Solarpunk imagines sustainable urban jungles for the future

It’s a literary genre, an aesthetic movement, a fashion style, a way of living. It’s urban, lush, sustainable, optimistic. It’s Solarpunk.

Don’t bother looking for Solarpunk on Wikipedia; the entry doesn’t exist yet. This emerging, undefined movement has yet to leave a mark on history but is already leaving its signature on art and culture. The subculture’s vision is a sustainable urban jungle.

Vincent Callebaut

Solarpunks have a positive eco-narrative. They are “techno-activists,” cross-breeds of ecology and technology. Solarpunks believe that future civilisations can live in harmony with planet Earth again. No apocalyptic ending of the human species as a result of climate change, no artificial intelligence taking over the world.

Instead, they imagine a world of (realistic) radical change in how we get and use energy and how urban cities are planned; a future where everyone takes part in living a sustainable life, bottom up.

Their name can already give us some insights into their core values.  What a "solar" movement can be is not that difficult to guess. After all, it’s kind of what vegans and eco people are advocating for. A solar lifestyle worships the sun and the sky over the earth as the source of energy. The sky becomes “the source of energy abundance, not just superstorms, frozen winters and rains that never come.”

A sort of “solar utopia”  where renewable energy has solved all the climate change problems our current generation is trying to solve.

Koryo Tours

But a solar utopia is a bit naive. As Andrew D. Hudson says, “what more elegant image of our salvation than a solar panel, turning the light that heats our planet beyond comfort into energy, the very commodity for which we set the world on fire.”

Solarpunks are edgier than utopianists. This is where the punk comes in.

I wondered how the word “punk” could be compatible with a positive and optimistic movement that wants to save the planet. I mean, punks are not exactly chipper optimists. 

I imagine punks as the counter-force they were in the 70s— loud progressive rock, crazy hairstyles, boots, black leather jackets, and a rebellious mentality towards everything and everyone who conforms to the norms. In my mind, punks are the dregs of society, borderliners who consciously choose not to participate in mainstream life.

Historically, they actively resisted the future. So how should we interpret the “punk” in “solarpunk”? At first, I couldn’t see the connection, but I recognize the link now.

Solarpunk is about resistance. Solarpunks don’t resist the future though, they resist the present. This is what makes them punk. What else makes them punk? That they are also radicals. They are radical in the way they imagine an optimistic future where profound changes in our energy consumption and production have already happened. 

Solarpunk’s take on the future is refreshing. There is too much negativity and anxiety about the coming few decades and the fate of humanity as we know it. If we imagine a horrible future, a depressing future will manifest. Instead, if we imagine solutions and focus on changing our own lifestyles, we might actually make it to the next century.

 © Header image: cienias [CGSociety, contest entry] 

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