EP31 – Solarpunk

Momotempo · Unsee The Future EP31 – Solarpunk

 

There comes a point when you have to start designing an alternative.

Bored with the era of crisis yet?

I’m not sure the era of crisis has even properly started yet.

Which is why I want to suggest a whole new lockdown distraction, whether you’ve found an office to go back to yet or not.

Why don’t you buy a big roll of paper and start drawing what you think the era of happiness might look like.

No, I’m serious. What would Happy World look like for you? Planet Confident? Earthship Wellness? What would your home look like? Where would it be? What would it be stocked with?

Go on.

Where would that stock come from, to make you feel good about having it? Who would bring it to you? How would they keep being able to bring it to you? What would you be happy to share with them in return?

Who would you be happy to bump into on your Happy World? ..Yes, actually happy to accidentally meet, without fear, stress, anti bac or awkward obligation?

What would happen on that world of yours?

What stories would come out of it?

I know. I know, of course. We can’t afford to dream. It’s emotionally too costly before you’ve even spent a cent, that free dreaming.

It’s just.

Y’know.

We’ve spent the last forty years at least believing idealism was uncool and all that’s come out of that approach is epic nihilistic disaster, so we’re at least a generation late to start some practical f***ing doodling. Because if we can’t picture it, we can’t make it.

To unsee the future we’ve been brainwashed into believing is inevitable, we’ve got to start taking some creative risks with our cynical credibility. And our aching griefs.

I think it’s time we started putting some faith back in ourselves. In our ability to make any damned thing we choose to dream about. It’s time we figured out and felt that we can rewrite the story we think we’re in. Every single one of us. It’s time we thought about what stories GO INTO making Planet Happy.

So what if I showed you an actual more hopeful human tomorrow?

I’m Timo Peach. And as the least rebellious artist I know, I want to be a solarpunk.

What even is Utopia?

 

“It’s optimism and creativity. It’s the rise of conscious innovators and integrators whose purpose is to create the tools that allow us to live fully enriched lives. As Solarpunks, we set our gaze forward and dance toward a more beautiful civilization.”

 

So says the Solarpunk Summit. With a straight face.

Utopia! Still secretly hoping we’ll find it? Still publicly despairing at the corrupt naiivity of all our attempts at it? Still hear Alison Goldrapp lilting the word whenever you hear it? Whatever, it is a word still axial to the way we think about the future even now – if only because it’s counterpart is littered across futury commentary EVERYWHERE: Dystopia. That lazy shorthand for techno-global misery that always seems utterly, boringly inevitable.

So I think, let’s start with the most basic reset reminder.

Utopia is a name coined by Thomas Moore in the eponymous book he authored, way back in 16-something. A quietly astonishingly visionary work from four centuries ago – coincidentally about the time it can be said the modern world was really founded – its very title is satirically sarcastic: it means Nowhere Place. A place in stasis, and a place just out of reach always. Just off the map.

Yet, with heartfelt irony, Moore spends the whole story almost lovingly explaining how the Utopians live in their world, and it’s all but manifesto, spoken preachingly by his characters. He seems half longing for this land and half warning against it.

Today, y’know, even Star Trek seems like passive aggressive colonialism in our febrile, culturally emergent times. That rallying vision of a better tomorrow Gene Roddenbury snuck past the infantile 60s telly corporations in the atomic age. Today, the new shows of this beloved utopian franchise have struggled to know what they want to say to the 21st century.

Solarpunk, however, is almost an actual new utopianism. One that’s very 21st. Almost a new utopia. Because I’d say really – and rather crucially – it’s not. What solarpunk represents is a kind of hopeful creative realism. Because it’s partly rooted in an implication of testing stuff in the real world, as much as it is rooted in aesthetic play. In storytelling. It has no single manifesto or organising tribe let alone a Gary guru or great bird of the galaxy. And it’s built with the components of the real world lying around us already – just slightly reimagined. Slightly reconfigured.

Solarpunk. So what the space even is it?

 Have you heard the term at all before?

