A Time for New Stories: Solarpunk (Part 1)

Beyond our everyday boring dystopia

It’s easy for us to envision bad futures. Popular science fiction is rife with them. Shows like Black Mirror is (mostly) a horror show about technology. Cyberpunk films like Ghost in the Shell to Blade Runner are futures with all-powerful corporations, environmental degradation, unaccountable governments, and society subjugated by technology.

What may have once serve as warning of a coming dystopia is today our normal, everyday boring dystopia:

 

 

A Time for New Stories

If this dystopia is the only image we can see, how can we see ourselves out of this terrible present? What other worlds are waiting to be created? This is the first of a series of posts that will explore just that.

Every two weeks, I hope to highlight different positive images of the future, images that help tell empowering stories of what we can become. Better stories of the futures will reveal a broader set of choices we have today, choices that help us make these stories real. Let’s begin!

Enter Solarpunk

Let’s start with what inspired me to write this post: a Chobani commercial. Yes, the yogurt company.

Chobani released this Ghibli-esque commercial showcasing a provocative image of the future that takes place in a vibrant rural farm, away from cities and skyscrapers.

The video reveals a future that is as far away as possible from Silicon Valley’s techno-future. Chobani-vision of the future does not focus on smart cities, cyborgs, AI, nor self-driving cars. Instead, the focus is on the people and the land.

In just 60 seconds, the ad communicates ideas around

  • The importance of inclusivity and community
  • The richness of rural life
  • Seeing humanity as part of nature, not just coexisting with it
  • Yes, advanced technology does exist, but it is in the background

Too much of what we ask about the future has been: “What will technology be like in the future?”. But, whether it is asking fearfully (like in Black Mirror) or optimistically like Star Trek, the question is the same.

Chobani’s video asks the Solarpunk question: what future is possible for all of us who live on this planet? 

Solarpunk Themes

Like Cyberpunk and many genres, there isn’t one strict definition of Solarpunk. Instead there are common themes, not all exclusively found in Solarpunk alone. 

This isn’t definitive by any means but this is a quick way to think about them:

Core Theme:

What might a civilization built on sustainability/regeneration for all lives (not just human) look like?

Key Sub-Themes:

Themes Description
Punk

Counterculture to today’s norms, seeking alternatives to current power structures, be it capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy and more

 
Degrowth, Commons, Post-Scarcity   Imagines alternatives to individualism, consumerism, private property, and inequitable access to goods    
Localism-Community De-urbanization or Rural living over concrete megacities. Emphasis on political/economic decentralization, premature, self-sufficiency, local supply chains
Cultural Shifts Transformational progress in social justice issues (gender, race, class, etc), cultural renaissance for marginalized groups such as indigenous people
Energy Usage Using both less energy (efficiency, degrowth), and multiple forms of renewable energy
Visually, this sort of thinking brings us not only in Chobani but other rich imageries and provocations:
A future where indigenous cultures ares integrated, not repressed, not apart, from what is “civilized” (Source: Amazofuturism by J. Queiroz, https://www.artstation.com/artwork/4bkOl1)
A future where we use accessible technologies with thoughtful policies to solve problems today, instead of waiting for the newest technologies to “save” us. (Source: From #SustainableTransportMemes by Nikola Medimorec, http://nikola-medimorec.com/sustainable-transport-memes/)
A future where rural life does not mean backwardness, isolation, and not integrating tradition with the new. (Source: “Agrofuturism” by J. Queiroz, https://www.artstation.com/artwork/w8lKe5)

Learning more about Solarpunk

If you’d like to get into more detail about Solarpunk, be it specific types of worlds imagined, its historical roots, or linkages with Afrofutures and other ideas please let me know in the comments below.

If you’d like do your own reading and research, see my references below.

The next story about the futures…

Stay tuned! Lots to choose from and will post again in 2-3 weeks

References

Not all these references are 100% Solarpunk, but I felt that they contain mature version of the some of the ideas found in Solarpunk

  • Walkaway, Cory Doctorow, 2017
  • Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston, Ernest Callenbach, 1975
  • Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, 2012
  • The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, Ursula K. Le Guin, 1974
  • Solarpunk: A Reference Guide, Jay Springett, 2017

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