It might seem counter-intuitive, but Coleridge’s famous line from the Ancient Mariner could also apply to the desert. Even in some of the driest places on earth, the air holds thousands of litres of fresh water that have remained tantalisingly inaccessible. Until now. Scientists at MIT and the University of California at Berkeley have created a device that can suck water from the air. Even better: it’s solar-powered. So, even in the most remote, arid deserts it can harvest drinking water from the atmosphere.
Posts tagged solarpunk
You know, even if I was interested playing the Solarpunk setting as straight as possible, it would still probably come out looking like a pretty unpleasant place to live, and that has everything to do with the kind of character I enjoy writing.
See, I think even the most idyllic society would have people who Just Aren’t Happy There. Who feel trapped, or don’t fit in, or fall through the cracks, or whatever. And that there are more explanations for why than just “these people are wrong and probably not very nice either.” Those outliers are the people I like writing about, and who I keep returning to again and again, in every setting, no matter how objectively good/okay/shitty the wider world is. Hell, I even (sometimes especially) like writing about them when they are Wrong or Not Nice.
I like creating and consuming stories about these people trying to carve, scrape, or smash a space for themselves in worlds that never seemed to hold them. Or smashing themselves/turning liquid to fit. Even if they don’t succeed. Even if they don’t survive. (Again, maybe especiallyin those latter cases.)
I’ve always been less than uninterested in fiction that only asks “how do we make an ideal world?” I want fiction that takes it for granted that “ideal” and “world” barely belong in the same sentence, and then asks, “what then?”
And I guess that’s my favorite thing about writing. Taking any kind of world, and asking it, “what then?”
This kind of stuff is why I don’t like the formulation of solarpunk as utopic. A space in which people are generally trying to do things better, with limited resources in every sense, is a space where people willfail to fit in, will suffer, sometimes unjustly, will make mistakes.
I think your sense of “solarpunk played straight” and stories about these kinds of characters would be fantastic, because it gets precisely to the point that there’s a never-ending supply of nuance and exception that will always result in conflicts and will always feature people worthy of an exceptional effort of compassion and understanding. Sometimes their communities will fail them, and that’s worth exploring too. I think what would make a story like that solarpunk is when it’s clear that the community could have, and should have, done better. What’s less so is when the community’s failure is inevitable, based on immutable prior conditions.
There’s no such thing as a singular ideal world. There aren’t even going to be singular ideal communities, but to even get close to that we need to accept that the precise mechanics of improvement will vary wildly from place to place, time to time, people to people.
Solarpunk doesn’t hope to depict a world with no suffering, because that’s an unachievable goal and efforts to reach it converge on fascism. Solarpunk hopes to build widespread conventions of compassion and innovation that mean fewer people suffer, and that people suffer less.
It sounds like you’ve got exactly the attitude necessary to tell compelling stories about a world that is trying to improve and succeeding, but is still a world made of people with all the variety and pain that that will always entail.
It’s not quite solarpunk but for a good example of this kind of thinking I recommend Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom,” which is about a post-scarcity civilization in which everybody’s needs are comprehensively met, but in which the protagonist suffers because he’s an asshole and he makes bad decisions. It’s possible to read that story, empathize with the protagonist, and still recognize that almost anybody would choose that world over this one and be better off for it.
Another good one is “Pacific Edge,” in which the major emotional conflict involves heartache – which certainly isn’t going anywhere.
That’s all not to mention the fruitful territory for stories about people fighting and winning against the neoliberal hellscape that is the world as it exists today, which is where on the timeline I think the heart of solarpunk is, but even best-case scenario, post-solarpunk worlds where the communities of the world are generally collaborating toward peace and sustainability, there will be people who are unhappy.
That’s okay. Almost good, even – in the sense that pursuits toward the alternative, again, converge on fascism.
