Genre Focus: SolarPunk
by Caleb Sica
What is SolarPunk? Well, the SolarPunks’ Tumblr said it best.
“Solarpunk is a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?” The aesthetics of solarpunk merge the practical with the beautiful, the well-designed with the green and wild, the bright and colorful with the earthy and solid. Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en route to a better world — but never dystopian. As our world roils with calamity, we need solutions, not warnings. Solutions to live comfortably without fossil fuels, to equitably manage scarcity and share abundance, to be kinder to each other and to the planet we share. At once a vision of the future, a thoughtful provocation, and an achievable lifestyle.”
The most efficient way to give you an introduction to this subgenre, is to rekindle a past understanding of its inverse; SteamPunk. I’m sure we all have a general understanding of the term, visualizing bronze gears, leather hats, patched Victorian jackets, and let’s not forget the… unique, facial hair. Described extremely broadly, SteamPunk’s typical tech lacks our modern dependence on oil, and rather, is constructed primarily around steam machinery (duh). This machinery developed into variants of what we would consider modern through a different means. Regularly post-apocalyptic, the creed is premised as a maintained scientific society; a byproduct of an alternate historical timeline. However, besides the obvious difference in prefix and assumptions that come with it, there is a key distinction between the two. And that is the ratio and direction of time in relation to their technological advances.
When analyzing SolarPunk, we are faced with one key point in comparing the two; a prominent rationale of SteamPunk derives from the prerequisite of an alternate history, and since history possesses time that is already expended, an altering of it would be unquestionably fiction. Conversely, SolarPunk has not expended any time, and constituted of a speculative future, holds the possibility of becoming a nonfictional reality. There is no deadline set on this possibility, and therefore there is no imperative obligation to create a SolarPunk future. Change inevitably requires discomfort, and discomfort is never openly embraced.
The enormous power of Oil, it’s supremacy over legislators through corporate lobbying, and profitably influenced political rhetoric are direct obstructions of this redesign. Even so, our renewable technology, scientific theories, public awareness are all existent and weighing on our consciousness, so why not alleviate ourselves and Gaea in the process?
If one ever feels the inclination to delve into a further comprehension, there is a certainty of frequently coming across the same terms, which structure the central qualities of the subgenre. I will go over a few of the main ones in the following paragraphs.
If there was any one aspect that was unquestionably essential to the very principle of SolarPunk it would be renewable energy. Um, I mean “Solar” –Punk… C’mon. The already existent solar, wind, and hydro technologies are easily comprehensive in their coordination and functioning within society, although, never on a dominant scale. In our “modernity” we assume our civilization to be tranquil and stable, but in reality almost the entirety of our infrastructure is reliant on nonrenewable resources to a terrifying extent. And the international world putting all their eggs in one basket is a dense and idiotic time bomb.
Allow me to deconstruct this briefly. Infrastructure is recognized as the basic framework of fundamental facilities serving a country. This includes transportation, communication, education, and power sources amongst various other things. Every single one of these structures rely heavily on fossil fuels.
- Transportation is quite obvious, fuel is needed for public private and commercial transport.
Now the remainder under the umbrella of infrastructure’s dependence on electricity is monumental. Electricity that is derived from… You guessed it. Fossil fuels are the lifeblood of power plants. Let’s see what would happen if we were to cut of that circulation. Batteries? Well they eventually die. Even modern nuclear power, which uses fission, produce substantial amounts of nuclear waste and are no doubt, and possibly more so, nonrenewable.
- Schools use computers to learn, however they are not always distributed and not explicitly essential. Regardless of this, there are databases of grades, and PowerPoints which a multitude of teachers utilize. An easy substitute with no electricity would be a blackboard or white board. Textbooks could be read and workbooks could be used. Nonetheless for first world countries this would be a huge step back from modern education
- In communication, cell phones require charging, they also run through cell towers, which, in the event of a power outage will run on either batteries or a backup generator, just enough to sustain them until power comes back on. Landlines require electricity as well. If no power came back on to relieve these backups, in less than a day all cellular signals and power for landlines would be lost.
Now for power sources. In 2015 renewable energy produced about 22 percent of electricity the world. Which is a great start so far, however not nearly an acceptable amount for peace of mind. It is estimated that if the current consumption of fossil fuels remain constant, the last of the world’s oil deposits will be completely depleted by 2052. If we account for natural gas to fill the energy gap left by oil we would only have another 8 years, and if we account for all the oil and gas reserves available we would have enough coal to last until 2088. This doesn’t take into account changes in the population, standard of living, possibility of war, and much more. And if those resources are finally depleted, chaos will no doubt ensue. It’s improbable that the only way to stimulate a sufficient change in energy production would be from a complete exhaustion of our current means, yet many could argue that by now, combustion engines, coal, and cancer should be obsolete concerns.
It’s an accepted likelihood that in order to have a global transition into the utopia of SolarPunk, there would be monumental shifts in global politics, economies, education and social constructs. And in the achievement of these evolved outlooks, the sentiment of the past (or our present) will be ridiculed and an embarrassment.
Although when that change does arrive, it will unquestionably be the peak of human existence thus far. Achieving a dominance in renewable energy, will repair centuries of continual damage to our planet. Standards of living will rise, the definitive power and corruption of private petroleum interests will reduce. Consequently, a likelier stability in the Middle East. The continuous need for weapon sales, defense contracts and world conflict will subside. Societal ethics will raise and will be projected through their leaders.
Focusing on Solar, no one will have a particular geographic advantage, due to the fact that we all receive just about the same sunlight. And although smaller countries will obviously have less area to cover in solar panels, the ratio of their population in comparison to geographical size will likely synchronize effectively. However, Polar Regions may be exploited for their long days, and perchance move to become international places of interest. With nations flocking to the poles, a recolonization period in the uninhabited continent of Antarctica could happen, which may elicit a reenactment of The Battle of Hoth (maybe even penguin extinction). And therefore may just become a transferring conflict from one region of resources to another. Although, there is a chance that there will be a worldwide satisfaction of solar energy within all borders, and no such hypothetical will occur.
Geographic advantages would be generally not of concern for wind power as well, however, hydroelectricity is another story.
Nuclear energy is also an extremely viable option and would likely outperform solar, wind and hydroelectric power. Nuclear fusion is one of the greatest options in a sustainable society. With virtually limitless fuel, the energy creates itself, and unlike its unattractive counterpart fission, there is almost no nuclear waste whatsoever. However, nuclear energy wouldn’t be a shared resource, and may stir some diplomatic comforts in the regulation of who possesses it.
A cohesion between mankind and nature is a paramount and enforced quality of SolarPunk. With a direct effect on global warming happening with our retirement of pollutant energy, we will no doubt see a lowering of sea levels, increases in existent glaciers, renourishment of coral reefs and restabalization of entire ecosystems.
Fiction gifts upon us an escape to worlds entirely separate from our own. Worlds that we may never lose the desire to dream to be a part of, however; What if such a world was not only entirely possible to escape within, but rather exist within? The actuality of all this is, that while we may limit SolarPunk’s scope to literary imagination, it possess the potential to be a remarkably imminent fact. That is the remarkability of this ideology and why I believe SolarPunk is questionably one of the most critical genres of modern time.