What if we imagined a better future? And more than that, what if we brought it to life? This is exactly what solarpunk asks us to do—to set aside dystopian, catastrophic visions of the future in favour of optimism and hope.
Originally coined in 2008, solarpunk was proposed as a literary genre where humanity would take the best of technology and marry it to sustainability, offering a future where technological advancements are developed in harmony with nature.
In a solarpunk future, cities are filled with trees and plantlife that support nature in a way that’s integrated into the fabric of the buildings and streets. Architecture incorporates, rather than destroys, nature features. Walkable streets feature trees and even natural streams or waterfalls. People live in communities, not just neighbourhoods, where they work together to shape their relationships to their homes and to each other.
Unlike its cousins—cyberpunk, which offers a dystopian future filled with technology, and steampunk, which reimagines technology in the Victorian era—solarpunk offers a future that not only could be possible, but that we would want to live in.
On the face of it, solarpunk may seem fanciful and unrealistic. Its aesthetic principles are rooted in science fiction—much of solarpunk art and literature features airships and floating buildings. But just because solarpunk triggers our imagination doesn’t mean it’s not rooted in reality. In fact, at its core, solarpunk is about possibility.
Solarpunk goes beyond having more trees in cities or fantasizing about an idealized vision of the future. The core principles of solarpunk are about rebelling against our current systems and creating a movement towards a better future, one that builds new political, social, environmental, and economic systems, and is environmentally and socially just. One that is possible.
A solarpunk future must be transformative. Simply planting trees on skyscrapers is not enough to achieve the best version of our future. Solarpunk requires a transition to green energy, a focus on a sharing economy, a progressive and engaged civil society that centers democracy and social justice. Even though solarpunk looks to the future, it draws from practices that are thousands of years old, particularly those from Indigenous communities.
Some of the promise of solarpunk is being realized today. Biophilic design, which integrates natural vegetation into architectural design, is becoming more common as architects play with form and function. Solarpunk doesn’t have to involve large scale projects. Converting a vacant lot into a garden, opening a seed library to share seeds, putting solar panels on your home—all of these contribute to a solarpunk future.
Achieving a solarpunk future isn’t easy. But hard things are worth doing, and don’t we owe it to ourselves to go beyond our imagination and create our best future?