Solarpunk in a Time of Coronavirus

how the first global event of our age highlights the need for a new vision of the future

Solarpunk in a Time of Coronavirus
Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

This is not the last crisis faced by my generation, nor is it (remotely) the most severe. While this may dishearten some, for me, the knowledge of where our reality rests fuels my desire to enact change. Several years ago, a fringe movement of artists, writers, anarchists, and philosophers came to my attention — a movement known as Solarpunk. The term refers to the uprising of a punk-like movement intent on overturning the current power structures of the world and replacing them with an egalitarian, socialized, and high-technology future. When I first discovered it, I found myself enamored primarily with the aesthetic — the glimmering solar collectors, the abundant and verdant rooftop gardens, the diversity of people, and the concept of a society which shares the most important progressive values. Still, at the time, I saw it primarily as science-fiction. But, while fiction may be a core part of the movement (as a method for entertainment as well as visualization) it is not the whole. In fact, I believe that the pursuit of a Solarpunk future is exactly what we need.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This is how it begins. We’re aware of the empirical fact of climate change. Special-interests have been long fighting to deny it and slyly manipulate people into disbelieving this, but we are facing an undeniable climate catastrophe. The first step toward the future Solarpunk envisions is one of direct action against those elements of private and public life which seek to oppose immediate climate-impact reformation. Businesses which refuse to dramatically reform their operations, governments which hem and haw about delivering immediate internal solutions, and individuals who (for one reason or another) fail to use their positions and privilege to demand the systemic changes we need — all of these need to be immediately shut down. The collective effort against them must be furious and swift, activists and progressive policymakers on the front lines have been able to see this for a while. And yet, are we seeing a real change?

Until now, global efforts to halt climate change have been piddling along at a barely noticeable pace. Some private companies have taken the long view and either altered their operations or deliberately set out with the intention of having positive effect, but far too few of these have been successful in the ways we need (and a fair few have continued to do things behind the scenes which are detrimental to global wellbeing even as they promote good practices elsewhere). And then, along comes COVID-19, the first global pandemic of the first half of the 21st century. In the United States, within just a few weeks, the discussion of supposedly “outrageous” and “ruinous” social practices such as Medicare for All and Universal Basic Income (which presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, respectively, have vocally supported during their time in the public eye) are suddenly being considered in a whole new way. Largely, this is due to the overwhelmingly progressive and traditionally-Democrat policy positions of Senator Bernie Sanders. Since his 2016 race, Senator Sanders has pushed these topics to the fore of the public consciousness, aided by an increasingly-progressive power base within the Democratic party itself.

But what Senator Sanders managed to drag into the limelight, COVID-19 is now cementing as a hard and necessary fact: our societies need to take care of the weakest among us first and foremost and completely because doing so immediately and dramatically effects the wellbeing of the whole.

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash

We need to think outside the box that MSNBC and FOX NEWS attempt to place us within. We need to come together as one caring and united people; we need to have each other’s backs. That’s the next part of the Solarpunk enterprise: uniting around our shared and common truths, around those core principles of mutual support, compassion, and strength. Because we are stronger together than we are apart, this is simply true. It’s only ironic that a Pandemic requiring us to maintain 6ft boundaries at all times is the fulcrum by which we come to this understanding.

Right now, while COVID-19 sweeps the world, potentially disastrous rollbacks of climate action are taking place. China may no longer be able to meet its climate goals, and the same will likely be true of the United States. And yet this actually has very little to do with our fundamental inability to enact immediate climate change, but rather comes down to our willingness to do so. As we are currently observing with the responses to the COVID-19 crisis, our societies are capable of dramatic shifts in policy, action, and habit; we can, in fact, learn not to touch our faces constantly. And, just so, we can, in fact, enact the sort of changes needed to survive the climate crisis. But doing so is a mind-shift, it is a process of altering what we believe to be fundamentally possible and reasonable.

Crisis points like this one are opportunities, even as they are also filled with anxiety and sadness. There is a tendency, when afraid, for human beings to turn to strongmen and conservatism — toward the sorts of values which would strip people of the social protections they need to survive and prosper. But, because of the actions of progressive leaders, we can chose, this time, to take another path. If we unite, we can cast down those pillars of self-interest and power-mongering, and instead take that leap of faith into the only future where humanity flourishes.

In the Solarpunk mindset, the future world depicted is a glorious one, and at first glance it can seem purely fanciful. After all, when conservative and self-serving values dominate, it’s hard to imagine a world where respect, compassion, social support, and network-thinking are the norm. But the future Solarpunk envisions is not far-fetched, or even that extravagant. Solarpunk simply suggests a future where technology, strong social safety nets, and compassionate values have come together for the betterment of our entire ecosystem. Where the governing principle is no longer the accumulation of wealth, but instead the sharing of art, and joy, and learning. Where the whole is made stronger and more prosperous for the strength and prosperity of the individual.

There will be hard times ahead, we cannot deny that, we must not look away. And yet those hard times will pass; we will make it through. The only question is: what sort of world awaits us on the other side? We do have a say in the matter, but we need to make our voices heard.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for as little as $2.50 a month!

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