Ten Things About Solarpunk

I wanted to write about Solarpunk in English for a while, now. Originally I was planning on starting with translation of my Solarpunk Worldbuilding essays. But I do feed, that I want to talk about something else, first.

Now, I should start off, that I absolutely love Solarpunk and want to work towards a Solarpunk world. I absolutely think, that this is more than just a literary and art genre, but it is a way forward. Hope for a better future, compared to what other SciFi offers. But there are also some other things within the Solarpunk genre, that I deeply appreciate, like the respect towards indigenous knowledge and communities. And of course, there is also the political aspect of Solarpunk and how it is more than just fiction.

But… Within the Solarpunk community, I will again and again encounter certain mindsets, that I feel are at times not productive – at worst just counter the mindset.

Capitalism will never lead to Solarpunk

One thing I will always encounter within Solarpunk spaces, is the yearning to have things work under capitalism. This is mostly a fault of the education system and media. As it is said: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of capitalism.” And this obviously shows in this attitude. So people will defend capitalism, will come up with explanations on how it could work (maybe UBI will help), and will find reasons, why it has to work.

One of the reasons, that keeps getting brought up is: “But if renewables get cheaper, capitalism has to favor them! And climate change will be expensive, so it has to be in the interest of capital to prevent it.” But those kinds of arguments misunderstand core parts of capitalism.

The first argument assumes, that the “invisible hand of the market” is actually a true thing. Which it isn’t. In this case it isn’t, because it assumes that the capital used for investment into the energy market is liquid, meaning, that those who own this capital can use it as they please. But it isn’t. Energy investors have their capital mostly already bound in coal, oil and gas. And to liquidate the money, they would need to sell – but who would buy it? It is a bit like in the good old “Sell their houses to whom, Ben? Fucking Aquaman?” joke from Hbomberguy. If there are new investors coming into the market, they would go for the renewables, yes, but there are not that many new investors. So, everyone who has investment in coal and gas and oil right now has all the reason to keep those industries going as long as possible, because otherwise they will lose a lot of money.

As for the argument about the costs of climate change, it does misunderstand incentives within the market. Because here is the thing: Capitalism is not an economic system that works on a long scale. What capitalism cares about is, the money that your company makes in the next quarter, the next year, maybe the next three years. But nothing after that. Investors want their dividends to pay out. So if you have a year in which you invest heavily in sustainable technology and hence make less money as a company (because of the high investments your company made) your investors will want to sell – and you will lose money.

It is just that the incentives of capitalism work both against sustainability, and against a just world for everyone in it. Because outside of the fact that capitalism is not sustainable on an economical level, we have to realize that capitalism as it is right now only works because of worker exploitation both domestically and especially in the global south. Hence, capitalism cannot and will not work together with solarpunk. Because its incentives are diametrically opposed to those of Solarpunk.

Just let go of fusion energy

A thing that is much less about idealism and such and more about another lie that we tell ourselves, is the question of fusion energy. Because it is the one thing that people keep hoping on. That fusion energy is just around the corner and then we will have unlimited cheap energy and nothing needs to change! But… this is nothing but an illusion.

There is a reason, that fusion energy gets so hyped by media – and this again is capitalist incentives. Because fusion energy would indeed mean, that nothing much needs changing. There would still be big power plants owned by big capital that would still send out and sell that energy through a macro grid and everyone can consume energy as much as they want to, because now it is forever clean.

But here is the thing: I grew up on the promise of fusion energy. It was always just a couple of years around the corner. But it never came. The big break through never came. Instead a ton of money was pumped into this research to keep this hope alive. Money, that would have done so much better, if it had been put into other forms of energy research. Just look at the break throughs we have had on photovoltaic during those last ten years. And then compare it to the rather lackluster news coming out of fusion.

What needs to happen instead, is to rely more on microgrids, rethink the way we use energy and find a more diverse energy mix that is going to work. The longer we wait with rebuilding our energy grid, the harder it will become in the end.

Stop being ableist

Okay, let me get one big issue I have with a ton of Solarpunk spaces out of the door: Solarpunk tends to be very ableist in a variety of ways. So far, at times, that it goes into eugenics. And that, my dear readers, is not a very good look on the community.

What do I mean by that? Well, in general it goes with certain kinds of prescriptive action. Things like “no cars, only bikes and public transport”, “no meat for anyone”, “everyone grows their own food” and so on leave out the needs of disabled and chronically ill people. Not everyone can ride by bike for a variety of disability reasons, just as not everyone can comfortably use public transport. Some people will still need cars to participate in society.

Same goes for meat. Not everyone can healthily give up meat. Some, because they have a ton of allergies. Others, because they cannot digest a lot of plant based foods. Others, because they are picky eaters for psychological reasons. Just telling those people to “get over it” is just ableist as well.

And again the same for things that are about growing your own food, cooking your own food and so on and so forth. It is just not possible for everyone and folks need to accept that.