I know that you are one of the very coolest of kids and of course you’ve heard of solarpunk – duh! – and in fact the term seems a bit quaintly passé to you already, you absurdly hip futurist, but I’ve never been frightened of asking the dumb questions one or two of us secretly wish someone would ask, and I do like to try to make the context of things clearer, to help me know how well I really know things I think I know pretty well. But also, I turn to it as a subject because in my conversations over the last couple of years I’ve been surprised by how many future-facing eco champs and creatives haven’t ever heard the term before. Even when they’re living it.

In fact I’ll say that I haven’t met anyone who has.

Apart from you, obviously.

And I just think it’s time it became a hugely explored idea. Because I think it could transform the way millions of us see our futures.

But, I’m going to be a cheeky bugger of a storyteller and lead you to all that via a couple of useful bits of theatre. Tee up the arrival properly. Set the scene to what is really this episode’s Hopey Changey Bit. But I’m not going to take long, because really this whole episode is the one big Hopey-Changey Bit the whole series of Unsee The Future might have been waiting for.

Because in order to get to the real potential impact of a solarpunk perspective, I think we do need to face forward soberly, and hold a little space for the question that began my own personal exploration of the human planet.

It’s a question I found myself suddenly asking in the middle of a big bit of work as a music artist.

The Shape of Things To Hum started as just a playful musical exploration of science fiction – something I’ve shared a little about before, and a project still unpublished properly thanks to all this social impact storytelling business I’ve found myself a little engaged with. Like all art, it’s a personal exploration of the world through making something, treading through something, expressing something and so kind of testing the effect of that something. And as I first structured out the LP at the heart of the whole idea, I found myself scoping the different tropes or themes of scifi – killer monsters, pandemics, authoritarian utopias, all of it – and I soon then found myself asking a fundamental question:

Which of these What If futures, is the most likely?

This had me begin to squint open half an eye at the human planet around me as I was writing. In a way I realised I never had before. And it’s there that I think I began to wake up to things to a new level.

And waking up is hard to do.

 

Where is our collective power?

 

The trends of consumption and waste and climate are still not good. Are they. Projecting forward. It’s becoming impossible to ignore this now, no matter where we find ourselves or what we believe about this apparent era of crisis.

As a planet, we have yet to achieve even one of our global Sustainable Development Goals scout badges.

Of course, we’re defined as a problem-solving species, us humans. But our modern life-degrading behaviour patterns are rooted in the most difficult problems for humans to overcome: Habits, and the stories we think we’re in that trained us into them.

Our habits are mechanised into machine learning in a networked throb of attention theft and addict twitch, and I’m not sure we can be said to be challenging this world view very much yet, not really. Not if you look at what we’re all still actually doing en masse, rather than at what you’re blogging about beautifully to your microniche. Away from my worthy Twitter stream of hustlepreneur sensemaker, artisan storytelling progressives, and ignoring the decarbonisation audit you’ve been tasked with making sense of for work, from your bedroom, how much are you and your gang talking about new economic models to supplant financialised capitalism? Or the bio-diversity emergency? Or the private sell-off of public assets? Creeping state surveillance culture and the sleeper cell invasion of tech giants into your home. The detoothing of democracy as we’ve known it? The opioid crisis? The choking, corrupt grip of fossil fuel business? The appalling state of pop music. The hollowing out of collective idealism in the nation state, no matter where you live?

I know Steve bangs on about the second to last one all the time, but it’s been way easier to freeze him out since we could just blame poor bandwidth.

If you think it’s true we’re not all angry and energised about these clear and present collective dangers, you could say it’s because all this business is too big and too utterly terrifying and we have no idea what on earth do about any of it, and anyway we can see past Covid yet. And on top of that, I wonder too if many of us are wary about preaching or psychodrama. Species collapse just sounds like another cult corner of the internet. Like the Springwatch Facebook page.

If we are still reluctant to face our issues, well, it won’t just hinder us from changing our terrible terrible collective habits. For a long time it seems to have stopped us from doodling up alternative ideas of tomorrow. You doodle when you daydream, not when you’re dumbly numbed with novocane.

