Dystopia is no longer just the realm of science fiction, if it every was. Indeed, BIPOC communities can justifiably make the claim that they’ve existed in a dystopian reality for centuries. The fact is dystopia, the existence of apocalypse in our past, present, and near future underscores not just how important solarpunk is, but much the solarpunk ethos is truly needed.
As a subgenre, solarpunk stands on the shoulders of it ancestors and progenitors in cyberpunk, Afrofuturism and Amazofuturism, utopianism, the environmental and animal rights movements as well as a long and rich tradition of other resistance movements around the world. At the heart of this burgeoning subgenre are stories that inspire us to end fossil fuel empires. They encourage us, or rather, hopefully, they give us the courage to take on the challenge of dismantling authoritarian and exploitative systems, and of building utopias lead by BIPOC, queer, disabled, neurodivergent, and other communities that have been most marginalized by those systems. Of course, those are the same systems that have caused human induced and accelerated climate change. Those systems, or that system rather, is namely capitalism.
Also at the heart of this budding and growing literary, artistic, and social movement is a beautiful and compelling futuristic aesthetic. Solarpunk is pretty. It’s not only fun to read, but it’s pleasant and enjoyable to look at. Regardless of whether the imagined future is based in technologically advanced cityscapes, or on ideas of technological reductionism or primitivism, solarpunk worlds are usually lush, green, and at least relatively idealistic.
That dichotomy, in fact, plays out often enough in solarpunk tales, and its a fascinating combination to play with as an author-artist. On the one hand, the aesthetic is rooted in futurism, technological innovation and advancement, all the sparkly gadgets and future societies such dreams can create. On the other hand, the aesthetic is also grounded in ideals of sustainability and scaling back, challenging the capitalist value of never ending growth. Perhaps an ideal place to settle is in a commitment to creating a future on a foundation of cooperative harmony between technology, nature, and humanity.
community and individuality aren’t
opposites. They don’t need to be in
That harmony and balance is something that’s eluded us so far as a species, well, at least in the modern history of western culture and society. It’s also something that is vital to the healthy survival of our global society.
Another aspect of solarpunk that is often emphasized is the DIY spirit of self-reliance. It’s an aspect that seems to flow quite naturally from ideas about off-grid sustainable living, political and economic decentralization, and the spirit of resistance that are valued within the solarpunk movement. This aspect is what brings us to the point of this musing, which is to emphasize the communal, community, cooperative aspect of solarpunk that is equally, maybe even more important than the spirit of individualism.
It should be stated clearly and from the outset that community and individuality aren’t opposites. They don’t need to be in competition. They don’t have to be, and we can’t allow them to be at odds with each other. We can create healthy local communities rooted in democracy and diversity, composed of individuals whose self-reliance and DIY spirit contribute to and make the community stronger, communities that are spaces where those who might need more reliance on others, for any number of reasons, can also contribute and thrive.
Community and cooperation are such important values in the solarpunk ethos for a variety of reasons. We can’t solve global problems without cooperation. Just like we can’t build strong societies if we don’t have strong, close-knit local communities.
Solarpunk isn’t about doom and gloom…
Rather, solarpunks are sick and tired of
pessimism and nihilism. We’re bringing
radical optimism and revolutionary hope
back into the mix.
We can’t build a better future without others. We certainly can’t weather the dystopia and apocalypse of climate change without relying on each other and working together. Anyone who thinks they can go it alone as solitary island in the middle of a vast ocean is likely to find themselves drowning.
In addition, the rampant individualism of western culture is alienating. It goes hand in hand with the exploitative nature of capitalism. As individuals, we’re weaker, more easily manipulated and led astray. In communities, we’re strong, we’re protected, and we have the power of cooperation and collaboration at our fingertips.
But just as we can’t build a better, utopian future without community, its also true that if we ignore the values of individual liberty and choice, then we can’t build resilient, democratic communities with the strength to stave off recurring natural disasters, not to mention the ever-threatening tide of reactionary authoritarianism with its ability to spring forth from any point along the socio-economic-political spectrum.
This harmony and balance that we’re talking about here isn’t easy to find. It’s a very thin, fine, complicated line to walk. Some may have come closer than others, but we would probably be safe in saying there isn’t a people, culture, or nation that has ever really mastered that balance completely. But regardless of the difficulty, it’s a line that we must walk. If we don’t, then we’re certainly doomed.
Solarpunk isn’t about doom and gloom, though. Rather, solarpunks are sick and tired of pessimism and nihilism. We’re bringing radical optimism and revolutionary hope back into the mix. That can’t be an empty platitude, however. It has to be a call to action, or else utopia will never be anything but a story we tell to make ourselves feel better.
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.