Solarpunk has a lot of dreams for a future we’d like to live in. Cultural and racial diversity; dignity, prosperity and a high quality of life for all; and urban greenery, artisanal everything, and solar panels galore. But what about the government?
I’m still a relative newbie to both solarpunk and Twitter, but I’m seasoned enough with both to know there is a fraction whose immediate reaction is a loud and boisterous Smash the state! I’m also no seasoned anarchist, but it seems to me that these solarpunks aren’t calling for the might-is-right of anarchy, but, rather some sort of social organization as devoid as possible of hierarchy, where it is not possible for persons or groups of persons to obtain power over others by owning wealth, being famous, controlling resources (or, famously, those means of production), or any other means.
Isn’t there room in solarpunk for imagining, not a nanny state, but a state whose honest purpose is to support people to live the best, most meaningful lives as possible?
Put that way, it both does and doesn’t sound radical. Also, for all the spluttering that you might hear about how hard it would be to trust people to behave themselves or how hard it would be to scale something like that up to a state, national, or even international level, there are plenty of examples of how even our current quasi-democratic attempts at government have failed huge swaths of their citizens in key ways and/or are tottering towards collapse. Take Beruit’s Security Forces attacking Lebanese citizens for protesting the incompetence and corruption of the government in the wake of the devastating and entirely avoidable explosion that leveled great chunks of the city in 2020, for instance. Or look at the zero-tolerance drugs laws and three-strikes laws that, over the last 30 years, even (neo)liberal Democrats have enacted in the USA, whose main purpose and outcome has been to put ethnic minorities and the poor into prison in great number, ruining their lives, and shattering their families and communities. Meanwhile, thanks to politicians changing tax and labor laws to favor the super-rich, wealth keeps distilling up to the top handful of men in the world, and jobs continue to pay less for more work and come with even fewer vital “benefits”.
However, there are a lot of people out there for whom the solarpunk idea of dreaming up and then creating a future that wouldn’t suck to live in resonates, but who are not interested in anarchism. What they want is a government that functions. After all, the government hasn’t failed at or been evil about everything. Isn’t there room in solarpunk for imagining, not a nanny state, but a state whose honest purpose is to support people to live the best, most meaningful lives as possible?
In grandiose terms, this would mean a government that honestly works at (and makes stellar progress toward) eliminating hunger, homelessness, and poverty—for indeed, in this day and age, these are things that we as a people/government allow to exist. It also means a government that opens up access to education to everyone interested and both builds up and maintains for its citizens physical and social infrastructure—from the electricity grid and clean water to great healthcare and childcare—in tip-top and broadly available shape.
In addition, for me, at least, a solarpunk government (or a solarpunk anarchist collective) also maintains critical standards. Because, although defined standards can also be used as weapons against people, there’s a lot of critical stuff you can’t accomplish without them. Buyers and sellers are protected by strongly upheld definitions of weights and measures. Everyone is protected by standards that honestly define unsafe levels of harmful pollutants in the waters we drink, bathe, and swim in. Solar panels need to work efficiently, not fuel fires, and not electrocute anyone, which requires that some designs and operating procedures are permissible, while others should be outlawed. Who better to handle such things than government agencies or some set of specific committees, provided they are sufficiently funded and run with the intention of doing a good job for the citizens of their country? At the same time, there will always need to be safeguards to prevent standards and bureaucracy from being wielded as weapons against anyone or used as a means of power over people.
I suppose I have actually skirted around the issue of what a solarpunk government would actually look like. I’ve mostly just run through a couple of things that I think a solarpunk government (or anarchist collective) would and wouldn’t do. I hope this has been enough to get you thinking and writing stories with solarpunk governments to set loose into the world and capture people’s imaginations.
Christina De La Rocha (she/her), nonfiction co-editor for Solarpunk Magazine, was formerly a professor of biogeochemistry and marine sciences, loves reading and writing science fiction that explores what people do with the spaces opened up by science and technology and non-fiction related to how stuff works, from the origin of the Universe and then, later, life, to the complexities of the climate system, to whether or not fueling the electricity grid through fusion is an impossible long shot. Her (non-academic) writing has appeared in Analog, Toasted Cheese, and Unsustainable Magazine and in the book Silica Stories. You can find her on Twitter at @xtinadlr.