No matter what nations I’m looking at, I’m tempted to say we’re all out of practice with shared hope. And in the lands once built on cavalier stories of progress, I’m not sure we see much of anything ahead together when we go down the pub or stare at our devices.

Just get on with it. If you liked that you might like this.

We can’t see something else that we feel able to believe in.

Which, I’ve come to believe, is only still mostly true.

I feel there is something going on all over the rubbish mountain of humanity’s bulk lifestyle outputs now – flowers in the scrapyard. Lot’s of different little ideas bubbling and winking at dusk like fireflies between the fading detergent bottles.

Because you are talking about what’s going on in the world. About race, about sexual identity, about plastic waste, about what nationalism is now, about what balance of life you really want, about shopping locally, about eating meat, about planting a few vegetables.

These little winking lights I swear are just beginning to gather in number, if you look for them, and they are the little illuminations of people working up some new ways of seeing. Some early components of new stories of us; ones we are desperate for, whether we’re talking about it or not.

But the reason most of us not in the hip social impact corner of TikTok miss their significance is because we’re most of us still reading the world with an old guide book.

Disaster storytelling.

 

What are our unimaginable futures?

 

You’ve never had it so good. Redecorated the house top to bottom, garden looking lovely, fair bit of cash growing in the bank account for the first time because you haven’t gone anywhere in a year, including work, thanks to the furlough scheme. Tesla still looks great on the drive, if still. Read some of your To Read books at long last. Actually tried learning the piano again. And you haven’t had to see the family since last summer.

Gotta love a 21st century pandemic.

If you’re my age. And in a boringly steady job, rather than trying to find someone to bill for something as an artist. And haven’t had Covid. And don’t live on your own. And aren’t watching any news platforms whatsoever.

Because what DOES get platformed?

Things blowing up. Especially people.

Looking at the stories and news edits that we do every day creates a traumatised world experience, doesn’t it? And that’s WITH Facebook moderators throwing their mental wellbeing into the hellmouth for us. In the crisis years, is it any wonder Netflix is commissioning meditation series. To keep you watching their screen, even with your eyes closed.

All this is quite a feat for a human planet that, from SOME perspectives, never has had it so good. So many people with wealth, so many people with the vote, so many people able to marry. So many people with food in the fridge, music in their ears, people listening to their podcast. So many people looking indecently well at fifty.

Pew research from four years ago found a mixed bag of views around the world about whether people felt things were better or not by 2017. Depended a bit on how well off you were, rather unimaginatively. But I was surprised to see just how many people did in fact think life was better than when they were born in the Trump years.

Jon Gabriel seems keen to point out only a year ago on AZ Central, a positively glowing perspective – that the past ten years have still been better than the previous ten, by many metrics he collects from Our World In Data.

“Programming directors, website editors and social media mavens fill our eyeballs and earholes with fear and grievance because both sell. The rich are cruel and the poor should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The olds don’t get it and the young’uns need to get off their lawns.

“Despite our differences, many Americans agree on one point: everything is terrible” he says.

He thinks this relentless negativity is loostening everyone’s grip on reality, and suggests: “This past decade has been the best yet. (2010s.) Things are better than ever and should be better still in another 10 years.”

That’s maybe a difficult statement to stand by after a year of Covid 19. Millions of us are dead. And we can’t even attend their funerals.

But Covid is making us do something some of us have been longing for the world to do, and didn’t imagine how it might happen all of a sudden: Take a fresh look at how our reality works. Because it seems to run on more than just the most toxically unfriendly fuels imaginable. It banks on the worst of our feelings too, it seems. A narrative backdrop to contextualise all your noble hopes as naiive and spoilt. Despite you being able to afford a Smeg fridge.

Gabor Maté thinks this is a toxic chicken and egg. Because which came first, the traumatised world leaders or the sick world?

