What is Solarpunk?

From the perspective of the early 21st century, things look pretty grim. A deadly cocktail of crises engulf the people of planet Earth and all other forms of biotic life which share it: a geopolitical crisis, an economic crisis, and a worsening ecological crisis due to global warming, which stems from a political-economic system that requires fossil fuels to power its technostructure.

Culture, having as it does a symbiotic relationship with material conditions, reflects a lot of these crises in fiction and the arts. The 2000s and 2010s were replete with apocalyptic imagery of a future ravaged by war, totalitarianism, runaway weapons technology, killer viruses, zombies, and environmental collapse. Not that such narratives are unneeded. At best, they can serve as a wake-up call for those caught up in the myth that we had reached the “end of history” with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the triumph of capitalism on a planetary scale. But if they remain the primary vision our globalised culture has of the potential future, they can end up reproducing the pervasive cynicism and despair which makes all crises seem inescapable. 
This is why solarpunk is of value.

Solarpunk is a Revolt of Hope Against Despair

Solarpunk is a rebellion against the structural pessimism in our late visions of how the future will be. Not to say it replaces pessimism with Pollyanna-ish optimism, but with a cautious hopefulness and a daring to tease out the positive potentials in bad situations. Hope that perhaps the grounds of an apocalypse (revelation) might also contain the seeds of something better; something more ecological, liberatory, egalitarian, and vibrant than what came before, if we work hard at cultivating those seeds.

Any tour of the geeky parts of the Internet will reveal an assortment of different traditions ending in the suffix “punk”: steampunk, dieselpunk, clockpunk, biopunk, cyberpunk, post-cyberpunk, and so on. All the many different punk science-fiction movements imagine how things could turn out if society and technology took a different turn. While steampunk imagines a past that might have been, based on Victorian-age technology, solarpunk imagines a future that could be, based on current-age technology. It anticipates the type alternative history science-fiction the people of the future might write about us if things turn out horribly. But more than just a new science-fiction or fantasy subgenre, it’s also practical vision for (maybe) bringing the things it imagines into being in the real world.

You may ask what exactly is meant to be “punk” about what a cynic might see as the lovechild of hippies and futurists. After all, isn’t punk meant to denote anger and rage at the “the system”, as well as black leather and spikey hair? Punk is more of an ethos than a specific set of signifiers, implying rebellion against, and negation of, the dominant paradigm and everything repressive about it. So in that sense, in a world being torn apart by a planetary system based on avarice and power-lust and ecocide, solarpunk might be the most “punk” movement of all.

Solarpunk is Eco-Speculation, in Both Fiction and Reality

Solarpunk is a (mostly) aesthetic-cultural and (sometimes) ethical-political tendency which attempts to negate the dominant idea which grips popular consciousness: that the future must be grim, or at least grim for the mass of people and nonhuman forms of life on the planet. Looking at the millennia-old rift between human society and the natural world, it sets as its ethical foundation the necessity of mending this rift, transforming our relation to the planet by transcending those social structures which lead to systemic ecocide.
It draws a lot from the philosophy of social ecology, which also focused on mending this rift by restructuring society to function more like ecology: non-hierarchical, cooperative, diverse, and seeking balance.

Solarpunk’s vision is of an ecological society beyond war, domination, and artificial scarcity; where everything is powered by green energy and a culture of hierarchy and exclusion has been replaced by a culture founded on radical inclusiveness, unity-in-diversity, free cooperation, participatory democracy, and personal self-realisation.

This would be a world of decentralised eco-cities, 3D printing, vertical farms, solar glass windows, wild or inventive forms of dress and design, and a vibrant cosmopolitan aesthetic; where technology is no longer used to exploit the natural world, but to automate away needless human labour and to help restore the damage the Oil Age has already done. Solarpunk desires societies of polycultural ethnic diversity and gender liberation, where each person is able to actualise themselves in societal environment of free experimentation and communal caring; and driven by an overriding ethos of compassionate rationalism, where science and reason are not seen as antithetical to imagination and spirituality, but as concepts which bring out the best in each other.

It attempts to bring such values in being in the here-and-now, prefiguring the world to be created, through science-fiction and fantasy literature, arts, fashion, filmmaking, music, games, and a set of ideas which inform political, economic, and ecological activism.

