Solarpunk stands in contrast to the often-dystopian worlds in Cyberpunk and Steampunk, presenting a utopian future with green politics and renewable energy. The genre first started as a simple architecture/design aesthetic on Tumblr and has since grown into a small but noteworthy sub-genre—as well as a real-life movement. Much of the excitement around Solarpunk is owed to the fact that it draws largely from existing technologies or ones in development. Rather than consigning themselves to dreams that remain speculative fiction, or a fashion and decorating aesthetic, Solarpunks already have many of the tools they need to create the sustainable world they dream of.
While many of the encouraged practices overlap, Solarpunk is distinct from the Urban Homesteading movement (which receives far more media attention) in that one of the hallmarks of Solarpunk is the desire to make a green world that is available and accessible to every member of the community. While the Urban Homesteading movement is certainly worthwhile, much of it feels like gentrifying and “making okay” things that the lower classes and immigrants have been doing for decades (gardening, keeping small livestock, baking bread, etc.). Solarpunk encourages people towards gardening, rideshares/biking to work, green fiber arts and crafting, and sustainable home building with the rest of their community. There is an understanding that not everyone will be able to do everything, but also an appreciation of and a desire to learn from those who have already been doing these things. Solarpunks do not see themselves as “rediscovering” long forgotten practices, but building on what already exists and spreading it.
"Solarpunk emphasizes that the hero isn’t necessarily one person or group, it’s everyone collectively making a decision that leads us down the right path"
The books almost have to end there, because the common threads and ideals that bring people together against a threat aren’t necessarily going to hold true for visions of a peaceful future. Defeating the “big bad” is always the focus; what to do after is always “something we’ll worry about later” and is rarely discussed. And then suddenly, later is now, and people realize that they have completely different ideas about what to do with this land they have won for themselves, this land that they have invested in with dreams and blood. To borrow from the musical Hamilton, “Winning is easy, young man. Governing is harder.”
This is the reason that Solarpunk should be so important to our generation. Solarpunk emphasizes that the hero isn’t necessarily one person or group, it’s everyone collectively making a decision that leads us down the right path. Solarpunk is something we can do, not something we can only talk and dream about. It’s something we can have now in hopes of having more tomorrow. The only thing stopping us is we are not conceptualizing change correctly; we need to think about the future in terms of incremental change and doing what we can now, rather than waiting to wake up to a beautiful, clean, solar utopia. There is sometimes a certain mentality about social change: it is not worth having if it doesn’t happen suddenly. That you are selling out to either “the man” or “the system” if you don’t work towards change in a way that is “radical” (and here, radical is almost always a synonym for violent destruction). For some people, that model of working for change is what works for them. But it is important to understand that method is not the only way change can be brought about.
Every action we take, every small, deliberate choice to create a better, greener now is a seed planted towards our goal. So, dreaming of the earthships that we might live in one day is all well and good, and heaven knows this writer does it too, but it can’t be all. The worst thing you can do isn’t plant a seed that doesn’t grow; instead the worst thing you can do is spend so much time looking at Pinterest and Tumblr, planning and dreaming, that you never plant anything at all—convincing yourself that since you don’t have all the tools to completely realize your vision for the future, there is no point of doing anything.
If you are in a place where all you can invest is time, do it! Support candidates who advocate for green policy changes. Attend community meetings about new construction or other changes in your area. Talk to your neighbors and build those connections that will make our Solarpunk future possible. Investing your money into change is harder, but there are things you can do at every level. If you can’t have a vegetable garden, can you have a couple of herbs in the windowsill? For today, that is enough. If you can’t have solar panels on your house, can you get yard stakes, so that your outdoor lighting is solar? For today, that is enough. If you can’t buy fair trade, sustainable-fiber clothing, can you buy clothes second hand and donate your own old clothes, or turn worn out items into rags to give them another life? For today, that is enough. If you can’t walk or bike to work (or drive an electric car), can you take the bus or share a ride with a co-worker? For today, that is enough. If you can’t heat your house sustainably, can you choose to keep the heat at a slightly lower temperature and wear slippers? For today, that is enough.
And if that is what you can do for many days, for many years, it is still enough. Revolution does not have to happen overnight. Small acts of quiet revolution that push towards a larger goal are just as important. What makes an action radical is not the fact that you are setting something on fire, it is radical because you, as an individual, are choosing in that moment to be more than yourself. You are choosing to be part of a “we”, instead of a “me”, and slowly but surely, we can make a difference. We just need to have the courage to start from where we are, rather than waiting for our someday to arrive.
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