Introducing Solarpunk: Where Technology Meets Utopia

May 07 2024.

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The Earth is now a planet over-run with rubble and bereft of plant and animal life, the inevitable fate of years of environmental degradation and thoughtless consumerism. Surviving humans live in an entitled bubble consuming laboratory-grade food and spend their days idling on hovering chairs glued to a screen. There’s little concept of time amid robots working tirelessly to keep the system running, all enveloped in a bleak fog. Calling it a dystopia would be an understatement.

Just kidding, this is only the plot of WALL-E.

But, we wouldn’t even need to close our eyes to envision that this could be our future in just a matter of years, with how easily modern media has romanticised an apocalyptic, techno wasteland to be our home. Although these films and stories may be intended as warnings, they also fuel a pessimistic fire inside us and dampen our hope and imagination for what’s to come. Mark Fisher, an English critic and writer called this “capitalist realism” - a phrase that summarises the idea that “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

However, it’s important not to get caught up in all the doom and gloom.

Fossil fuels rapidly depleting, mass extinction of unique flora and fauna and alarming climate change may all be valid reasons not to believe in a cleaner, brighter tomorrow but as long as this is our home, our responsibility towards it still stands, and that brings us to the concept of Solarpunk.

An early Solarpunk writer, Connor Owens, mentioned that it was “an eco-futurist movement which tries to think our way out of catastrophe by imagining a future most people would like to live in, instead of one we should be trying to avoid.” 

Originating in Brazil as a literary genre in the early 2000s, Solarpunk quickly picked up popularity via the internet. With Tumblr users posting various artwork and stories under a simple hashtag, the idea of a world where environmental and social issues of our times were taken care of promptly by technological solutions along with shared harmony between people and nature, began to grow. With time, a social and creative movement that honoured both human and ecological coordination, quality of life, regenerating genuine kinship and economic relations, and an overall culture of abundance was built by a resilient community.

Let’s paint a picture of what that really looks like.
Imagine a skyline with organic architecture, dotted with translucent domes and buildings covered with plants. Where solar panels and wind turbines are a regular sight as we turn to more renewable energy sources and appropriate technology is used for efficiency. Projects like co-ops, community gardens, co-housing and repair cafes are found easily within reach. Fresh and clean produce is a staple and the community follows a ‘sharing is caring’ policy. The environment is warm and inviting with clear skies and a gentle breeze. Hope is in the air.
This aesthetic is crucial to Solarpunk as it promotes the idea that there will be a civilisation beyond the current climate and social crisis that holds its ground and stays true to its

values - and that’s where the punk comes in, just without the tattoos and piercings. In a world that is trampled by a system based on ecocide and greed, Solarpunk is the rebellion against injustice towards our home.

We’re not going to get anywhere by simply double-tapping on an attractive AI-generated artwork of this fantasy, though. Representing one of the more active corners of the internet regarding this movement, a statement on the r/solarpunk subreddit states “The only reason why we don’t live in a Solarpunk world right now is because no one has bothered to make it yet. We’ll have to make it ourselves, and we’ll have to help each other make it.”

As the world blares its sirens for us to switch to sustainable living, thankfully, a handful of communities have taken heed and jumped on the Solarpunk bandwagon. Crowned as the world’s best airport by Skytrax not just once, but 12 times, the Changi Airport in Singapore stands tall and proud in terms of clever infrastructure and lush greenery. Being a perfect example of a city greenhouse, the airport is of great value to Solarpunk activists.

One of the most inspiring Solarpunk reports is of a small town located in Southwest Berlin, Feldheim, fully powered by locally generated renewable energy through wind turbines and biogas. As the town became self-sufficient, E.ON, the energy firm providing the space for power grids, refused to sell or lease it. The community then happened to showcase great resilience and unity by outsourcing services to build their own smart grid instead. Talk about a punk attitude.

Another example of evolving Solarpunk would be the urban gardens of Japan. Here, the rooftops of commercial facilities like train stations in busy cities such as Tokyo, are used as rental vegetable gardens where members can grow their food locally. It serves as a space for people to connect and share fresh produce and even encourages you to stay fit by participating in gardening yourself.

The beauty of being a part of the Solarpunk movement is that any small effort would amount to bringing the utopian dream to life, even without the solar panels or complicated architecture. Purchasing organic produce from local businesses or harvesting our own in the comfort of our own humble garden, is proven to be greatly fulfilling. An easy solution to avoid overconsumption is to fall back on our community and arrange a Library of Things, a space where members can bring in and borrow all sorts of odds and ends when and if they need them, instead of buying brand-new items. Installing a DIY rain barrel system to make use of the filtered freshwater after a heavy downpour is yet another creative solution that we can manage to get behind.

Recognising that Solarpunk is a bridge between new technology and the abundance of nature, is a mindset that is crucial to cultivate at present and for the generations to follow. To celebrate mutual aid, humanity’s patience and the drive to improve with nature by our side is a future we should strive towards. It is easier said than done but certainly possible if only we, as Solarpunk artist Joan (@joan_de_art), simply put - “refuse dystopia, repair suburbia”.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ruqaiyah Rafeek

Ruqaiyah Rafeek is a freelance writer and artist based in Colombo. With a background in content marketing and creative design, she mostly aims to shed light on conservation and sustainability through her work, as well as dabbling in annual worldwide conservation projects such as Sketch for Survival. If you don’t see her tending to a tree, she’s too busy drawing one.


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