Solarpunk stories are likely to feature characters from (currently) oppressed or marginalised groups living more freely, equally, and inclusively than they are able to now; exploring an exotic world of body modification, gender and sexual discovery, new forms of technology – and dealing with conflicts from the remnants of the old world as well as the unique problems which are sure to arise in a very different social scene. Solarpunk arts are driven by mixtures of multimedia technology and more traditional handcrafts, blending such disparate things as anime, Art Nouveau, Afrofuturism, indigenous American designs, and Edwardian fashion into a stew of artistic cross-pollination. And all of the above try to take the existing aspects of our current world and repurpose them into something more liberatory, specialising in reframing, pastiche, and reimagining of existing characters, styles, and trends in a very different context. Blending the diverse aesthetic styles of several different cultures, solarpunk engenders a celebration of hybridity while still being sensitive to the problems of cultural appropriation – “taking” instead of “partaking” – from subordinate cultures by dominant cultures

Solarpunk is the Positive Articulation of a Better World

Not content to accept the dictates of a tomorrow ruled by authoritarian states, rapacious corporations, and a despoiled biosphere, solarpunk is an eco-futurist movement which tries to think our way out of catastrophe by imagining a future most people would actually like to live in, instead of ones we should be trying to avoid; a future characterised by a reconciliation between humanity and nature, where technology is utilised for human-centric and eco-centric ends, and where a society driven by hierarchy and competition has given way to one organised on the basis of freedom, equality, and cooperation. It’s purpose is to serve as a compelling counter-narrative to the material and ideational conditions which keep us trapped in an authoritarian and ecocidal world where, as Margaret Thatcher put it, “there is no alternative”.

There already exist bits and pieces of just such an alternative right now, if only their potentials were drawn out. Worker cooperatives, self-sufficient eco-communities, directly-democratic popular assemblies, voluntary federations of small polities, mutual aid networks, community land trusts; all of these could form, it utilised, a very different kind of political-economic structure than the one being pushed by neoliberal globalisation. Likewise, technologies such as solar and wind and wave energy, 3D printing, vertical farming, micro-manufacturing, free software, open-source hardware, and robotic machinery which can automate away human labour all serve to illustrate the possibilities of an ecological and decentralised technostructure where the means of production are under popular control, rather than used to enhance the profit and power of a ruling elite.

In politics, solarpunk belongs to the wider tradition of the decentralist left, associated with such thinkers and activists as Peter Kropotkin, William Morris, Emma Goldman, Lewis Mumford, Paul Goodman, E.F. Schumacher, and Murray Bookchin. It rejects the false choice between the Scylla of market capitalism and the Charybdis of state socialism, between rugged individualism and smothering collectivism, instead opting for a society which reconciles a healthy individuality with communal solidarity.

A solarpunk polity would replace centralised forms of state government with decentralised confederations of self-governing communities, each administering themselves through many forms of direct and participatory democracy, with countless kinds of horizontally-structured voluntary associations taking care of judicial, environmental, and societal issues in ways which seek to maximise both personal autonomy and social solidarity.

A solarpunk “economy of the commons” would dispense with both profiteering corporations and statist central planning in favour of worker-run cooperatives, collaborative exchange networks, common pool resources, and control of investment by local communities. The aim of the economy would be reoriented from production-for-exchange and industrial “growth” to production-for-use and increasing the bio-psycho-social well-being of people and planet. Production would be moved as close as is possible to the point of consumption, with the long term aim being a relative self-sufficiency in goods and manufacturing. Decentralist forms of eco-technology would be used to help make work more participatory and enjoyable – “artisan-ising” the productive process itself – as well as automate away dull, dirty, and dangerous forms of work wherever possible. After realising an appropriate degree of post-scarcity, local self-sufficiency, and labour automation, it may even be feasible to abolish money as an unneeded nuisance in the allocation of resources.

A solarpunk culture would strive to dissolve every form of social hierarchy and domination – whether based on class, race, gender, sexuality, ability, or species – dispersing the power some individuals or groups wield over others and thus increasing the aggregate freedom of all; empowering the disempowered and including the excluded. It is rooted in the legacy of such liberatory movements as anti-authoritarian socialism, feminism, racial justice, queer and trans liberation, disability struggles, animal liberation, and digital freedom projects.

Solarpunk is Practical Utopianism

As you can see, there have always been alternatives, conventional wisdom just dismisses them out of hand as “utopian”. But is utopianism really such a bad thing? In one way, yes. The word itself, coined by Thomas More, is a Latin pun which means both “no-place” (ou-topia) but also “good-place” (eu-topia); implying a place so good it couldn’t exist. Before and after More, there were attempts by outopian dreamers to craft perfect worlds in which no real problems existed, such projects also tended to be totalitarian and centrally planned societies with little personal freedom.

