In this video essay, Our Changing Climate looks at why solarpunk gives hope for the future in a world ravaged by climate change and climate chaos. Specifically, it answers the question, what is solarpunk? As well as proposes tangible solarpunk solutions like solar cookers and solar ovens, makerspaces, and 21st-century zero-carbon airships. Solarpunk presents a vision of the world that is simultaneously hopeful and worth fighting for. Solarpunk envisions a more just future that incorporates leftist liberatory ideologies into a world that has successfully established a world that is both human-centric and nature-centric. As a result, solarpunk stands in stark opposition to the current capitalist profit-centric world we live in. Solarpunk gives us art, dreams, and culture that are worth fighting for, and it grounds that future in the tools and technology already available.
– Transcript below –
When we look out into the murky depths of our future, it’s hard not to despair. The scars of capitalism run ragged through our minds, bodies, and environments. The uncertainty of a world in climate chaos is driving many into a state of apathy. Inaction and status quo politicking is so prevalent among the ruling class that it’s easy to believe in neoliberal hawk Margaret Thatcher’s assertion that “there is no alternative.”
Well, there actually is. It’s beautiful, vibrant, and gives me hope for a juster, more ethical, and more ecological future. It’s called Solarpunk. Today, we’re going to dive into the visions of Solarpunk, uncovering what it is, what it looks like, and how exactly it can be implemented right now to construct a radical eco and human-centric present.
What is Solarpunk?
Solarpunk. A burgeoning movement blending aesthetics and politics that envisions a future which answers the question: “What kind of world will emerge when we finally transition to renewables?”
In opposition to the environments of cyberpunk or dieselpunk, which craft dystopian futures based in capitalist corruption, technological authoritarianism, and the deification of fossil fuels, Solarpunk grounds the future in the task of bridging the chasm between human society and the natural world. A chasm that is currently widening at the hands of exploitative capitalism. So, Solarpunk runs starkly in opposition to the political and economic forces of late-stage capitalism by demanding a non-hierarchical, diverse, decentralized yet integrated world. A world with worker co-operatives, tool shares, maker-spaces and common-pool resources. And all these decentralized approaches to economies would emphasize production focused not only on ecological well-being but human well-being.
Solarpunk also means embracing technologies like rooftop solar, passive houses, or even modern sailing innovations to allow the natural workings of the planet to flourish while also providing a comfortable living to the masses. In short, Solarpunk argues that just climate action doesn’t have to mean living in scarcity or giving things up, it instead shows us how beautiful the world could be when we live with appropriate abundance.
As a result, leftist tendencies like eco-anarchism, post-civ, and indigenous sovereignty synthesize well, and indeed must be integrated with the visions of Solarpunk. But as much as Solarpunk is a political and economic imaginary, it is also an artistic and aesthetic one. This is in part why Solarpunk is so captivating. While things like political theory, tackling the minutiae of participatory democracy, and long-term worker-owned sustainable production is crucial, building culture, beauty, and joy around those politics is just as important.
The artistic visions of Solarpunk draw us in and present irresistible visions of what an ecocentric and human-centric world could be. And if you’re curious exactly what the Solarpunk aesthetic looks like, here are just a few examples.
Solarpunk presents a radical hope to an otherwise despair-filled movement. But, to be clear this isn’t the blind capitalist hope that believes the world will magically turn out better with business-as-usual practices. It’s a hope that encourages resistance and transformation. The dismantling of capitalism to build a new economy and culture in its stead. A hope that we have to work towards. So, while Solarpunk envisions possible futures it is still very much grounded in the present. There are very tangible actions and suitable technologies that we can implement right now to build a Solarpunk future. The following are just a few.
If we are to truly rid ourselves of fossil fuels, the gas-fueled oven must be a relic of the past. Solarpunk envisions a number of do-it-yourself alternatives that are already available now that can not only replace our grid-reliant gas-heavy ranges but also might transform the way we cook our food. One of those technologies is the solar oven. A low-tech, easy to assemble and transport piece of cookware that uses an array of large mirrors to heat a central cook surface.
In a very Solarpunk way, it harnesses the sun directly to create your hot meal. In some cases, it can cook meals in a matter of minutes, but if it’s a cloudier day it may take as long as two hours. And of course, when the sun isn’t shining at all solar ovens don’t work, which is why it needs to be supplemented with tools like biogas digesters which convert your cooking food scraps into usable gas or even electric stoves that run on your rooftop solar or community-owned wind farm electricity.
