A Failure of Imagination

A GIF of SpongeBob waving his hands to create a rainbow and saying "Imagination."

Critics of climate action or environmental justice often resort to calling those of us wanting a solarpunk future unrealistic or dreamers. They do this while saying that a liveable climate or dignity for everyone living here can only be achieved if we find away to make it square with the current dominant economic model. I think imagination is critical if we’re to come out of the other side of the climate crisis, but I don’t think we should be letting imaginary constructs stand in the way of saving real things like the biosphere.

Despite the spurious claims of social Darwinists, human society has been devised by humans, and as Ursula K. Le Guin said, “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” It isn’t set in stone. Adrienne Maree Brown has talked about how the status quo started in the imagination of someone. The economy and even money itself are fictions made manifest by collective belief. As Baratunde Thurston said, there is no inherent value to a piece of cloth with $1 inscribed upon it.

I really started thinking about this during the recent roller coaster regarding the Build Back Better bill and Inflation Reduction Act. I couldn’t grok how anyone could stand in the way of meaningful climate legislation over imaginary things like inflation and the economy. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, I just get so frustrated when people are telling me to be realistic when they’re trying to prop up a corrupt system built of smoke and mirrors as if “There Is No Alternative.” I’m not a big proponent of having a federal government, but if you do have one, then they should be addressing existential threats. This sort of nonsense would’ve annoyed me before, but, now that I have a kid, this kindled a rage for people who would purposefully endanger my child’s chances of having a liveable planet that I didn’t know was possible.

From XKCD: https://xkcd.com/386/

When faced with such entrenched opponents clinging to the last vestiges of a harmful system, we could try to face them head on and tell them the error of their ways. This is my first impulse, as someone who is quick to rush in when “someone is wrong on the internet.” However, I think solarpunk gives us a better way forward.

We could keep railing against the status quo and expend our energy there, or we can work to collectively imagine a better future and do the work to make our way there. That doesn’t mean there won’t be struggles, or that we shouldn’t ever confront oppression when we see it. It does mean that burnout (and failure) will come quickly if we only ever fight against things instead of for something. We need a future we can believe in if we’re going to end the harm of our present.

I’m planning to both imagine and build a better future. I hope you’ll join me.


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Arboreality – A Review

The book cover of Arboreality. The title is written in gold font on a hunter green background. This looks like an old leather book cover with a burnt bottom right half revealing botanical drawings and "by Rebecca Campbell" on the "first page" underneath the cover.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Arboreality, but Campbell really pulled off multiple perspectives in a short book, which is no small feat. I was anxious about how well head hopping across time would work without something the length of a Sandersonesque tome, but by keeping the geographic scope limited and the characters within a few degrees of separation of each other, the narrative stays tight enough to stay invested in the outcome.

This book also does a good job of walking the line between climate apocalypse and everything was fine because of some hand wavy solution. Things are pretty rough throughout the book, but it does feel like things are slowly getting better. Wildfires, future pandemics, and sea level rise are just some of the issues facing our protagonists.

What I really appreciated is that there is no one hero to save us from climate change. The characters can’t save the world on their own. What they can do is plant seeds, both literal and figurative, for the next generation. That’s what spoke to me in this book. It really brought the concept of being a good ancestor to life, something my own ancestors might have thought of as “cathedral thinking.”

At this point, a certain amount of warming is baked into the climate system and I’m not going to see things return to “normal.” If you and I each do our own part to make the world a little better than we left it though, maybe my kid will see a stable climate or the next generation after them. I really puts all the struggles we’ve faced in the climate movement into perspective and makes them feel worth fighting even though they often don’t feel like enough.

If you even have the slightest care for future generations, do yourself a favor and read this book!

Thanks to Stelliform Press for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.


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Hundred Rabbits – Real Life Tidalpunks

Two humans wearing rabbit masks complete with large ears stand on a rocky outcrop with barren trees and a vast sky in the background. There are mountains in the background as well with cumulus clouds above.
The Rabbits

You may have noticed that I’m somewhat obsessed with tidalpunk around here, but since I hadn’t even seen the ocean until I was in my 20s, I’m probably not the best person for advice about how to actually be a tidalpunk. This is where you would be better served by the artist collective, Hundred Rabbits.

Hundred Rabbits is an ocean-faring duo writing energy efficient software and finding ways to better mesh life on a sailboat with tech work. They’ve documented much of what they’ve learned on subjects like living off grid, why they’ve developed their own software tools, and how you can shop for your very own sailboat to live the tidalpunk life.