I really hope you don’t feel like your interest in exploring experiences of othering, alienation, and exclusion mean that you can’t write stories that fit comfortably in with solarpunk. These realities – that better isn’t perfect, that there are painful steps in between here and better, that any system has margins and therefore marginalization – they’re all extremely important, core complexities, and I think exploring these real life complications, with which all optimistic movements have to grapple, is one of the highest kinds of meaningful storytelling solarpunk can aspire to.
The world around your protagonist doesn’t need to be an expansion on, or reflection of, their inner state. Solarpunk says it shouldn’t be. The world goes on around you in all its nuance and complexity as you, in all your nuance and complexity, move within it. You don’t need an empty world to show a person who’s lonely. You don’t need a horde of zombies to show someone who’s enraged. We all know it’s not the case that the world getting better generally means we personally are each guaranteed a proportionate and evenly distributed increase in baseline pleasure. We shouldn’t write like it has to be.
I’d really love to read your “Playing solarpunk straight” stories.
My reply got pretty long, so it’s under the jump!
This is a great response, and I really enjoyed reading it!
I think the point I’m most interested in from your response is this one:
the only way to really keep things from going bad in the long term is to occasionally step back and figure out if what we’re doing is still working. But that’s another thing we’re kind of bad at, for all the reasons I mentioned… Well, in this entire post.
It reminded me of the argument some philosophers have made that we’re at the “End of history” – that large Liberal Democracies are the final form of politics and we’re going to be living with them forever because we’ve “found the right answer.”
To my mind, frequently stepping back and asking “Did this work? Is it still working?” is vital for effective political movements. For example, I think of solarpunk as being a post-”is this working” revision to Original Flavor punk, because capitalism turned out to be more capable than expected of commodifying aesthetics that are hostile to commodification.
I also want to add that I don’t think most solarpunks think all fiction needs to be optimistic. Cautionary views are important and valuable. Solarpunk emphasizes optimism because we got frustrated that “things get worse for everyone” seems to be the onlynarrative going right now in speculative fiction.
Hey, no problem! I love discussing and pontificating and whatnot.
End of History! One of those things I always forget has its own name, argh. And yeah, I guess that’s something I always have at the back of my mind when I’m doing worldbuilding. That any given type of setting is just another link in the chain, and the center won’t hold forever. And there probably isn’t any kind of stable end we’re heading towards, and that’s probably okay.
Oh, I didn’t mean Solarpunk specifically! I just meant it’s something that gets knocked around in certain Internet Writer circles, and it gets on my nerves a little because I don’t really find light! and uplifting! fiction particularly fun or satisfying to read or write.
I also don’t think downbeat things have to be cautionary, and actually prefer it when they aren’t. I think I mentioned before on here that “do that!” and “don’t do that!” in fiction usually come from the same, fairly obnoxious place, and are often in complete agreement with each other. I don’t really like stories that tell you how to think of them, or telling people how to think about my stories in-text. I like when the narrative/setting/characters re just presented as they are without comment, so the reader can draw their own conclusions.
So yeah, “everything will get worse for everyone!” is as heavy-handed as “FUTURE GOOD!” I’m more fond of “people will always be people,” or, if I’m quoting song lyrics “change will surely come, and be awful for most but really good for some.” (With the caveat that most changes are about the same that way, within reason. Basically, the relevant example is that a Solarpunk will have just as much inconvenience and bullshit as our own, but it’ll be different inconvenience and bullshit.)
“#SOLARPUNK is a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?” The aesthetics of solarpunk merge the practical with the beautiful, the well-designed with the green and wild, the bright and colorful with the earthy and solid. Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en route to a better world — but never dystopian. As our world roils with calamity, we need solutions, not warnings. Solutions to live comfortably without fossil fuels, to equitably manage scarcity and share abundance, to be kinder to each other and to the planet we share.
So what happens when you cross blockchains and internet of things? One outcome is buzzword overload. In the coLAB, we don’t like that very much. We like to make things tangible, and we learn what’s possible by building prototypes.So we built a proof of concept solar panel kit that automatically creates renewable energy certificates as it generates power. Why energy? What are renewable energy certificates? Let us explain.