An Introduction to the Solarpunk Movement

If you’re a fan of literature—particularly science fiction—then you’re likely to have heard the term cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is a genre of fiction centred around the transformative effects of advanced science, information technology, computers, and cybernetics (“cyber”) coupled with a breakdown or radical change in the social order (“punk”). 

The cyberpunk genre is generally credited as the progenitor of all other Punk genres (of which there are many). Steampunk, a world of steam-powered technology and a neo-Victorian society; atompunk, where nuclear technology is combined with a 1950’s aesthetic; dieselpunk, with fossil fuel-powered monstrosities and a general dystopian outlook; and biopunk where genetic engineering pervades every aspect of life—these are just a handful of examples out of the many that have risen the last 40 years. A large portion of these genres however are mainly just used for aesthetic reasons in stories rather than any meaningful exploration of its themes.

solarpunk city

Solarpunk is one of the newest genres to join this growing collection. Solarpunk, as its name suggests, is centred around green technology and renewable energy, coupled with radical new forms of economic and political structures. It is more than a genre of fiction and can even be considered a political philosophy, one that promotes living in harmony with nature through the use of non-exploitative technologies and sustainable practices.

Stories set in the far future or in fantasy worlds often portray societal failures recognizable to contemporary audiences. These failures may include oppressive imbalances of wealth or power, degradation of natural habitat or processes, and impacts of climate change. Evidence of injustices, like social exclusion and environmental racism, may be present. Disastrous consequences are not necessarily averted but Solarpunk tends to present a counter-dystopian perspective. Their worlds are not necessarily utopian but rather Solarpunk seeks to present an alternative to a pessimistic, consequential dystopian outcome. 

To achieve this, themes of do-it-yourself ethics, convivial conservation, self-sustainability, social inclusiveness, and positive psychology are often present. This perspective also more closely embeds the ideals of punk ideologies, such as anti-consumerism, egalitarianism, and decentralization, than cyberpunk which typically includes protagonists with punk beliefs but in settings that are used more as a warning of a potential future.

While Solarpunk has no specific political ideation, it does by default embrace the need for a collective movement away from polluting forms of energy. It practices prefigurative politics, creating spaces where the principles of a movement can be explored and demonstrated by enacting them in real life. Solarpunk’s practice the movement in various ways, including creating and living in communities (such as ecovillages), growing their own food, and a DIY ethic of working with what is available, including the thoughtful application of technology.

Contrasted to cyberpunk which is portrayed as having a dark, grim aesthetic surrounded by an artificial and domineering built environment which is reflective of alienation and subjugation, Solarpunk is bright, with light often used as a motif and in imagery to convey feelings of cleanliness, abundance and equability but, also, alternatively could be used to symbolize something that “subsumes everything beneath it, [an] emblem of tyranny [and] surveillance” 

Solarpunk, as a concept, has relatively recently seen a significant amount of attention in certain circles of the internet. The vast majority of this attention is from members of the younger generations (such as me) who are understandably quite attracted to this vision of a future where the planet isn’t on fire.

I was quite familiar with all this by the time I had heard of Zero Carbon Charge and what they were doing, so the similarities in ideology were quickly apparent to me. With a focus on renewable energy, democratizing access to power, as well as the fact that it challenges the current monopoly of electricity in the country, it just felt all too appropriate to speak on this subject.

It bears repeating; Solarpunk isn’t about some far-off utopia, we’re still going to make mistakes, and it’s going to take effort. What it is, is an alternative; it’s a new way of organizing our society and the way we live that rebels against what so much of modern popular culture assumes to be inevitable (that’s what the “-punk” is for, you see?) 

Solarpunk is not a promise nor a prophecy; it is a path, one that leads to a future that can be as bright as the sun that sustains it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stawie is a tech-loving young optimist, intrigued by the mysteries of what lies ahead.

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