We talk a lot about keeping gadgets going longer and designing them for repairability here, and Hundred Rabbits are living that out in a much more extreme environment than we have here in central Virginia. According to their stated philosophy, “We target 20 years old hardware as to encourage recyclism and discourage the consumption of fashionable electronics.” They’re really hitting the Reduce and Reuse parts of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The fact they also use a 2010 MacBook Pro as one of their main machines makes me even more excited to have been introduced to their work.

Are there any other tidalpunks out there that you’ve run across? Are you going to buy a boat and join them yourself? Let us know in the comments!


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The Deep – A Review

A mermaid with a shark-like tail floats upright in the water. A whale, sailfish, and several other aquatic animals are in the background. The title of the book, "The Deep" is at the top, and the bottom has the authors listed, "Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Johnathan Snipes."

The Deep covers a number of different themes in such a rich way that it seems impossible it could be as short as it is. I personally really resonated with how the main character, imbued with the memory of their people, runs away from this duty because it is killing her. Much like Atlas bolted when Hercules gave him the chance, Yetu can’t take it anymore. When coupled with the environmental and human (mermaid?) rights themes of this book, I couldn’t help but think of how many people have burned out of activism while fighting to make the world a better place.

Yetu’s struggle with balancing her own well-being and that of her people is really the conflict here, with the fate of the world dependent on one person. The story didn’t pull any emotional punches and hit me a lot harder than any typical farmboy with a sword narrative might.

I also really love that the story didn’t end in the traditional, singular sacrifice of our hero, but in a more collaborative solution that was far better for Yetu and her people. It felt optimistic, but realistic, and was a welcome change to the one person saves the world on their own narrative even if Yetu’s own actions are a critical piece of that solution.

Despite the short length, the characters beyond Yetu held their own and felt like real people, not just cardboard cutouts there to advance the plot, which I’ve sometimes found to be the case in novellas.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It deals with some heavy stuff, but makes you feel like anything is possible if you don’t try to do it all on your own. It’s definitely going on my list of tidalpunk recommendations.


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Weird Fishes – A Review

Weird Fishes by Rae Mariz was a wonderful journey that reminded me of how I felt the first time I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a kid. This book is definitely going on my recommendations list for tidalpunk literature, as it very deftly addresses climate change and its effects on the ocean without feeling preachy.

The story is an interesting take on the buddy genre, pairing a sheltered octopod scientist with an emotionally-vibrant and well-traveled mermaid. Amusing and profound interactions between the two characters help them grow as individuals while they investigate the cause and solution to slowing ocean currents.

Mariz’s prose is beautiful and evokes a true feeling of wonder and connectedness to the ocean. Clever twists on common turns of phrase remind you that the main characters aren’t human, and the interplay of the many different species of the ocean gives hints at the biodiversity teeming below the surface. There’s even a cameo by 52 Blue, the “world’s loneliest whale.”

This book helps you remember that we came from the sea and that it still exerts an emotional pull on us like the tide. One of my favorite lines from the book is “People carry the ocean inside them. On an upright fishbone spine sits the soul of an octopus.” Not every line in the book is that poetic, but I feel that encapsulates my feelings when I read this book.

While I wholeheartedly enjoyed this book, it isn’t for everyone. The book doesn’t shy away from the real world consequences of microplastics, commercial fishing, and warming oceans. Many creatures die, often in graphic, but not prolonged, ways. This book also has a content warning for sexual assault.

If you’re looking for a tidalpunk read that rekindles your love for the ocean, I can’t recommend Weird Fishes enough. If you’ve read any good tidalpunk books lately, let us know down below! I just started The Deep by Rivers Solomon and hope to report back on it soon!


Thanks to Stelliform Press for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

If you’d like to support the blog, please use the affiliate link to the book above, or consider supporting us on Comradery, a cooperatively-owned patronage platform.

Revisiting Offshore Wind

A large wind farm consisting of many large, three-bladed wind turbines sits in the ocean. The waves are a choppy dark blue and black while the sky is a light blue.
Windmills in the Ocean

Offshore wind is going to be a big part of our clean energy future, and if you like podcasts, you’ll really want to listen to Windfall, a mini series from Outside/In. Windfall follows the development of the US offshore wind energy from the ill-fated Cape Wind project up through the approval of Vineyard Wind. This is a great explainer for why the US is so far behind Europe and China in the offshore wind space.