“If you believe you live in a horrible world, how you gonna be? You have to be aggressive, grandiose, paranoid, selfish. In other words, you’d be the (previous) president of the United States. As the Buddhists said twenty-five hundred years ago, with our minds we create the world. But,” he adds, “before our minds create the world, the world creates our minds.”

Extinction Rebellion starts always by saying: Tell The Truth. Be factual, be honest, be clear about the threat. They think we’re facing extinction. Only by facing it squarely, can we start the work demanded by it – rebellion. To our habitual reality.

But where does emergency truth telling end and disaster storytelling begin? We don’t seem to be able to tell the difference.

“Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. Perhaps that is due to some weaknesses in our imaginations.” said Fredric Jameson.

Anthropologist, anarchist, activist and alphabetically primal jobs titlesist, David Graeber (oh, I forgot author), posits the idea that the world machine is built on an operating system of fear. It’s actually designed to make more hopeful futures seem futile – essentially impossible.

Writing in Infoshop a decade ago now, he says: “There is good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism will no longer exist: for the simple reason that it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet. Faced with the prospect, the knee-jerk reaction — even of “progressives” — is, often, fear, to cling to capitalism because they simply can’t imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse.”

And then he asks: “Is it normal for human beings to be unable to imagine what a better world would even be like?”

He suggests that hopelessness isn’t natural. It needs to be produced. And it’s been produced, he thinks over the last thirty years – the era of my own adulthood – by: “the construction of a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a kind of giant machine that is designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures.”

Dramatic, much? What’s interesting is that it’s a story that lurks around all manner of different internet discussions. It could be the opening to a QAnon fishing video, or something about the Illuminati, or frankly a cheery package on The One Show by now.

Graeber thinks it’s a toxic kind of leadership culture that’s grown up amongst us.

“At root is a veritable obsession on the part of the rulers of the world with ensuring that social movements cannot be seen to grow, to flourish, to propose alternatives; that those who challenge existing power arrangements can never, under any circumstances, be perceived to win. To do so requires creating a vast apparatus of armies, prisons, police, various forms of private security firms and military intelligence apparatus, propaganda engines… most of which do not attack alternatives directly so much as they create a pervasive climate of fear, jingoistic conformity, and simple despair that renders any thought of changing the world seem an idle fantasy.”

And to think. In 2012 I was shedding a tear at the London Olympics. He and I alike hadn’t yet seen Donald Trump on the steps of the White House.

As Gabor Maté, an addiction specialist, puts it: “This isn’t capitalism failing, it’s capitalism working.”

Except, it can’t keep working indefinitely. And while conshy greenies like you and wannabes like me might be thinking of carbon emissions and deforestation, Graeber sees the disaster storytelling machine as doomed for another reason:

“Economically, this apparatus is pure dead weight; all the guns, surveillance cameras, and propaganda engines are extraordinarily expensive and really produce nothing, and as a result, it’s dragging the entire capitalist system down with it, and possibly, the earth itself” he thinks.

Co-founder of Game B theory, Jim Rutt, identifies five potential “big attractors” to the grand arc of the human near future. And four of them are, like, bad. He describes the working of civilisation as like a marble being spun loosely in a bowl. But occasionally, the marble clean jumps out the bowl – and where might it land? Into what other waiting receptacles of story?

There is a hint, just a hint, of academic glee catching the light in the sober analysis of his systems thinking – “We’re looking at a 90% die-off. Yeah, well not in the US. Prob’ly fifty percent, yeah?” – and his sense of theatre isn’t diminished by the comparatively efficient way he describes the current bowl of civilisation as developing ever shallower sides. With a marble spinning ever faster around it. “It WILL jump the bowl. It will!”

The new work from Filmmaker Adam Curtis is another vaguely disturbing and brilliant immersive experience. Can’t get you out of my head: an emotional history of the modern world is a seven and a half hour haunting collage of trauma story fragments from a world he shows as broken apart by the psychological effects of empire and its brutalising failures, and all the things people tried to do to replace the idea.