Yet there have also been attempts to craft future societies which weren’t flawless “end of history” scenarios, but that tried to eliminate the structural conditions which limited personal autonomy and enforced inequality upon people. Such eutopian visionaries mixed a spirit of hopefulness with an attitude of practicality, with one tempering the other. It is this latter tradition that solarpunk tries to take its cues from. So it is not utopian in the negative sense of wanting to design a “perfect” world without any problems – a outopia (no-place) – but it is utopian in imagining a better world which will inspire people to create it in reality – a eutopia (good-place).

So solarpunk is not utopian in the negative sense of wanting to design a “perfect” world without any problems – a outopia (no-place) – but it is utopian in imagining a better world which will inspire people to create it in reality – a eutopia (good-place). It sees utopia as a constant process of approximating an ideal, not reaching a light at the end of a tunnel. Solarpunk acknowledges that our utopia of social liberation and ecological stewardship may never be achieved 100%, but if we at least keep that vision in mind, throwing our efforts into making the world a bit better wherever we can, then at least every step we take towards achieving that utopia will be a step in the right direction. It will be progress, and, for those it positively impacts, liberation.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of utopias.”


72 thoughts on “What is Solarpunk?

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  1. Now I’m going to be a voice of descent here because as I was reading this (as someone predisposed to disagree with solarpunk out of hat) I immediately found myself pondering how this could go wrong, or go right in all the wrong ways. Would there be any institutional means to actively prevent people from hording resources for themselves and not sharing it for the greater good. To me this indicates rather harsh rationing and a surveillance state to prevent people from over-consuming or hording goods.

    Or the idea that a group (country, city-state, whatever) could get uppity and declare themselves as needing to bring their way of life through force of arms upon either less devoted communities or upon communities that have outright rejected it but are otherwise isolationist since there seems to be nothing preventing a sort of ‘solar jingoism’ from arising.

    Another thing is that because it is a direct democracy, what would this society do if the voting populace rejected it in favor of other things? Either the democracy is a farce and the actual seat of power sits with a specific group of technocrats who exist to purely exclude people who might ‘vote against their own best interests’ or the voting populace is too occupied with other things, presumably being stoned out of their gourd or something since it’s not like they’d have meaningful work to occupy their time.

    Seriously. There is only the goal here – and none of how it’s reached or maintained. If anything it reads a bit like the age of decadence preceding everything going to absolute hell in a hand basket.


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  3. I assume solarpunk includes all kinds of ecofriendly and sustainable technology used to harvest and store energy. Other than solar cells, I also find metamaterials able to convert both heat and movements directly to energy. Piezoelectricity for instance, has been suggested as a “forest” of artificial trees that absorb as much wind as possible from all angles (no more conventional windmills). Or “heat cells” able to convert heat into electricity directly from caves deep in the ground or from mirrors concentrating sunlight till it is hot enough to melt steel (mirrors in general is an excellent source to turn sunlight into heat when cooking and otherwise, obviously as long as the sun is up and it doesn’t rain). Graphene has even been shown to be able to convert Brownian motions into energy. And there are cheap waxlike materials that goes from solid to fluid when heated up, and from fluid to solid when it gets colder. Buildings with such materials in the walls would save a lot of energy instead of wasting it on electricity driven temperature regulation. The idea of using flywheels as mechanical batteries for energy storage it also very interesting. No harmful chemicals, just spinning disks floating on magnets inside a vacuum to create as little friction as possible.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It is a brilliantly laid out concept that has been in my own and many other people’s heads for years. Having lived in one of the precursors of this intended community back in the nineties, may I suggest we also keep our minds on how to deal with the leeches, the saboteurs, those of ill-intent who intend to take advantage, destroy, and so on.

    The wonderful place where I lived a while in Spain, where a 70-year-old guest from New Zealand had made a wind-powered electric system from very little, got its garden invaded by a group of pigs, who barged in from who knows where (we were in the middle of Andalusian scrub) destroyed it. Our main gardener feared that was a harbinger of destruction to come, of the people who would come in and destroy this garden of peace, progress and cooperation. He was right, unfortunately. Eventually the number of leeches and destroyers and quite evil people, it turned out, overwhelmed the fragile though beautiful ecosystem. When I went back there a couple of years later, there was nothing at all, not a piece of a building, not a shred of bamboo or clay. It was as if it had never even existed anywhere but in my dreams.

