I just watched a 2018 video of a talk given by Keisha Howard titled, “Imagining a Solarpunk Future” where she talks about finding solarpunk and how she came to consider herself not just a fan of the genre, but a ‘solarpunk’ in her own right. In that discussion, she briefly addresses how when she first started talking about solarpunk, people she knew and told about it weren’t quite sure what exactly was “punk” about about an idealistic or even utopian future. What exactly is so punk about solarpunk? they would ask.
Keisha’s answer to that question is right on target. You have to consider and take into account what it will actually take to get from where we are now to the kind of world proposed by solarpunk.
Our Current, Real World
The world we live in is a one that increasingly looks like the cyberpunk dystopias that have dominated popular science fiction storytelling for the past three decades. We live in a world where fossil fuel empires dominate an exploitative capitalist system. That system and those at its helm put profits and resource acquisition over people and healthy communities.
Fossil fuel empires and other global dominators—be they other corporate players like Amazon, Apple, or Walmart, conservative climate change deniers, or the U.S. military, which consumes more fossil fuels than most nations—are the primary cause global climate change. It has become fairly common knowledge that we are only just beginning to witness the devastating and catastrophic impact and consequences not just for humans, but for all ecological communities.
This is a world that is globally integrated through technology. True to the theme of our reality, that technology is routinely used by those at the top of the economic hierarchy as a means to increased wealth and power. They use it as a tool of social and political coercion as well as a tool of the resource extraction and environmental destruction that leads to and reinforces their wealth and power.
The Landscape of a Solarpunk Future
While it might not be technically accurate to say that a solarpunk future is the exact opposite of the world we live in today, at a basic level the statement is at least close to the truth. We’ve talked about what a solarpunk future might look like on numerous occasions, of course, but it’s worth a quick replay here.
A solarpunk future is one in which humanity has adapted to, or even more idealistically, overcome and solved the climate change problem. It’s a future where technology is used as a set tools for fostering harmony between human communities and the ecological biomes of which they are a part. It’s a future where technology is used to strengthen our society and increase meaningful engagement and community participation rather than as tools of control and alienation. It’s a world in which we’ve upended the current order and replaced it with a new one that, from the very beginning, doesn’t have all the institutionalized barriers in place that have created massive inequities in today’s world
Or at the very least, a solarpunk future is a world where that is the concerted direction in which we’re headed and working together to achieve.
Revolution and Building a New World
Building a new world that is radically different from the one in which we live is, by definition, revolutionary. Being revolutionary doesn’t mean it has to come about through war or violent rebellion. There are certainly other kinds of revolution. The idea of nonviolent resistance and revolution, for example, is common among liberals, at least here in the U.S. if not more broadly. Of course, we also have to take into account the current economic and political landscape, primarily the fact that those with wealth and power aren’t going to give it up and allow us to build a better and more equitable world free of fossil fuels without them putting up a real and probably very violent fight to preserve the status quo.
Regardless of what form the revolution that upends the current system takes, the fact is that rebelling against a corrupt and alienating social order and seeking to upend it is exactly what punk has always been about. What the end goal and desired direction of that upending may different from person to person, and it will certainly depend on numerous social and historical factors that are beyond any one person’s control. But the fact is that even if the new and better world we want to build is based on optimistic visions of the world joining hands in a global rendition of Kumbaya—and especially if our vision is based on a more realistic and radical hope rooted in the real life struggle for survival of marginalized communities that are oppressed under the current system—then we can’t help but see how punk it truly is to imagine and dream of solarpunk futures.
Justine Norton-Kertson (they/he/she) is the co-editor-in-chief of Solarpunk Magazine. They live in rural Oregon with his partner, puppies, cats, goats, and beehives. She can be found on Twitter @jankwrites.