One thing I really appreciated about the podcast was its nuanced take on some of the drawbacks of offshore wind while still showing it as an important climate solution. The ocean is a big place, but siting an offshore wind project in a way that promotes a just transition is no easy feat. Some areas contain indigenous cultural heritage (Cape Wind) while others impact fisherfolk who’ve been plying their trade for centuries (Vineyard Wind). Now that oil companies are fronting as clean energy pioneers, are we going to let them repeat the same injustices with a shiny green wrapper? The podcast stops short of offering answers.

I’ve mentioned before that offshore wind has the potential to be a great resource in a tidalpunk future, but that I wasn’t sure how to fit the billion dollar megaprojects into a *punk framework. Just after listening to Windfall, I found out that Denmark, one of the leaders in the offshore wind space, actually requires 20% of any new wind project to be community owned, and the Middelgrunden installation is actually 50% cooperatively owned. Scotland is another place where community ownership of renewables, including offshore wind, is revitalizing communities that had been in decline for decades.

Offshore wind will generate cheap, renewable energy a lot more consistently than land-based turbines, but we need to hold those building these facilities accountable so we don’t see a repeat of the injustices baked into our current energy system.

Do you know of other solutions to deploy renewables while avoiding handouts to the same old energy companies we love to hate? Share with us in the comments below!

RadRunner Plus Long Term Review

A step-through ebike sits on a shared path. Trees and grass line the edges as it curves off to the right in the distance.
My Radrunner Plus on the John Warner Parkway Trail in Charlottesville

After having my RadRunner Plus for nearly two years, I thought it was time for a long term review. Getting an ebike isn’t a small financial decision, and I was both excited and a little nervous spending what I did to pre-order a brand new model of ebike. Some of you out there might be on the fence about whether to get an ebike yourself, so I hope this helps in some way.

From hauling groceries, taking things to the recycling center, selling crafts at the farmers market, or going to the park with my kid, the RadRunner Plus has made biking around town an option for me. The electric assist makes me feel much safer when having to contend with traffic since the speed differential is much lower than when I was still riding my traditional bike.

Riding the bike is still a little less convenient than driving a car around Charlottesville, but it is a lot more fun. I need to plan my routes more carefully than if I were driving, and parking the bike can be a hassle since most places have plenty of car storage but no place to stick a bike securely.

Bike theft isn’t a huge problem in Charlottesville, but an acquaintance and his wife had their RadRunner Plus and RadWagon stolen not too long ago, so I’ve been a little more anxious with respect to parking the bike lately. If you’re worried about bike theft, I’d recommend this episode of the Bike Here podcast.

I kept my bike in front of our townhouse under a motorcycle cover for about a year with no issues, but have since moved it inside. During that time I didn’t really ride the bike since we had the new baby, but everything booted right up when I plugged in the battery despite being out in all weather conditions. I’m not sure if that’s a point in favor of RadPower Bikes or the Pro Bike Tools cover, but good job either way.

There are still certain aspects of riding a bike in America that make it more difficult to just hop on and go versus driving. Helmets aren’t a huge inconvenience, but it’s an added bit of friction compared to taking the car. When I was just riding by myself, I didn’t always wear one, but now that I’ve got a tiny human on board, it’s helmets all around. Despite the inconveniences, I did have two errands last week that I think demonstrate how ebikes can be a great car replacement.

The cat bus from "My Neighbor Totoro." The cat bus is a large orange tabby cat with ten legs that's back looks like the passenger compartment of a bus with open air windows and covered with fur. Two mice with purple glowing eyes make up the marking lights on the top of the cab.
Charlottesville Area Transit’s acronym is CAT

First up was an unexpected run to the pharmacy. I was thinking of taking the bus, but since the bus only comes once an hour it made more sense to grab the bike. While it took a little longer in travel time than driving, I suspect our time door-to-door was similar since there is bike parking next to the pharmacy while the parking garage would’ve taken more time to navigate. The only worry I had was I hadn’t charged the bike and three trips into town stretched the battery to its limits. That’s a range of >25 miles in 80-92ºF (27-33ºC) weather hauling 250 lbs (113 kg) of humans around. I didn’t run the battery down all the way, so I don’t know how much further we might have been able to go. The battery did go empty on my way back from a grocery run before, and I do not recommend it unless you’re really looking for a new fitness regimen.

