunk: Notes Towards a manifesto was published five years earlier, but it was the 2019 article that had a lasting impact). It embraced Solarpunk as a radical social movement and a possible vision of the future, defining many of its fundamental characteristics and goals. The beginning of something great. But, before we get to the movement, let us take a closer look at Solarpunk as a genre.
Solarpunk as a literary and artistic genre
Describing Solarpunk as a genre is not an easy task, as few novels specifically use it as a setting — let alone other forms of media.
Solarpunk as a literary genre can be many things, but at its core, it is about a world in which humanity lives in much closer harmony with the environment than it does in reality. This means, for example, that there is an abundance of renewable energy, some of which is generated in conventional ways and some of which is based on futuristic technologies like flying wind turbines. There is also far less — if any — environmental destruction and pollution.
Solarpunk stories are typically set in science fiction worlds, but fantasy worlds built on these foundations are common as well. Solarpunk, in its purest form, takes place in post-capitalist and post-hierarchical utopias. However, many stories omit one or more of these socio-economic aspects to provide more opportunities for conflict.
By the way, since Solarpunk is also anti-colonialist, it frequently overlaps with Afrofuturism (this goes both ways). The Marvel film Black Panther, for example, contains numerous Solarpunk elements.
Solarpunk as a political and environmental movement
While artistic and literary interpretations can be significant and influential, it is the political and social arguments that truly define Solarpunk. But, in this regard, how does Solarpunk compare to other environmental groups?
To begin, one could argue that the Fridays for Future movement incorporates many aspects of Solarpunk, as it now increasingly encompasses not only environmentalism but also anti-capitalism and anti-colonialism. However, Fridays for Future remains first and foremost an environmental organization. While the exploitation of nature and people through capitalist mechanisms is addressed, these political thoughts are not pronounced.
Extinction Rebellion is heading in the same direction, seeing itself primarily as an apolitical movement and being frequently (and rightly) criticized on this basis.
Solarpunk is a political and an environmental movement. The two issues cannot be separated from each other. Source: own design, vector graphics from Pixabay
Here, I want to clearly define Solarpunk as both a political and environmental movement. As such, it has the obligation to cooperate not only with environmental groups like Fridays for Future or Extinction Rebellion, but also, and, in fact, even more so, with socialist, communist, and anarchist organizations. At its core, the Solarpunk agenda must be anti-capitalist. There is no alternative.
Politics and environmental concerns are not separate issues but inextricably linked. No sustainable world compatible with nature can be built unless the political and economic systems that govern it undergo radical change. This definition of Solarpunk will serve as a basis for my future work, in which I will examine these concerns in more detail.
David Graeber’s fantastic and unrivalled book Bullshit Jobs opened my eyes to the absurdities and deep ideological flaws of modern capitalism. This is a book everyone has to read at least once. I cannot overstate how significantly it influenced me. If you want, you can buy the book from bookshop.org, which supports local bookshops around the world (I receive commissions for purchases made through this link — thank you for your support)
Solarpunk activism and community
As previously stated, Solarpunk activism entails a wide range of services that can be undertaken by anyone, at any time, and with relative ease. One example is the organization in local communities (e.g., neighborhood communities) to manage community gardens in cities, grow various types of food together, build shared power supply systems, and thus become self-sufficient.
Guerrilla gardening, which involves planting local wildflowers and the like in public places, is also part of the Solarpunk mindset. Trimmed and mowed lawns and a general subjugation of nature, the wasteful use of resources, and any form of discrimination, on the other hand, are not welcome in this society.
Community is a cornerstone of the Solarpunk philosophy. Source: own design, vector graphics from Pixabay
As Solarpunk contains a strong anarchist component, mutual aid and other community services are also part of it. In other words, when there are problems, community members offer free help and assistance. They help one another with repairs, share resources, care for children and the elderly, and so on. Everyone contributes in accordance with their skills and talents. In short: it is what capitalism was supposed to do, but has failed to do for a large part of the world’s population.
The fight for a better future
A better future is possible. You will have to fight for it. Source: Pixabay (edited)
Solarpunk is important. While many of us have already come to terms with a dystopian future — or, let’s face it, a dystopian present — Solarpunk is bringing at least a glimmer of hope back to the world. A different future is possible. Together, we can create it. Solarpunk shows us what this world could look like.
That is why it is important, no, crucial, to get involved. Write and read articles and books, engage with socialism, anarchism, communism, and other alternative political systems, tell others, go to demonstrations, plant flowers, get involved in your community, and find a way back to nature. A bright future remains possible. We just need to be willing to fight for it. Are you?
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This was, in a way, the third part of my Solarpunk series. Check out the curated list here:
An Introduction to Solarpunk
If you want to imagine a futuristic world without work, on the other hand, you can do so here:
Sources and further reading
- Andrewism. How We Can Make Solarpunk A Reality (ft. @Our Changing Climate). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-JvyfZVkIM
- How We Can Build A Solarpunk Future Right Now (ft. @Andrewism). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twGcjDnOb_U
- Mark Montegriffo in Jacobin. Yes, “Socialism or Extinction” Is Exactly the Choice We Face. https://jacobinmag.com/2020/09/extinction-rebellion-socialism-capitalism
- Marquardt, J. (2020). Fridays for future’s disruptive potential: an inconvenient youth between moderate and radical ideas. Frontiers in Communication, 5, 48.
- Miss Olivia Louise (Tumblr). Here’s a thing I’ve had around in my head for a while! https://missolivialouise.tumblr.com/post/94374063675/heres-a-thing-ive-had-around-in-my-head-for-a
- Our Changing Climate. Why This Gives Me Hope for the Future (ft. @Saint Andrewism). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3aauiR9M88
- Regenerative Design. A Solarpunk Manifesto. https://www.re-des.org/a-solarpunk-manifesto/
- Republic of the bees. From Steampunk to Solarpunk. https://republicofthebees.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/from-steampunk-to-solarpunk/
- Solarpunk subreddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/solarpunk/
- VICE. Solarpunk Is Not About Pretty Aesthetics. It’s About the End of Capitalism. https://www.vice.com/en/article/wx5aym/solarpunk-is-not-about-pretty-aesthetics-its-about-the-end-of-capitalism