In addition, Solarpunk stands firmly against the solar oven as a tool of white-saviorism, like it’s been often used in the past. The solar oven has a history of being wielded by white entrepreneurs or philanthropists like Crosby Menzies, who saw people in Zambia using wood fires to cook their food, and decided that solar cookers would be the answer to what is actually a much larger structural problem. In opposition to colonial paternalism, Solarpunk sees the solar oven as a liberatory tool that is off-grid, decentralized, and thrives in certain contexts, but also recognizes that it is not the silver bullet solution to cooking sustainably.
But, when combined with acts like permablitzing, which is a quick but lasting intervention on the landscape combining the principles of permaculture and the power of collective work to transform unused or misused spaces into flourishing gardens and recreational spaces in a short period of time, the solar oven can function as the last stone in foods path from a seed in the soil to a cooked meal in your mouth. In this way, the solar oven is one tool of many in a vast array of alternative, decentralized, nature-centric technologies that are incorporated into a larger solarpunk cultural system of meeting needs by harnessing the sun.
Makers Spaces / Tool Shares / Mesh Networking
“Rebuilding flourishing communities is core to the philosophy of solarpunk.” That’s Saint Andrew, who just released a video all about even more Solarpunk solutions over on his YouTube channel Saint Andrewism.
“We cannot rely solely on ourselves as individuals to make it through climate collapse, nor can we rely on governments or corporations to help us survive, let alone thrive, in the midst of compounding crises.
Humans are a social species, and the recognition of such as an essential aspect of solarpunk. In a world where neighbourhoods are more atomized than ever and common spaces can hardly be found, developing makerspaces can help us develop and strengthen our community ties. Empty classrooms in schools, underutilized rooms in existing libraries, or even unused spaces in people’s homes can easily be transformed into places where people with common or divergent interests, whether woodworking, coding, 3D printing, machining, arts, crafting, sewing, science, cooking, or biking even, can meet, socialize, and collaborate.
In my opinion, communities should come together to fundraise to build their own spaces, held in common, rather than relying on outside infrastructure. Makerspaces can easily blossom as people come together to share knowledge, share resources, and just have fun.
Although the makerspace scene is currently dominated by middle class white men, creating spaces where disadvantaged groups and communities can develop their skills and thrive is an important step towards greater social justice, a key element in a solarpunk world.
As for how makerspaces can be run, many models exist, but I’m partial to the anarchist model where these spaces are collectively owned and run by those who are involved in them. Makerspaces are just one of the many ways we can unite communities through solarpunk principles.”
Sailing and Airships
While a Solarpunk world will look local, that doesn’t mean that communities aren’t interconnected or that global travel will cease to exist. In fact, travel in a Solarpunk world is as exciting and alluring as ever, without the copious amounts of fossil fuels to boot.
Imagine a world where traveling doesn’t have to be rushed or stressful, in fact, the transportation method could be the destination. Airships, with their low or zero-emission potential, could very easily be implemented into a Solarpunk world. To be clear, these are not the 18th century Zeppelins of Steampunk, these are 21st-century blimps and passenger airships that are already being flight tested across the world.
There are a number of benefits to airships. For one, they don’t require any new infrastructure because they can take off and land pretty much anywhere, which also means these ships can easily travel to hard-to-reach places or touch down in a place that’s far from a city center. Also, current airships require 90% less fuel when compared to commercial jets, with future designs requiring no fuel and going fully electric.
And in a Solarpunk world, these aircraft aren’t built by big multinationals like Boeing, Lockheed Martin or piloted by Delta, they’re constructed by worker-owned co-ops and collectively shared by a network of communities. So, not only will they be low emissions, but they will also be free. It shouldn’t cost anything to visit your family if they live halfway across the continent or even just visit a place you’ve never been before. But, airships are just one piece of the transportation mix in a Solarpunk world.
21st-century cargo ships fit with sails and solar panels, free and electric public tram systems for local transportation all fit within the decentralized, nature and human-centric futurism that is Solarpunk. But in order to realize this future, we need to start building it now.
Towards a Solarpunk World
The appeal of Solarpunk is that not only is it lush, beautiful, and caring, but also that the tools we need to build that world are available right now. Solarpunk gives us a reason and blueprint for what comes next. Dismantling the structures of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism is certainly a difficult and grueling endeavor, but if we have a shining light at the end of the tunnel, the battle for a more sustainable and ethical world might just be a little easier.
If you’re looking for even more Solarpunk and leftist content, definitely make sure to check out Saint Andrewism’s channel! He’s got some great videos like What is Solarpunk, as well as a full video all about how to Permablitzing. He’s also released a new video with even more Solarpunk solutions like Terracotta air conditioning, food forests, and more.
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