In essence, he suggests that a century and a half ago, people around the world began to find collective power like never before, as industrialisation’s machinic demands mustered its essential workers into unions, and ultimately stronger representative politics. Politicians were given power by the people and it shaped some grand utopian sounding ideas, ideas fanned by leaders to keep power when the cracks of empire and its injustices were split wider by big social shocks. But in amongst all the revolutions of the 20th century, he says, were individuals with disturbing experiences who came to influence. They used visions of better societies for particular people to inspire and rally their chosen citizens, but ultimately the engines of power under the bonnet didn’t really change, and those revolutions all failed.

Even the most Modern of revolutions, individualism. As tech slowly atomised the collective, the growing middle classes built suburbs, moved to them and grew miserable, and addicted to substances.

He paints a picture of paranoia and dysfunction in world leaders and security agencies alike, that undermined common hopes with phantom fears and impractical expectations placed upon the democratic individual. In the end, an algorithmic financialised economics took over the conversations and hollowed out idealism around the world. Leaving us lot adrift. Feeling a significant void inside us as we still go through the motions.

Because, as a result, it looks like millions of us have been growing less sure of what story we think we’re in. And who we are supposed to be.

But Curtis sums up by saying: “It may turn out that we have the power to influence how the future turns out. But as a first step, we need to start by imagining what kind of future it is that we want to build.”

And he ends his whole story with key quote. A quote from David Graeber:

“The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make and could just as easily make differently.”

This is, of course, the central theme of my own finding with Unsee The Future: we all think we’re in a story, and it shapes the character we play. And the actions we take. If we don’t write new stories of us now, we will die.

But without characters, there simply IS no story.

So in a re-imagined story of us, who are the characters?

What does a solarpunk look like?

 

Why is Mary Keane–Dawson a solarpunk?

 

A couple of years ago, I caught a tweet from a jolly clever sort of Twitter mate of mine, Amy Charlotte-Kean, and in it she mentioned someone who she described as: “the most solarpunk woman I know.”

This pinged my sensors, because she was describing a mutual acquaintance I didn’t know was mutual and I didn’t know was solarpunk.

Mary Keane-Dawson is an adland legend. Working in the heart of advertising creativity in London for thirty years, she’s seen a lot of trends, a lot of campaigns and a lot of finger-pistoling pitches by creative directors probably. Many of them famous. Today, amongst other things, she is Group CEO of influencer marketing company Takumi ( https://takumi.com/ ) and she’s a presence to give any over-confident executive an entitlement check, sharing insights with entertaining clarity. I think we originally met through dear mate Matt Desmier at one of his legendary Silicon Beach events, as with a number of the actually coolest people I now know and try to hide my innate uncoolness in front of, but fellow inquisitive soul Andy Headington of Adido also put us together around a very engaging dinner table once. And Mary was magnetic. Even while I was notionally the evening’s main speaker.

She’s brilliant.

Striking up a friendship with Mary over the wires, I called her. And said: “Tell me about your solarpunk self.”

She started by telling me this little story:

“I was walking through Soho, early on a lovely summer day a few years ago, and was standing on Bridge street when someone stopped me. A very handsome young man, who had on beautiful sunshine yellow lenses, I noted. Is he lost or what, I thought?

“Can I talk to you” he said.

“How can I help?” I replied.

“I just want to tell you you are the queen of solarpunk!”



I was a bit taken aback” said Mary “What do you mean?” I asked.

“You don’t know what it is? You look incredible and you are the ultimate style of solarpunk. I don’t know who you are but can I please take some photos of you?” he said.”

“Anything is possible in Soho!” Mary laughed at this point, “I’ve been hanging around there since I was sixteen.”

It seems to have been a moment of realisation for her, being approached by this chap. That something she was already feeling inside was clearly manifesting to the outside world. What was this, I asked her?

“I feel very strongly we’ve lost all sense of perspective on responsibility” she replied. “No one gave us a handbook, but as I was talking to him it became clear that much I’ve been thinking about is environmental. We’re being gamed by a system driven by greed, and solarpunk philosophy is about using rebelliousness – admitting first that something feels wrong, and turning it into expressions of alternatives. Like repurposing tech to use in a more responsible fashion.”