    So, though I really, really have had enough of anger and do want us all to share our knowledge and share everything that is instead designed to control and make profit of us, and I do believe we have to work towards this “practical utopianism”, no, we MUST live it in every moment we can, we must also always think of how to defend it from the pigs who come in and destroy the garden. We must make this strong and well-defended.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I experienced a some similar things, in diferent places Valentina. Two things come my mind as I’ve read your comment;

      1 I reckon that anima and animus have a lot to do with this but more so the fact that people have to realise and recognise their own shade/shadow, if it needs to be brought to attention and remedied. get it done. and

      2 If you are growing, living and breading and you cannot defend yourself ir offend or harass others to protect yourself, you bacome food(or get consumed..) ny something or someone else…


  5. “restructuring society to function more like ecology: non-hierarchical”

    Ecology is the most brutal and hierarchical thing ever. Have you ever seen a nature documentary? Overall, I still like the overall solarpunk proposal. Though you will never be able to eliminate the entire hierarchical nature of reality without causing the destruction of humankind in a soviet fashion. As long as there is no government involved, Im fine with it.


    1. Nature documentaries full of things killing each other are not exactly an accurate picture of the underlying structure of ecology.

      For the same reason commercials are not an accurate picture of the product they’re advertising.


  6. A kind soul in the fediverse better known as Mastodon only just introduced me to the term Solarpunk and now I’m puzzled: Some of the imminent future SciFi I’m writing ( troim-Kryzl.biz or details ) might qualify, especially my most recently published novel Think-o-mat and my ongoing WIP, perhaps even the 1kYears series. Any chance any of you guys might review and provide me with feedback? Any platforms of choice, for meeting fellow Solarpunk writers? Thanks a lot!


    1. There’s two decent Facebook groups which contain a couple of solarpunk writers.

      One is simply called Solarpunk, the other is called Solarpunk Collective.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks a lot for your prompt feedback. I’m not on Facebook because they’re unwilling to accept the absence of photo ID associated with a pen name, but I’ll manage.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I know biopunk has been considered dark and dystopian, but I wonder if solarpunk is the next step forward on the use of biotechnologies towards a more positive future?? A utopian biopunk future I guess


  8. I love this idea! It’s perfect for a story I am working on.
    The basic design of the world in my story is one where all of the nature spirits and various nature gods/goddesses are either missing or dead. After the humans get back into harmony with nature through the use of technology, new spirits and new gods/goddesses are born.
    Anyone have suggestions on the new spirits or gods/goddesses?
    Think things like Old Man River becomes Maiden Aqueduct.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes, yes, indubitably yes! I feel like I’ve been clumsily trying to articulate a genre-aethstetic like this for years!

    The issue of Practical Utopianism–Eutopia vs. Outopia–is an important point– not just because we want to create better futures within our possibility, but also because societies with conflict make for great stories! Fights against older polities, factional conflict over what direction the better world should take, crimes, conspiracies…practical utopianism lets us have our better worlds while still allowing their characters to go through danger and thrills.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Omg I had no idea there was a name for this. I’ve been thinking of a setting that’s damn near this for years. The “what if” full of realized idealism instead of despair or either a future turning out bright because humanity finally pulls it’s head out of the sand or arising from the ashes of prior failure, a sort of Age of the Phoenix. Thank you so much for writing this up and giving words to something I’ve thought about for years!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I really like do like this positive vision of the future, it’s important to be realistic about logistics and the limitations of alternative energy though. Even if we started implementing tech now (which should’ve been done decades ago), we’d still have to face the possibility of resource limitations (minerals etc), and nothing currently will ever replace oil at current consumption capacity. To avert disaster would require a mass transition effort and global shift in consciousness yesterday. We’re basically at a point where it’s make or break in using what we have left. Haha I feel like a downer because i’s a genuinely cool idea that I’d like to see come into fruition.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. hi connor im really glad of your way of exposig each part of this movement, i want to ask you if i can translated to spanish and i would like to use it to spread the concept, im from argentina, and would love to share some ideas with you thank you!


    1. Greenpunk was something which was talked about a little on the Internet, but which never really got off the ground.

      I appears solarpunk might be becoming what greenpunk aspired to be.

      Also, what few bits of greenpunk fiction/arts exist seem to focus on post-apocalyptic scenarios. Whereas solarpunk is all about averting “apocalypse” in the stereotypical sense.


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