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Wolfe's Den

sol

A Primer on Solarpunk

This article acts as a convenient source of information and explanation whenever I get asked what is Solarpunk.

Chapters

1. Introduction

2. Origins

3. Primer on Elements

1. In Art

2. In Technology

- Sustainability

- Decentralisation

- Do-It-Yourself

3. In Politics

4. Philosophy of Solarpunk Thought

4. Credits

Introduction

Wikipedia defines Solarpunk as a literary genre and art movement that envisions how the future might look if humanity succeeded in solving major contemporary challenges with an emphasis on sustainability, human impact on the environment, climate change, and pollution. It is a subgenre within science fiction, aligned with cyberpunk derivatives, and may borrow elements from utopian and fantasy genres. BBC Reporter Nicola Smith describes Solarpunk as ‘an art movement which broadly envisions how the future might look if we lived in harmony with nature in a sustainable and egalitarian world.’ From within the community, a commonly cited source is the Solarpunk Manifesto

My interpretation of Solarpunk goes a little beyond both of the definitions provided by the cited sources and is perhaps more rooted in the description a lot of actual Solarpunks would ascribe to. That is, Solarpunk is an all encompassing movement that captures ideas from sustainability, egalitarianism, freedom and the advancement of ‘good’ technology. All these components can be enacted to make the possibility of a future which is optimistic, hopeful and most importantly, realistic. (More about the technology later on and the reasoning behind the specific use of the term ‘good’. )

From Vers Une Économie Verte Et Bienveillante by Thierry Hance


Origin of Solarpunk

No one quite knows the exact date the phrase Solarpunk was first coined or used but we can theorise the movement largely began with the Brazilian anthology “Solarpunk: Historias Ecological e Fantastical em um Mundo Sustentavel” as an early source. As it is a growing movement, no formal definition exists. One could even theorise that Solarpunk has its roots in the works of the famed counterculture sci-fi artists of the mid-1950s such as Steve Baer, Mike Reynolds and Peter Van Dresser.


In Art

Solarpunk originated as an art movement. In contrast to the taciturn rise of Cyberpunk and its derivatives as a perception of our inevitable future, Solarpunk arose as an illustratory vision of what the future could be if both technological innovation and societal changes progressed in such a way to benefit both humanity and the earth in natural symbiotic harmony.

You can see the manifestation of Solarpunk in movies. In particular, Treasure Plant and its solar powered sails, thee Studio Ghibli movies such as Nausicaä of the Valley Of The Wind and Black Panther for their symbiotic afro-futurist relationship of technology and nature.

In illustration and architecture, some notable artists include Vincent Callebaut and Luc Schuiten.

Imperial Boy 2


In Technology

An area I’m personally vested in is the STEM of the Solarpunk movement. Technology in this space revolves around the core concepts of sustainability, decentralisation and DIY. Let’s delve into each of these concepts concerning Solarpunk.

Sustainability

With Solarpunk focusing on achieving a post-scarcity society, a large factor in achieving such a utopian ideal means we must move away from finite energy sources and materials. We can already see this happening in the realm of energy production as countries shift from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy sources such as harnessing solar energy and hydroelectric dams. Moving from the macro to the micro also means for individual communities to shift away from centralised energy sources and for individual communities to be self-sufficient in energy production. Building solar panels on your rooftop is Solarpunk as is installing a water recirculation system. It’s sustainable in part due to the idea that it can be virtually infinitely replaced. This relates more to the production of products. We cannot give every person in the world the latest Tesla because it would require more lithium than we can currently mine. The same could be said for other precious metals found in our products like Palladium.

Not to mention Lithium mining is only slightly less devastating to the environment than fracking. I sure wouldn’t want my future children to grow up with abandoned lithium mines in our favourite forests or sacred indigenous land..

An entire mentality shift needs to happen where the products, tools and vehicles we use can be infinitely replaced and maintain a place within a circular economy.