Punking the system, in other words.

“We are eating ourselves” she said. “The cannibalism of our current systems.”

And she says part of this punking of the system is admitting we’ll have to surrender some connections to it.

“The horrible fact is we have to give up some shit. We can’t just keep on thinking the planet can take this battering. And culturally, false news is the world we’re in now. My 17yo says that fire is being fought with fire – all sides are engaged in fakery. It’s toxic.”

There’s a degree of self sacrifice, she implies. “A very difficult message to sell – and I’ve sold some pretty difficult shit over the years” she says flatly. “Try telling Ford they can’t sell cars any more.”

She thinks we have to each stop and reawaken our inner selves. “The internal narrative hasn’t been taking place at scale” she says.

But how does Solarpunk express it specifically? Lots of movements are using much of this general language about the current globalised systems of the world.

It does, she says, have its own art form. “Everywhere I look I’m seeing the trend in fashion.”

She sees hints of it in the sense of beauty being demanded of more products and services again. And long emerging trend of authenticity. “Yet,” she says, “We’re still connecting over synthetic media. It’s the ultimate inauthenticity.”

But part of Solarpunk’s authenticity she thinks is that it is defined partly by being work in progress. A living experiment in daily re-imaginings of what we have to hand. Being conscious of the natural world’s distance or closeness in everything we touch. Which is bound to produce certain aesthetic cues – earthen tones, flowing shapes, natural materials. But there’s a kind of warm boldness to it – which might be why Mary is a true solarpunk.

“How do you take it out of being just a fashion statement?” she repeats my question. “Direct action. If we don’t do something about this, what is the legacy we leave grandchildren?”

As a Soho advertising leader since the 1980s, still working in the industry today, Mary embodies the rebelliousness of punking where you are, not running away to a commune. Working with what you’ve got, swapping hand-wringing apologies for simply trying new things.

But her work has her talking with many CEOs, of course. Leaders of our sinking ship. Are they trying to do business as usual?

“They’re asking us to think for them, as creatives,” she says, “so we have to really put our heads together as a creative industry speaking to business. Ask any global CEO do they want their grandchildren to die in a ball of fire, do they want to be responsible for that, and they essentially say what the F can I do about it?”

CEOs seem to want guidance. “We have to find them a framework. But I wonder,” she admits, “where have all the brave clients gone?” Agencies need to be prepared to embrace way beyond normal thinking. “Risks now need to be real risks. We need cut-though.”

She told me she thinks that one of the groups that could move the needle is among the hardest to deal with – sovereign wealth funds, the biggest investors.

Then she said simply: “One of the most upsetting things I heard recently was at a conference I was at, where two young people declared to us they wouldn’t have children. People were really upset by this.”

Maybe this is also why Mary is an interesting first person to raise up as an example of a Solarpunk. She is able to jump between the emotional realities of global boardrooms and voluntary childlessness. She gets the scope we’ll need to reimagine our truths.

Then she closed with this:

“Habit and experience” she said. “What are we learning from the usual habits of work? We’re on repeat. This is a very dangerous place. It anaesthetises you to real tension. Creativity is driven by tension and friction.”

Hmmm…

 

SEEING THE HOPEY CHANGEY BIT.

 

So let’s get into it. Describe Solarpunk to me as an idea, Peach.

I will. It’s joyous. And it’s now my own vision of the future.

And it’s one I may also embody a little more than I think I do, precisely because I am so conscious of my incompleteness, my hypocrisy, my lack of effort, my lovely lovely wood burner.

I don’t fit your normal rebellion. What have I had to fight for up until now? But a rebellion that’s powered by beauty and grace, imperfection and curiosity, science fiction and soil? And really funky architecture? Try and keep me out, comrade. Floor it in Ludicrous mode.

The best way to scamp the picture is with lots of descriptions of those falling in love with it.

