Skip links

Peek into the future: A hope?

Let me paint you a picture. A dystopian world where the sun never rises and technology has taken over in an extremely inhuman way. High rise buildings and pollution are constants and the poverty-stricken are being gradually wiped out with the mop of capitalism. If you have visualised such images before, you are aware of cyberpunk, a piece of dark dystopian future in the realm of science fiction literature. This pessimistic post apocalyptic world is the result of the gamble humans are playing right now, where what’s at stake is quite literally our home, our lives, our Earth, or so the sci fi tropes of cyberpunk and dieselpunk say. The difference is however, that we are still gambling, and the consequences are yet to appear to their full extent. So, if we played our cards just right, is it possible to have an optimistic and lively post apocalyptic world? Is there a light at the end of this tunnel? If so, what does that light look like? Is there hope? What does this hope look like? One way for this hope to exist is through Solarpunk. By this point, it is pretty clear that we need to move forward and away from the unhealthy and unethical status-quo which is characterised by a detrimental environment and groped by capitalism.

But without knowing what to move towards, how do we move in the first place? In this sense, Solarpunk also provides a direction, it becomes a goal, an inspiration for us to commit to consequential change, thus rooting itself into the present as much as it is a figment of imagination of the future. Solarpunk is a genre of ecologically-oriented speculative fiction characterised both by its aesthetic and its underlying socio-political vision (Sylva, 2015). Originating as an art movement in the early 2010s, essentially on the internet, solarpunk envisions a future with the assumption of humanity being able to solve all major contemporary challenges.

Solarpunk envisions a world that works on principles of social justice, sustainability, economic equality and other values without having its roots in fossils or capitals. Before delving into the nuances, to give you a clearer idea of what a Solarpunk world might look like, let me paint you a picture again. Majorly green with clear blue skies, buildings mostly made of glass for better absorption of sunheat, lapped with plants all over them, renewable sources such as solar, wind and tidal for energy generation are a few characteristics of the solarpunk vision.

Furthermore, solarpunk goes on to imagine an anarchical system characterised by sustainable production, consumption and distribution at the community level instead of large-scale shady corporations feeding on fossil fuels to satisfy and further fuel unhealthy consumerist patterns. A homegrown economy where technology is used to solve all contemporary problems in a low-carbon generation manner. As such, perhaps one of the most dominant characteristics of solarpunk is not turning back the wheel of time and going back to the era before fossil fuels existed. Instead solarpunk encourages technological development and imagines harmonious co-existence of humanity and technology.

In stark contrast with cyberpunk, Solar punk embodies the ideals of anti consumerism, egalitarianism, decentralisation, social inclusivity and self sufficiency. The above picture isn't the only one that exists. As a movement, Solarpunk continues to evolve and expand in dimensions all over the internet and in general, which adds to its uniqueness. What does Solarpunk literally mean? Author RoAnn Sylva attempts to examine the word by breaking it into two, Solar meaning to ‘evoke light’ which in addition to setting the tone of the narrative, implies ‘broad daylight in which life transpires’. Additionally, Solar refers to solar energy, a renewable source of energy, one of the major components in designing the solarpunk world. The latter half, Punk has a long history with anti-establishment and anti-capitalist thought, thus evoking rebellious and countercultural aspects of the genre, as well as promoting individuality (not to be confused with individualism). In this manner, Solarpunk challenges the status-quo and promotes an optimistic and hopeful world aligned with social and ecological equality.

Before probing further into what solarpunk is, it is imperative to establish more clearly what it is not. In addition to being in stark contrast with cyberpunk (as mentioned earlier) solarpunk is innately against capitalism. Why so? It is important to understand that capitalism and ecological harmony cannot coexist. Capitalism thrives by sinking its teeth into the environment we need to sustain. By promoting the twin planks of mass production and consumption, it traps the economy and ecology in its vicious cycle. Capitalism only benefits the richest 10 percent and has no room for representation. Famously said by Fredric Jameson, “It is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism”, clearly enunciates the pervasiveness of capitalism but it doesn't negate the fact that climate emergency, global warming, income inequality among other contemporary problems have been either birthed by capitalism or exacerbated by it.

Thus, it is clear that in a world that envisions progress both economically and socially based on principles of sustainability, equality and representation, capitalism has to be rejected. This is where solarpunk manifests itself politically. Capitalism coupled with neoliberalism (clearly the realm of politics) survives on the mass belief that the only way to success, profit and economic growth is this path and none other, something that Margeret Thatcher (prime minister of Britain; 1979-1990) also supported by making the notorious statement, ‘there is no alternative’. To that end, Solarpunk itself is one such alternative, one that ensures real growth for all without surrendering into the shackles of capitalism, thus establishing how inherently, Solarpunk ideology and theory lies is complete contrast to capitalism (or status-quo).