Decentralisation

We all feel it. News of one billionaire buying one social media, another controlling its competitor. The issue isn’t with the entrepreneurial spirit of these endeavours but instead with its unspoken function. These, like all companies, exist to make money. We condemn people to jail for psychologically abusing their partners, even if it weren’t for direct financial gain, yet we allow these companies to tailor their products to psychologically influence us, for the ultimate goal of increasing profits. For example Trackers on popular social media platforms gather data on your attention on each post to tailor your feed to your interests. This means more attention on their platform and more money generated from advertising.

Ultimately, the long-term mortality of these algorithms and functions extends only to the next financial quarter. The long-term effects haven’t been studied but we can already see them be quite disastrous to the effect of helping to polarise politics and even the use of botnets to influence public opinions.

Next time you watch a video on a contentious topic, click on a comment and find out when the account was registered (E.g., in the case of the infamous Depp V Heard trial, you may find a lot of the accounts were created just before the trial). - J Allen

Decentralisation helps to fight these unintended uses for social media. Ensuring no one person or entity has complete control over these networks means that it largely can not be used nefariously. It instead can be used for the original intent of social media, to simply connect humans.

Do It Yourself

When you think of DIY, you may think of replacing your lightbulbs or even mounting your TV to the wall but have you considered While this seems like the extent of most people’s skills, it doesn’t have to be. The notion that we must buy everything/replace the majority of our broken devices is a relatively new one, becoming mainstream with the advent of planned obsolescence in the late 20th Century. Before then, most people could repair most of the items they had bought thanks to the design intent of ease of repairability. (In large part thanks to the WW2 process of having repair things in the field and not taking valuable technicians away from the war effort).

You might think that our devices are too complex for this methodology, and for some systems, naturally, that will always remain true but we can have the means now to even build an industrial grade air filter system for cheap or a heated greenhouse table. These can vary in complexity but we all learn the basic principles in high school and what is the web if not the biggest resource of information and guidance ever made by humanity?

The idea is, next time you feel the urge to purchase something, maybe try building it? It’ll most likely be cheaper, more fun and you can upgrade/specialise it virtually infinitely.

This also would expand into the right-to-repair. Designers and Engineers need to ensure their products remain accessible to the public for basic repairs. Specialised and licensed repair tools with arbitrary lease clauses are the reasons why you replacing your laptop battery costs an arm and a leg.


Politics

Now we come on to the Punk of Solarpunk. In essence, it’s a proto-Libertarian/Anarchist movement. As the movement is still very much in its infancy, its politics are yet to be completely defined but it concretely revolves around the ideas of community, decentralisation and a general ‘bottom-up’ approach. The institutions that serve our governance are the same that seems to be subverting us in countless opportunities. Lobbying creates an endless cycle of profit, bribery, and profit. Hence the entrenchment of our common traditions now did not exist 50 years ago. The idea that milk and [breakfast]((https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/28/breakfast-health-america-kellog-food-lifestyle) are the most important meals and drinks of the day was a successful result of the lobbying of those industries to Congress.

These notions are just exampling the failing of the current system and after constant refinement of these processes, how they will only get worse. I would advocate for direct democracy. If I can get a 35-year mortgage or buy a literal tank just from my phone, why can’t I vote directly for whether the skatepark near me gets demolished?


Philosophy

In a more abstract philosophical sense. Solarpunk aims to bring pragmatic to the nature of technological progress and achieve a symbiotic relationship with nature. It’s not regressive, it’s progressive in the right direction. Instead of developing algorithms to influence the political considerations of a people, creating algorithms that predict seasonal weather variations. Instead of creating massive scars in the environment from oil drilling, installing solar farms for personal use can be used to pump water to irrigate the surrounding land.

Lately in society, as I’m sure you will have noticed, there’s a lot of doom and gloom when it comes to the future. Solarpunk reminds us of the pursuit of utopia that we as a species should naturally always gravitate to if we are to progress and evolve.


Credits

Joshua Allen for co-writing this with me.
Teikoku Shônen/Imperial Boy for being one of the greatest artists I can call a friend.
Dr. Thierry Hance for reproduction permisson.
Ben Gisbert
All the people who ask 'err, what is solarpunk?'.