The second trip was to pickup our CSA from the farmers market. My child and I normally take the car after my wife gets home, but she wasn’t going to be back in time for us to make the farmers market before it closed this time. Ebike to the rescue again. All the vegetables fit in the front delivery bag along with a couple other items I picked up while we were there. Even in the 80s with 76% humidity, the ride was comfortable since on the bike you’ve got a breeze when you’re moving. I think I needed more cooldown time at the end than if I’d driven, but, since the car would have to cool down before it was comfortable, I wasn’t any sweatier if we’d driven.

Image shows the underside of a brown bike seat. The seat is mounted via a solid metal plate instead of the more traditional adjustable seat mount found on most bikes.
This Seat Features Zero Adjustability

The only complaints I have about the RadRunner Plus are the uncomfortable stock seat, the poor options for mounting the headlight if you have a front rack, and the flimsy kickstand. Definitely DO NOT step away from the bike with a kid onboard! I’m looking for a better kickstand solution, but my first pick, the Ursus Jumbo, doesn’t work on 20″ bikes. I decided to give it a go despite the manufacturer recommendations, and I can confirm it doesn’t fit the RadRunner Plus.

If you’re on the fence about getting an ebike, I think you’ll really be impressed what they can do. They are definitely going to be part of our solarpunk future. I really like the RadRunner Plus, but everyone’s needs are a little different. You can’t haul more than one other person on this bike, so that might sway you one way or the other for a RadRunner vs a RadWagon if you’re looking at entry-level cargo bikes. If you’ve got a bigger budget, I’ve heard great things about the Tern and Urban Arrow bikes some people have here in town. I was incredulous when people said having an ebike is a game changer for getting around in a city, but they were totally right.

Do you have an ebike or cargo bike you love? Let us know down below!


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House of Drought – A review

The House of Drought is a WEIRD novella. I don’t typically read horror, so this is from the perspective of a fantasy/scifi reader. To that end, I really loved the folklore aspects of this story. Seeing what elements of stories are common and different across cultures is always facinating to me, and this story definitely delivers there. There aren’t any concrete explanations of what’s going on, and the multiple names and explanations for any given phenomena by different people bring the folklore to life. Knowing nothing of Sri Lankan folklore, I’m led to believe the author did this part justice.

Since the story hops around between several characters and timelines in the space of a novella, I never really felt a strong connection to any one character. I think that this is where the story would’ve benefitted from being fleshed out into a full length novel or cutting the number of viewpoints if it needed to stay a novella. I really want to give this story four stars since the setting was so interesting, but the lack of engaging characters drops it down to a three for me.

Speaking of multiple timelines, if you really need your books to be linear, this isn’t the story for you. There are frequent time jumps within a chapter, although they do follow a pattern once you realize what’s happening. It’s an interesting approach, but I don’t think it was really necessary to the story.

This is one of the first times I’ve seen a piece of fiction really try to connect colonialism and climate change and how imperialism has wounded the natural world. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish without getting preachy, but the author managed to weave it into the story without it feeling too heavy-handed. The tension between the House of Drought and the surrounding forest becomes an analogue for the tension between colonialism/capitalism and nature. I wouldn’t call it subtle, but by these forces being more animate setting than viewpoint character, it feels like an innate truth suffusing the story and not something the author slows down to explain in a pedantic manner.

This novella had me turning pages to find out what happened, but, like I said, the lack of any compelling characters makes it hard for me to give it more than three stars. I’m very interested to see what Mombauer can do with a full length novel though, since I think the rest of this story is pretty solid.

I’d like to thank Stelliform for providing an ARC in return for this honest review.

Bad News First…

A sad face emoji in black spray painted on an off-white wall.
Photo by Jan Prokes on Pexels.com

I’ve written before about how my laptop has served me well for nearly a decade at the low cost of several replacement parts. Unfortunately, one of the things I didn’t think to replace was the thermal paste on the CPU and GPU. This is the goop that helps transfer heat away from those critical components and into the cooling system so they don’t overheat and fail. This is particularly critical if you’re doing intensive tasks like editing video for a YouTube channel.

I started getting some weird slowdowns and freezes on general tasks and then full crashes when trying to edit video. The crash log helpfully said “GPU Panic” and a bunch of other things that are probably only decipherable by a hardware or firmware engineer. After the third or fourth crash, I decided that if I wanted to continue using my laptop, I’d need to offload the video editing to a different machine.

I decided to go with a Mac again, since my main use case was video editing. I’m not in college anymore, so I realized I didn’t really need to be mobile which is great since adding a battery and screen means laptops are more expensive and more likely to need repairs than a desktop. The new Apple Silicon Macs aren’t really repairable, but it is rare that you get a chance to jump to a completely new, but well-supported, platform. So, I gave into the new and shiny by getting an M1 Mac mini.