And perhaps the most obvious thing to state up front is put simply by Sarena Ulibarri (Quoted by Tom Cassauwers):

“There is a history of science fiction inspiring social change. It can show what is possible.”

Yeah. And it’s a type of scifi all right. And one that doesn’t express a neon noir nihilism like so much on screen since Bladerunner. It’s shamelessly beautiful, and elegantly defiant.

“Solarpunk is a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question: What does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there. The aesthetics of solarpunk merge the practical with the beautiful, the well-designed with the green and wild, the bright and colourful with the earthy and solid. Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en route to a better world — but never dystopian. As our world roils with calamity, we need solutions, not warnings.”

says Jay Springett, writing in Medium.

“The genre envisions stories set in a future that runs on renewable energy, such as solar or wind, and where race- or gender-based discrimination is more limited than it is today’ says Tom Cassauwers in Ozy.

Wagner & Wieland put it poetically: “A solarpunk imagines new futures in the shadow of and in opposition to environmental collapse, then works to create those futures. A solarpunk doesn’t just have ideas and beliefs; a solarpunk enacts.

A solarpunk might approach a problem with the following questions: How do my actions impact my human and nonhuman community? What intentionality fuels this issue? Does the following action dismantle a damaging system like capitalism? Does this action produce radical care of self and others? Does this action overcome the cultural desire to consume? …The emphasis on solar reminds us of environmental interconnectedness. Human-nonhuman-sunlight-nightlight-mineral-oil-ocean-and-and-and. A solarpunk gives life back to words like intersectional and community.

The goal of solarpunk was not to dream of perfect worlds but to strive for something sustainable in the Anthropocene.”

Someone at TVTropes spells it out in a more grounded description:

“Solarpunk is a genre of Speculative Fiction that focuses on craftsmanship, community, and technology powered by renewable energy, wrapped up in a coating of Art Nouveau blended with African and Asian aesthetics. It envisions a free and egalitarian world with a slight bend toward social anarchism. Standing as both a reaction to the nihilism of Cyber Punk and a solution to a lot of the problems we face in the world, Solarpunk works look toward a brighter future (“solar”) while deliberately subverting the systems that keep that brighter future from happening (“punk”).”

And that’s the point here. Solarpunk isn’t a dream. It’s a testbed. With a beguiling invitation to use it and change life around you. Like some gorgeous cosmic pin ball machine in the back of a pub that you haven’t noticed before and which portals you to a sweeping biodome future that can still keep some windows open.

“Where is the punk in solarpunk? We will have to make radical changes in our behaviour right now. We’re so used to the way that we’re living, how we consume things, that it seems easier for us to start over – have an apocalypse, and theeeen we might be able to face everything. Throw the old Earth out, start over on Mars or something. It’s easier for us to relate to a media that’s cyberpunk in nature because it’s just a couple of steps away from reality, right? Solarpunk is punk because we’re going to have to rebel against the status quo today. Against the things we’ve become so accustomed to. And that’s pretty badass, if you ask me.”

says Keisha Howard, in a charming talk for TEDx Ogden. And in the thread below it, AlwaysGonnaSing adds beautifully:

“I like to think of solarpunk as kind of the happy ending to a cyberpunk era!”

Isn’t that beautifully whimsical! Even though Solarpunks are dead serious about their culture. Like ninja elves.

I also like the way Lynne Peskoe-Yang puts it, in her article, What you can learn from the solarpunk movement:

“The solarpunk environmental movement is for anyone who’s digitally inclined but unafraid of dirt. Think post-apocalyptic hacker aesthetics, but with a sunnier disposition.”

“A world where tech, nature, and the individual are in balance.” as Solarpunk Summit puts it succinctly.

It stands: “against a shitty future” as Rhys Williams puts it even more succinctly.

Stephen Gossett writing in Built In just this February notes that while regular tropes of solarpunk involve sweeping naturalistic structures among the trees, longtime solarpunk.net editor Jay Springett “talks about an old phone box that was converted into a seed library”. 

I get it totally.