Of course then people will go and say: “But it is future! It is technology! Maybe medicine can solve those things.” And that… is just plain eugenics. Not every disabled person needs to be “healed”. Just because it would make your personal version of utopia more attainable, does not mean that “healing” disabled people, would be good or right. Sure, some people really want to get rid of their disabilities. But not everyone does. Forcing it on them is eugenics, nothing else.

Respect Indigenous tradition

When it comes to Indigenous tradition, Solarpunk often has some issues. Because on one hand, Solarpunk does love Indigenous culture – at times overidealizing the way that Indigenous people “lived in synch with nature”. Something that in of itself often starts to go into positive racism, by stereotyping Indigenous cultures into “noble savage” archetypes. But the appreciation of Indigenous cultures also often stops at certain points, when a lot of Solarpunks suddenly feel they need to push their own views onto Indigenous people.

Again, here comes the issue of meat consumption again. Because sadly some folks within Solarpunk spaces want to push for an all-vegan future. But meat consumption and hunting is part of quite a few Indigenous cultures – and that is their right. They should not have to stop their traditional practices, just because some people feel bad about dead animals. Especially as those practices rarely did endanger animal species, but rather helped to cull them.

The same issue arises in other parts as well. Just one thing that has only happened last year, was, that Indigenous people protested on renewable power plants (in this case wind farms) being build on their land. Which, again, is their right. It is their land, they should get to decide what gets build there and what doesn’t. If some of their sacred grounds are tabu for such projects, we have to respect that and build those projects somewhere else.

Solarpunk cannot be colonialist

Following on the last point, we really have to remember that we cannot just be colonialist again under the guise of guiding progression. This is an outlook I see quite often with white people, who are within some sort of progressive or technological movement: Judging other cultures without understanding them and from that trying to better them is just a form of colonialism.

This does not mean to accept anything from other cultures. No, of course we should not accept things like child marriage and genocide, because two groups of people have a blood feud going on for hundreds of years.

But we should not force our own cultural ideas into any form of other culture and in the same vein we have no right, to just appropriate other cultures. Another thing that is sadly very common to see. Instead of learning from indigenous and other cultures, people think they have just a right to appropriate that knowledge, giving nothing in exchange to the other cultures. Often enough not even proper recognition.

Humanity will never be areligious

This one kinda comes directly from the last point. Many solarpunks idealize spiritual religions – while outright bashing the religions they are actually familiar with. In many cases the anger is gonna be directed towards Abrahamic religions, which is kinda understandable, as a lot of people have religious trauma stemming from abuse from those religions. Not only that, but we also see how many evils arise mostly from Christianity and Islam, when we watch bigots manage to push their bigoted believes into laws by using their religion as an excuse or when we see women and other minorities suppressed in the name of religion. Hence, when we imagine an utopia, we imagine it without bigotry and because our view of these religions is so closely tied to this bigotry, we imagine it without it.

But here is the issue: The idea of religion dying is in itself an idea of oppression, because what you are saying is, that nobody who is religious has a place in your utopia. And I know it is for some hard to imagine, but a lot of people, who are not bigoted, who might be very marginalized and suppressed themselves, are religious and believe in the Abrahamic God and Jesus or Muhammed and use those sacred texts as a guide to their lives. And yes, if you want to end religion – you are oppressing those people as well.

And I need to address at this point: Then a lot of people are like “Yeah, but Shinto. Shinto is nice, right? We are okay with Shinto.” But there are multiple problems, though it mostly boils down to one: Most people who say this know next to nothing about Shinto, except a couple of things they picked up from anime. Because, guess what, in the history of Japan – Japan, the country this religion is completely linked to – Shinto, too, was used to suppress people. Because all sorts of ideologies, especially those calling back to the supernatural, can be used as tools of suppression.

Humans have for one reason or another evolved to find higher meaning in things. We just have evolved to believe in something. And let’s face it, even non-religious folks do believe in things easily disproven. (Just think of capitalists believing in the invisible hand of the market.) Because it turns out, our brains are hardwired in believing in things making sense. And that is alright. Instead of fighting against religion, we should instead strive into turning this into something positive. Religion can also be inspiration to strive towards more inclusivity and to better protect the planet. Thinking about it that way is more constructive than wanting to destroy it. And if you believe that religion is always a tool of oppression, please remember that a lot of atheists are misogynistic, queerphobic, racist pricks. You do not need religion to be an asshole.

Trees on houses are actually not great

Okay, let’s switch to a more light hearted topic. We all know the usual Solarpunk aesthetic, right? Green cities. There are trees everywhere. So much plants. And trees. Did I mention all the trees? On the streets. On the houses. On balconies. There are trees everywhere.

Well, I am here to tell you: Trees on houses look nice, but they are actually a pretty bad idea. Because what you do not see is: Every tree you see in real life, is only half the tree. The other half are the roots in the ground and they go down often for meters. And the tree needs those roots to be that deep and long to be a good and healthy tree. But, if you plant a tree on a house, you have basically only two possible outcomes: Either the tree is unhealthy, because it cannot root as deep as it needs to, or the tree goes “fuck this” and roots through the roof and walls, making the house at least all drippy, at worst instable.

