Solarpunk isn’t just a fantasy about some idealistic, untouchable future that we could reach if only, if only we were better people. It’s a plan. It’s something we can reach, not with pie-in-the-sky idealism, but with a combination of real, not just inclusive but integrative compassion, and practical strategy and action.
So how to write solarpunk? More importantly, how to write effective solarpunk?
I don’t have a good answer to that question, but I do have ideas.
First, we need to think of solarpunk as persuasive in nature. It has two messages, “this is what we want” and “this is how we get there”. The persuasive “arc” of a speech or presentation is different from a story arc–rather than a single sweeping motion, it goes back and forth between the unsatisfactory present and the desired future. This can be done in a story using actual time differences between different points of view (a character in the present/near-future and a character in the future), the memories of a character who has lived through both, or histories written about the present and told in the future. In terms of actual time spent on one or the other, it’s best to stick mostly to the future with brief touches on the present to ground, explain, and contrast.
Second, we need to be clear about the kind of society we want: one which doesn’t just talk about, but integrates into its foundation and basic workings, compassion and systems that allow all people to flourish and be happy. There is more to healing this planet and our species than community gardens and solar powered streetlamps.
- We need accessibility for everyone as a primary concern and not an afterthought. Ramps, elevators, railings, navigable sidewalks and entrances, accessible bathrooms (without any sort of gender attached to them), complete ingredients lists, enough interpreters and translators to facilitate communication, competent and compassionate teachers who can address the diverse needs and abilities of their students, and most importantly, a system that includes people with diverse needs in its decision-making and listens to and addresses their needs.
- We need health care to be accessible to everyone who needs it (and not, financially or otherwise, punish some people for having more or different needs than others). Healing should focus on what the patient needs to be happy rather than some arbitrary ideal of “perfect” health, consider their community, past, and other circumstances that affect and are affected by their health. The field of medicine should consider equally the health practices of various cultures and traditions, and should integrate study of mental, physical, and social health rather than isolating them into separate disciplines.
- We need a society that integrates people of different races, cultures, religions, abilities, genders, and orientations,without homogenizing them or prioritizing one over another. All should have the same opportunities and rights, and actual, tangible reparations should be made to aid with the healing and recovery of colonized, enslaved, and otherwise mistreated peoples.
- A future without poverty means that no one will suffer the afflictions of poverty. Everyone gets a home. Everyone gets nutritious food and clean water. Everyone gets electricity, safe and clean systems for sewage disposal, and access to information (libraries, internet). Everyone gets accessible, reliable public transportation. No one should have to live in fear of getting their utilities shut off, or not being able to eat this week, or getting kicked out of their apartment in the middle of December. These are not reasonable consequences for not being able to work, and ability to work does not and should not determine a person’s worth to society or in general (especially in a society where tasks are increasingly being automated and work for the uneducated is scarce).
- On that note, education should be free and accessible to everyone, and should focus on what they want to learn for personal and societal betterment and projects they wish to undertake, not on preparing them for entering the workforce (which is shrinking rapidly due to the aforementioned automation). Education should not function as a class division, nor should it be prerequisite to full participation in decision-making or any other aspect of life (though certain professions obviously will require education, such as medical).
- Wealth and/or power concentrated in the hands of a few is always a recipe for disaster, no matter who those few are, how they got there, or how well-intentioned they are. Decision-making should be transparent, equitable, and place the power firmly in the hands of the people. Private ownership of natural resources and manufacturing tools/equipment (aka the means of production) should be prohibited, with these things belonging to the community that uses them. Money should be either an antiquated concept or severely nerfed in its capacity to transfer power.
- Our well-being as a species should not be seen as in conflict with the well-being of the planet, but rather dependent on it. Humanity can thrive and be happy without destroying the environment in the process. Any solarpunk story should include solutions or potential solutions to the environmental problems we currently face, both the root causes and the symptoms. Make sure these aspects are as practical and well-researched as possible, with a clear transition between the current state of things and the future.
Finally, the action side of things. What can we do right now to ensure a future that looks like the solarpunk vision? For starters, we need to practice what we preach. If you think, “I want a future where black and brown people do not face violence and discrimination” but you don’t listen to POC voices here and now? Get on that. If you want a supportive, compassionate community? Create that community now. Start setting examples of what you want to do, and not in the incremental “progress by inches” way that is too slow for people dying while they wait for things to get better. There are better people than me to talk about direct action, so all I will say about that is that direct action–with a concrete, doable plan, one that considers who will be affected and the needs of those involved–is needed.
When talking about the way things are now, and what it will take to achieve the future we are striving for, you don’t need to be light and fluffy. This, as I said, is not about escapism. It’s about hope. Not the passive, empty, “just wait and be a good person and the Benevolent Universe will send good things your way” kind of hope–hope with a plan.