A Mac mini sits on top of a 15" MacBook Pro Laptop. The Mac mini desktop has a smaller footprint than the laptop. The laptop has stickers from Sparkfun electronics, NaNoWriMo, and the Center for Civic Innovation on it's lid.
My New Mac mini on top of my 2010 MacBook Pro

A big part of why I went with the Mac mini is that it is the greenest option if you do want to go with an M1. The storage and RAM aren’t user serviceable like on my Macbook Pro, but since there’s no battery and the screen, keyboard, and mouse are all separate components, I can use peripherals I already have. Plus, if one of them breaks, they’re easily replaced.

As Solarpunk Druid recently said, most modern devices are not built to be repaired, so we have to do the best with the options we have available. I’ve been very impressed with the new computer, but I’m glad the laptop still works as I’ve formed an emotional bond with the machine after using it so long and replacing so many of it’s components. I’m hopeful that this new machine will be as long-lived since while it’s less repairable it also has fewer components that could fail. I guess we’ll see.

How do you balance sustainability and replacing or repairing the broken things in your life? Are you reading this on a thirty year old computer and laughing at my boasts of using a mere decade old laptop? Let us know in the comments!

What’s Old is New Again – Deconstruction

A picture of the indoor waterfall at the Singapore airport. A large metal and glass bowl pours water out its bottom while surrounded by greenery.
Photo by Tiff Ng on Pexels.com

I recently saw several complaints about the preponderance of tree-stuffed glass towers or eco-brutalist structures in solarpunk art. Are trees on buildings the solarpunk equivalent of steampunk’s oft-maligned, “just stick some gears on it?” For an actual regenerative future, we’ll need to keep our buildings in use longer and reuse the materials from them more effectively when they do reach the end of their life.

Construction and demolition (C&D) waste accounts for twice as much of the waste stream here in the United States when compared to municipal waste. While 455 of the 600 million tons of waste were used again, the majority of that went to aggregate, making it a significant case of downcycling. This is not getting us to a closed loop, Cradle-to-Cradle system that we’ll need for our solarpunk future. Deconstruction presents a way out of this mess.

A woman looks at a partially deconstructed wall with two windows. There are slats along the wall, indicating it was once plastered. A ladder leans against another wall in the background and an exposed stud wall is between the camera and the woman. Debris litters the floor, presumably from demolition.
Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

Almost any building, no matter how dilapidated, contains a treasure trove of materials: wood, steel, wiring, and plumbing. Unfortunately, in our cost-obsessed culture, it’s considered too expensive to retrieve these useful materials from the building. Instead, a building will be demolished, either by crane or explosives, and the debris will be hauled away. As we know from municipal recycling programs, once waste is mixed, it is much more difficult to separate. Any material that was still useful will be recovered at a much lower rate than if it had been separated before the building was demolished.

There are places where the careful removal of useful materials from a building is prioritized, like Portland, which passed an ordinance in 2016 to require deconstruction of homes built before 1940. Homes built after this time were not designed in a way to make disassembly simple, so the city is building up its deconstruction apparatus with the low hanging fruit. My impression is that the leader in this space is Japan, where space and materials are always at a premium. Other places in the United States investigating or requiring deconstruction include Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and San Antonio.

A brick wall with a window on the left, and a large creeping vine covering it on the right. The bricks are red and black with white mortar.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

More difficult materials, such as masonry products, present a special difficulty for reuse and recycling. While individual bricks are reusable, extracting them from a wall and removing all the mortar can be painstaking at best. Gabriela Medero, a professor from Scotland, has a possible solution, the K-Briq. Made mostly from construction waste in a process that can be placed onsite at C&D disposal facilities, K-Briq is one possibility for reusing masonry materials.

As more streamlined methods of construction like modular or 3D printed buildings reduce the labor needed for construction, increased deconstruction requirements will lead to an increase in the labor needed for a building’s end of life. While in a solarpunk future, a person’s ability to work wouldn’t be tied to their survival, in our current world, the ability for construction workers to provide for their families is a major concern. The labor unions that can influence the direction of the construction industry are particularly concerned about having enough labor demand for their members. Deconstruction gives us a way for both people and the planet to win.

Do you have deconstruction requirements in your area? I’m especially curious about how this is handled outside the United States, as we often lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to sustainable construction techniques. Please share in the comments!