And look, I know, trees are fucking cool. But there are other cool plants, too. Greening the cities is a great thing, but instead of using trees or bushes, that would root deep, use mosses instead, grasses or maybe climbing plants, that have evolved to grow on walls of all sorts. Leave the trees on the grounds, where they can root.

We need to rethink conservation

Another aspect that goes deep into the roots of Solarpunk is conservation. Because Solarpunk as a movement is very much also about conserving nature and, even more, working on allowing the world to recover from what humanity has done to it. But a lot of conservation efforts are very short sighted and more based on emotions, than on evidence.

A good example of this is the conservation of animals. When we think of conservation of animals, we will think about pandas, elephants, lions and maybe whales. What we do not think about are bugs and small animals. We do not think about birds, that are not colorful parrots or mighty eagles. But often those animals are more important to the ecosystem over all, than the pandas and elephants are.

Another part of this is, too, that a lot of conservation conversations are focused on the direct hunting of animals. About poaching. About folks who go on safari and shoot animals. And often enough also about indigenous hunting practices. But here is the thing: Those things are for the most part not, what endangers the animals. A lot of animals are rather endangered by climate change, deforestation, loss of habitat in general and issues within the food chain.

There have been several studies now, on how controlled safari hunting can actually be used to help conservation – but it is something many people do not want to hear. Just as for example indigenous whale hunting is not the problem, overfishing is. For once because some whales loose there prey, also because they are getting caught in nets. In the same vane as many whales suffer from noise pollution in the oceans and the climate chance

One other part of conservation, that a lot of people do not want to think about, is how we deal with stray pets – especially cats in those parts of the world, where they are not native and work as an invasive species. Yet, a lot of people care more about the cats, than they care about some sort of wild birds or mice species.

Conservation needs to be more than the fight for the lives of the cute or cool animals – it needs to be a fight for the bugs and weird moles.

Solarpunk needs to be more than technology and green things

Now, Solarpunk as a movement tends to be more left leaning and progressive, which is a good thing. Yet, we absolutely do see that it is kinda two different movements – and one of them is very white, which a lot of noted problems root back to. There is a part of the Solarpunk movement, that is mostly enamored with the ideas of the technology and the aesthetics, but are not very interested in what kind of societal change would be needed to make all of that possible. Those are also those most likely, to still to believe that capitalism and Solarpunk are somehow compatible.

But it is even more than getting rid of capitalism that needs to happen. Solarpunk as a movement needs to understand the harm done to marginalized folks in the past and how those harms are able to still reach into modern day and will reach on into a future, if we do not break that circle. The long lasting suppression of a lot of marginalized communities is based in capitalism and its closeness to fascism. Capitalism needs an underclass to exploit. It needs the free labor of women. It needs outcast groups within society, to do the “dirty work” needed to keep the system running. It needs other places it can exploit for its resources. While other groups are marginalized for their inability to participate in capitalism.

Which is, why Solarpunk needs to be progressive, inclusive and intersectional. It needs to decolonialize. Because all of this – the destruction of nature, capitalism and all the forms of racism, ableism, sexism and queermisia – are very much based in the same way of thinking. And if we do not overcome all of it, it will linger. And yes, this will take several generations to reach that goal. But the same can be said for the decarbonization.  

Degrowth is key

Solarpunk will not happen under capitalism. Solarpunk will not happen, without centrally rethinking the way we exist within our world, both with nature and with other human beings. But outside from being more inclusive and more progressive, we also need to degrow. This is part of the aspect of getting rid of capitalism – but it also means, that we do need to rethink the way our future is set up in so many ways.

Now, I think many Solarpunks will welcome anything like the right to repair and getting rid of fast fashion. But it will also mean, not owning everything yourself. Yes, there will be stuff everyone needs for themselves – but this does not include everything. A lot will need to happen via libraries and community owned things. It might also mean, not having access to all the food all year around, just as it might mean something that is not always super technological and scifi, if actually old tech might suffice much better. It could also mean, that our media landscape will look drastically different, because without current capitalist incentives it will. Instead of blockbuster movies and AAA gaming, there might be more smaller scale indie stuff. Just a lot of stuff that currently only exists first and foremost to make imaginary numbers go up will not exist in that way anymore.

A lot of people talk about degrowth, but do not really realize, what it would mean. True, for a lot of poor people degrowth life would mostly mean, that they were gonna have clothing that lasts and electric products, they can repair. But it will affect so many parts of our lives and part of it will not quite overlap with the high-tech cottagecore lifestyle, that a lot of Solarpunk aesthetics advertise. It will still be a good life – but a good life for everyone also means, that certain things for those better off (which on a global scale a lot people in first world countries are) need to change. Not for the worse, but they need to change. We need to stop just consuming, and this will mean for many to rethink how to live.