Therefore, it is crucial to rethink the systems of capitalism. Solarpunk rejects capitalism and the existing way of consumption of technology (that leads to carbon emissions) but it is of paramount importance to note that solarpunk does not reject technology altogether. Instead it focuses on a ‘high tech-low carbon’ lifestyle where technology is used innovatively to solve contemporary problems that afflict the masses. Solarpunk’s rejection of capitalism is followed by its own definition of growth that is characterised by ethics of compassion and temperance in economics. On lines of such an economy, Solarpunk envisions autonomous communities with non-hierarchical organisation. Such a design births itself in the form of urban-garden communes and energy co-ops. Furthering its political manifestation, solarpunk covers under its domain other social issues that coexist with environmental degradation and climate change.

It imagines a future devoid of any existing prejudices such as environmental racism, ability and disability, representation, food access, income inequality etc. Not magically shifting to the world where everyone is equal (thereby differentiating itself from utopia), rather systematically building a world where prejudices are addressed and tackled. Talking about the tangible aspects of a solarpunk world; a critical feature to be analysed is the infrastructure. The Solarpunk world is marked with sustainable architecture, something discussed and created in depth in the artistic dimension of solarpunk. Architecture in this world might look like skyscrapers but with plants and trees growing on every available surface, emphasis on public transportation, locally sourced food, use of renewable sources of energy among much more.

The aesthetics of solarpunk are beyond architecture and design. One may go on to list solarpunk music, solarpunk art; emphasising colours of blue and green, ethnic and culturally diverse clothing as opposed to mass produced garments etc. Thus at its heart, solarpunk aims to bring people under the common umbrella by using art at its disposal to create a lasting emotional impact. Thus, solarpunk envisions a two fold approach: as a form of art, it connects with people emotionally and easily brings under its ambit everyone, irrespective of differences of any kind; furthermore, it brings in practical and scientific concepts of indegenious or regenerative agriculture, rain collection etc.

Thus, at its core, solarpunk focuses on providing practical solutions as well as acts as a hope for a better future. We have established why it is necessary to transition from the status-quo, to what we will be transitioning to, but the ever unanswered question still stands. How to facilitate this transition? It is no news that climate injustice has manifested itself in several forms, including the stark gap between the one responsible for more than half of the global emissions today, the global north, and the ones paying the highest price of such degradation, the global south, by being both on the frontline of the brunt of the climate crisis and on the borderline of migration and erasion. Thus by logic and by morality, the global north has to pay reparations to the global south, something that is pursued by international agreements on climate change as well. Solarpunk upholds this very belief of global expression of environmental racism. In the global north, solarpunk may manifest itself as a step away from fossil fuels thus focusing on detechnologization, in the global south on the other hand, a solarpunk world may be sustainable industrialization and monetary compensation to assist those at the borderline of the consequences of climate crisis.

Every minute that is spent not fighting the climate catastrophe with any and every tool at our disposal, we, the global north specially, are choosing convenience and greed over justice. Solarpunk therefore often becomes a source to channelize the pent up climate anxiety caused due to inaction. It is important to envisage an optimistic future so that its light can guide our steps out of the climate crisis. In this sense, solarpunk imagines ‘a brave new world’. By taking on the evils of climate change and capitalism that continue to plague us perpetually, Solarpunk both inspires and incentivizes us to both continue this fight for climate and envisage a solution. As speculative fiction, a piece of literature and art, solarpunk gives us the liberty and the freedom to imagine a just and free world, a vision of an ecologically sound and equal future, which is both collaborative in its very essence (due to the collaborative nature of the movement at such a nascent stage) and promotes sustainability, thus aiding both people and planet. Solarpunk both creates a destination, one which is representative, sustainable, equal and free, and provides the prerequisites and a medium to get there. This piece of art in its most authentic form, then goes on to inspire us and move us to action. Thus solarpunk becomes the essential medium to transition our inactive state into an active one.

Satakshi Gupta
Undergraduate Student At SRCC

References

Johnson, Isaijah. "‘Solarpunk’& the pedagogical value of Utopia." J. Sustain. Educ. (2020)

Reina-Rozo, Juan David. "Art, Energy and Technology: the Solarpunk Movement." International Journal of Engineering, Social Justice, and Peace 8.1 (2021): 47-60.

https://builtin.com/greentech/solarpunk

https://www.vice.com/en/article/wx5aym/solarpunk-is-not-about-pretty-aesthetics-its-about-the-end-of-capitalism

https://earth.org/solarpunk/

Leave a comment

This website uses cookies to improve your web experience.