Solarpunk is an aesthetic inspired by Art Nouveau, a literary genre, and a social movement. At its core it is a vision of a future that embodies the best of what humanity can achieve: a post-scarcity, post-hierarchy world where humanity and nature co-exist, and clean energy replaces fossil fuels.
The community that has sprung up around Solarpunk has created a lot of beautiful ideas. Here’s why the world needs Solarpunk.
It is diverse
No matter your race or ethnic background, no matter your ability, age, sex, orientation, or gender, there is a place for you in the future Solarpunk envisions. Thanks to better education and wider access to resources, stigma and abuse against those with mental illness would shrink. This includes ideas like:
- beautiful prosthetic limbs made from locally-sourced materials
- buildings equipped with panic rooms: rooms lined with bioluminescent algae and soft pillows, perfect as a respite for overloaded senses or panic attacks
- More people would be knowledgeable of first aid and issues pertaining to mental health
- buildings designed with accessibility as a strong point of design
- wheelchairs equipped with solar panels, or that can spread seeds as they move
- Marriage equality and respect for all kinds of different relationships: queerplatonic, romantic friendships, polyamorous arrangements, and more – maybe even passionate sibling relationships.
So while other kinds of science-fiction – especially post-apocalyptic fiction – glorify the able-bodied white male action hero and consider others dead weight, Solarpunk recognizes that we all have something of value to offer.
The diversity in Solarpunk extends into how it is implemented, which would be different depending on where it is located, leading to my next point:
It is global and regional
Values like sustainability transcend ecozones, but Solarpunk can [and should!] look dramatically different depending on where you are: No single alternative energy solution will work everywhere, but by working with the natural world instead of against it, Solarpunk imagines that it is possible to provide for all our needs.
For a real-world example, this article shows how ancient knowledge of land preservation may help prevent desertification in Africa. It describes how political leaders, ignorant of life in the Sahel desert, proposed an expensive and ultimately useless solution against the “creeping cancer” of the desert: planting miles of trees. A line that really stands out in this article is:
Farmers…had discovered a cheap, effective way to regreen the Sahel. They did so by using simple water harvesting techniques and protecting trees that emerged naturally on their farms.
Slowly, the idea of [planting miles of trees] has changed into a program centered around indigenous land use techniques, [emphasis added] not planting a forest on the edge of a desert.
By combining the best of ancient land use techniques with modern technology, Solarpunk looks to the future while remaining rooted in the natural world. This leads to my next point.
It is forward-thinking, while combining the best from the past
Many ancient peoples had deep knowledge of healing herbs, farming methods, and sustainable building techniques that became ignored during the rush to industrialization. Ancient skills[like leather tanning, healing, navigation by stars, hunting and tracking, attunement to weather patterns, and making clothes from scratch] would be combined with sustainable technology.
And just who is helping to create this sustainable tech? The heroes of Solarpunk society…
Scientists are heroes
Anti-intellectualism is rampant and the motif of the mad scientist is everywhere. But in Solarpunk science is a tool to improve our lives – and scientists of all kinds [not just physicists] are heroes. Solarpunk venerates green science. Imagine neighborhoods where bioluminescent trees replace street lamps.
A Solarpunk society would embrace scientific literacy. Open biology labs, star parties, circuit bending, and other hands-on scientific, social fun could revolutionize how we teach our children by emphasizing wonder and respect for the natural world, instead of fear of authority and test-taking.
It reminds us that the world is not our enemy
The current deluge of the 24 hour news cycle, constant reminders that the world is dangerous, commonplace misanthropy, makes us forget that there is much to love and enjoy in the world. Solarpunk shows us a better way: any future worth having is built in the present.
It is vibrant, not sterile
Unlike the smooth and lifeless designs of traditional sci-fi, Solarpunk is colorful, individualistic, and cheerful, and it blends aesthetic with utility. It is inspired by numerous cultures without being appropriative. Just look at these examples:
It highlights social, economic, and environmental justice
The poor and politically disenfranchised are always impacted by environmental degradation the worst. Solarpunk envisions creative solutions to today’s problems. As Murray Bookchin, eco-anarchist, once said:
Until society can be reclaimed by an undivided humanity that will use its collective wisdom, cultural achievements, technological innovations, scientific knowledge, and innate creativity for its own benefit and for that of the natural world, all ecological problems will have their roots in social problems.
Above all, it is possible
Have you noticed that a lot of examples I’ve given come from real-world sources? Solarpunk isn’t a vapid flight of fancy: we don’t need to wait because it is achievable!
Aquaponics; transparent, flexible solar panels; algae lighting; Earthships; healthier foods through genetic engineering; 3D printing; biodegradable electronics – these are all happening now, and they can create a world that is more beautiful, more inclusive, and happier than ever before.