Move aside cyber- and steam-, these guys are waging a war on denial and despair
How Solarpunk are you? Here’s the deal. Imagine strolling into your off-grid neighbourhood. Ooh, there’s your Earthship with a DIY solar roof. In you go. It’s clouding over outside, but no bother – just switch on the algae-powered lamps. Feeling peckish? How about munching on some protein food – a few edible insects from your Aquaponics table-top farm, perhaps?
Solarpunk conjures up scenarios like this. Its mash-up of all things futuristic, self-sustaining and hopeful makes it the brightest thing to emerge out of Sci-Fi literature and art for years. It’s presently more genre than movement – its origins can be traced back to Cyberpunk and Steampunk – but thankfully, it doesn’t require an Apocalypse to get started. You can crack on with it today.
“Solarpunk is about finding ways to make life more wonderful for us right now, and more importantly for the generations that follow us… Our future must involve repurposing and creating new things from what we already have,” writes Adam Flynn in Solarpunk: Notes towards a manifesto.
Flynn calls himself a Solarpunk steward – he’s one of the main advocates helping to push the ideology out there, along with various bloggers and enthusiasts. No-one owns Solarpunk, and so the messaging is kinda fluid, but its basic principles revolve around clean energy, healthy people and a healthy planet.
It’s also super inclusive. “A solarpunk future is one that is sustainable at a not-just-for-rich-people level; a human-friendly future that can scale,” Flynn tells eco-fiction.com. “Sustainability at scale means renewable energy, reusable infrastructure, an end to throwaway culture, room for human dignity.”
OK, let’s put that a bit more simply. “Solarpunk is a banner of hope,” says 21-year-old Torrin Greathouse, a journalism student and blogger operating out of Southern California. He says he stumbled across the concept when researching biophilic building design and “got a little bit obsessed by the whole idea”.
Greathouse reckons Solarpunk could one day leap from the confines of Tumblr blogs and Google brainstorms to become a rebel yell to action. As Boston-based web developer Matt Cloyd says in this video talk, if smart cities aren’t your thing, then why not go smart citizenry? “This is the first alternate future I’ve seen that I actively want to be a part of,” he enthuses.
“This is the first alternate future I’ve seen that I actively want to be a part of”
So, how can one become Solarpunk? “Small steps like maintaining community gardens and using guerrilla solar and wind power installations on homes and small farms,” suggests Greathouse. He points to DIY projects like this Solarpunk sailboat. “The biggest change happens in your own back yard.”
Navarre Bartz, a 29-year-old maker and materials scientist, agrees. “I don’t have to be an enviro-saint, I just have to take it one step at a time.” Each little step, he says, represents a Solarpunk signpost for a brighter tomorrow. “It gives context to shutting off your lights or conserving water instead of it just being a nebulous good thing to do.”
And let’s not forget the ‘punk’ part – this is no trendy suffix, you know. Solarpunk values are very much aligned with grassroots activism like the Transition Towns and Occupy movements. But it goes far wider than that. As TX Watson, editor of Solarpunk Press, puts it: “There’s no single right way to do solarpunk. Instead, diverse communities from around the world adopt the name, ideas, or both, and build little nests of self-sustaining revolution.”
Naturally, as Solarpunk attracts more followers, it’s starting to cultivate its own style. If wearable wings and dandelion handbags are your thing, you might want to invest in some Solarpunk fashion. It’s all quite art noveau – but with utility built-in. “How about wide-brim hats, or parasols that are topped with discreet solar panel tech incorporated into the design, with ports you can stick your phone charger into?” muses blogger Miss Olivia Louise.
According to Flynn’s manifesto, Solarpunk is ultimately about envisaging a future with a human face and dirt behind its ears. Or, to put it another way, “We’re solarpunks because the only other options are denial or despair.”