Solarpunk is actually very permaculture, because it’s where soil meets sensors, observing meets interacting, feeling meets making, rebellion meets kindness. In fact, crucially, it’s an inspiring aesthetic to get you WANTING to try some stuff, but it’s about beauty that is both seen and unseen, grown and hacked.

If it is a lush plant in front of a bare concrete wall on a rough wooden bench inside a geodome, the plant is likely to be three plants, at least one of which is crop yeilding, the bench will be reclaimed and it will be taken as read that the concrete wall is well insulated, and temperature sensors in the room are wirelessly connected to a smart neighbourhood grid of clean energy. And the glass of the geodome is triple glazed.

Solarpunk is both decentralised and locally socially dependent. The ultimate resilience.

“Solarpunk doesn’t ask you to surrender technology, or even social media. It looks toward decentralized social media, which, thanks to its network resilience, could offer community-building capabilities even after a disaster” Stephen Gossett says.

You can see it in Vincent Callebaut’s Archibiotic bio-mimicral fan houses or Stefano Boeri’s greened tower blocks. You might find its roots in a Republic Of The Bees blog post in 2008, inspired by the maiden voyage of wind-assisted cargo ship Beluga Skysail or maybe in the Antologia SOLARPUNK Guidelines in Brazil in 2011. You can find its beginnings caught between “collapse and transcendence” in Justin Pickard’s Gonzo Futurism Manifesto of 2012 or perhaps especially in the blow up of Miss Olivia Louise’s almost afrofuturistic character concept post in 2014.

Musically you might be listening to something a bit Conceptronica! A bit low fi, broken, eclectic, installationy and immersive. Electronic in a home-made, right to repair kind of way, but with a hint of yoga room about it. Parrots and water features and cicadas amid Future Sound of London’s Lifeforms LP, that sort of thing, with Artists like Ecoglyph or Dream Seeds all echoing something of 80s Japanese composer Hiroshi Yoshimura. That said, Extra Terra’s sound is a smooth sort of triumphalist retrowave, so you might get away with doing all manner of things with synths if you’re adding a strong sense of natural ambience to it.

It might still be too soon for the community to introduce some cabaret electro pop, but I’ll work on it.

I would add here that Instagram is feeding me a gorgeous line in people fiddling with analogue synth in front of plants and this seems as solarpunk as anything to me, aesthetically.

But getting to the nub of it, as Eleanor Tremeer writes in Gizmodo, we need utopian fiction more than ever. She says that: “Redfern Jon Barrett, sci-fi author and self-professed stubborn idealist, believes that creating utopias in fiction doesn’t just inspire people, but also brings these utopias closer to reality.”

Dystopian backdrops might sound like a better foil for drama, a status quo to rebel against, and so many stories of broken futures are about trying to find empowerment or just sunshine again.

Yet arguably, Solarpunk IS actually rebelling. Because instead of reacting to neo-liberal misery, it’s proactively rolling up its sleeves and imagining an alternative tomorrow.

So what of the actual stories of solarpunk? I think I might simply point you first at the classic collection: Sunvault: Stories of solarpunk eco-speculation.

And… you know? I think this is enough of a beginning for us. I think I have brought us to this cliff edge to simply show us the big vista and not jump off into the clouds today. Take a breath, and another. And consider that another world is possible. And we may be looking at it here.

There is a world of art, stories, tech, politics, makers and thinkers for us to get to know here. And it may enough to just know that. And know it now.

Kind of encouraging to know that Solarpunk may be the impossible realised: Healthy living that’s freaking ruddy cool.

Take another breath.

This is very definitely just a beginning.

“As children, we are told to dream for better futures; as adults, we are told they are unrealistic. If all we see is an onslaught of depressing news, we might give into the idea that a better tomorrow really is just a fairy tale. Yet, in such a bleak reality, hope is radical. And the more we dare to dream about our own utopias, then we might just be inspired to stop the end of the world—as impossible a dream as that may seem to be.”

Eleanor Tremeer.

More links to come, but why not start by taking a trip to the mothership:

visit Solarpunks.net >

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