Several years ago, a fringe movement of artists, writers, anarchists, and philosophers came to my attention. Together, they formed a movement known as Solarpunk. Embodying growth-principles and a mindset of progressive idealism, Solarpunk asked questions of how the normalized vision of the future might become positive, exciting, and even joyful; Solarpunk asked if a better future might be possible.
The movement maintains a general focus on overturning the current power structures of the world and replacing them with an egalitarian, socialized, and high-technology future. Rather than a model of techno-saviourism, the various voices building the solarpunk movement imagined a future where advancing technology was used in service of a healthy and community-centered life; where technology might work with the natural world rather than against it.
One of the defining primary aesthetics - the glimmering solar collectors, the abundant and verdant rooftop gardens, the diversity of people, all comes together within the concept of a society that shares values of warmth, care, and the urge to strive for self-betterment.
If this reminds you a little of Star Trek you're probably not wrong. There are strong utopian ideals within the philosophy, but ones laced with pragmatism. Pragmatism for the limits of our technological prowess and the needs for a diverse population, but pragmatism in service of the best possible future.
The climate is changing. Thanks to over a century of increasingly intensified reliance of fossil fuels and the massive explosion of the human population (both accompanied and proped-up by a host of other social and legal trends), the evidence is clear: our ice caps are melting and the global climate is forever being altered. Has been altered, in fact, to the point where it will likely never be the same even as it was during my childhood.
This harsh reality has been met with fear and denial over the last twenty years as lumbering political systems and ossified special interests struggled (or refused) to act. But, while understandable, fear is not the answer to our problems. We cannot deny ourselves out of reality. And the solarpunk movement understands this.
Taking the inevitable changes of the future in stride, Solarpunk asks us to imagine the possibility of change. If we admit that change will be difficult, if we admit to the incredible struggles ahead, then we can change things. The solarpunk ideal is exactly this: no matter what, change is possible.
Until recently, global efforts to halt climate change have been piddling along at a barely noticeable pace. Some private companies have taken the long view and either altered their operations or deliberately set out with the intention of having a positive effect, but far too few have been successful in any meaningful way.
And then, along comes COVID-19, the first global pandemic of the first half of the 21st century.
In the United States, within just a few weeks, the discussion of Medicare for All and Universal Basic Income (which former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders abd Andrew Yang have vocally supported) has suddenly been considered in a whole new way.
But what Senator Sanders and Mr. Yang managed to drag into the limelight, COVID-19 is now cementing as a hard and necessary fact: our societies need to take care of the weakest among us, if only because doing so immediately and dramatically affects the wellbeing of the whole.
We need to think outside the box that various media pundits (from all backgrounds) attempt to place us within. The context of our global situation is never as cut and dried as they would make it seem.
We need to come together as one caring and united people; we need to have each other's backs. That's the next part of the Solarpunk enterprise: uniting around our shared and common truths, around those core principles of mutual support, compassion, and strength. Because we are stronger together than we are apart, this is simply true. It's only ironic that a Pandemic requiring us to maintain 6ft boundaries at all times is the fulcrum by which we come to this understanding.
While COVID-19 has harmed many, we cannot lose sight of the larger pictures. As we observed during the pandemic currently, our societies are capable of dramatic shifts in policy, action, and habit; we can, in fact, learn not to touch our faces constantly. And, just so, we can, in fact, enact the sort of changes needed to survive the climate crisis. But doing so is a mind-shift, it is a process of altering what we believe to be fundamentally possible and reasonable. This is the part of the solarpunk philosophy that can be so hard for many to accept: because it's not merely diversity of opinion that solarpunk seeks, no technological empowerment; it's genuine and empathetic care that matters most. It's the willingness to make changes for the good of everyone even at some personal inconvenience.
Crisis points like this one are opportunities, even as they are also filled with anxiety and sadness. There is a tendency, when afraid, for human beings to turn to strongmen, because when we are afraid we want to centralize power in the hands of a strong protector. Likewise, when afraid, it's easy to want someone to blame, so some lash out at those who are different, those who are weaker, or those who make them feel uncomfortable about themselves.
But this time we can choose a different path.
Rather than once more charging blindly down the path of austerity, we can chose to place community-centered values at the fore. If we unite, we can cast down those archaic pillars of self-interest and power-mongering that would see us all burn for their profit, and instead take that leap of faith into the only future where humanity flourishes.
In the Solarpunk mindset, the future world depicted is a glorious one, and at first glance, it can seem purely fanciful. After all, when self-serving values dominate, it's hard to imagine a world where respect, compassion, social support, and network thinking are the norm. But the future solarpunk envisions is not far-fetched, or even that extravagant. Solarpunk simply suggests a future where technology, strong social safety nets, and compassionate values have come together for the betterment of our entire ecosystem. Where the governing principle is no longer the accumulation of wealth, but instead the sharing of art, and joy, and learning. Where the whole is made stronger and more prosperous for the strength and prosperity of the individual (which then becomes conversely true in turn).
There will be hard times ahead, we cannot deny that, and we must not look away. And yet those hard times will pass; we will make it through. The only question is: what sort of world awaits us on the other side? We do have a say in the matter, but we need to make our voices heard.
I've been fascinated by the Solarpunk movement since it first started gaining popularity and have written about it in various places on the web. This piece was originally published on Medium in a very raw, rough, and unpolished form. I've updated it for publication here.