Category Archives: Science

What is Lunarpunk?

Lunarpunks are the night dwellers of our solarpunk futures. Biomimmicry of bioluminescent creatures, moth-themed cloaks, and gossamer fabrics fluttering in the night breeze are some of the aesthetic influences here. Winter would be the lunarpunks’s time to be more active, hosting events in the crisp nights from art exhibits to street festivals.

Creatures of the Night

Lunarpunk focuses more on the night than solarpunk’s sunny disposition. Because of this, lunarpunk aesthetics are heavy in purples and blacks as opposed to the greens and yellows of solarpunk. Bioluminescent creatures provide inspiration for clothes that glow either under black-light or as a result of smart textiles. Lunarpunks love their fellow creatures of the night – moths, mushrooms, and bats.

Where the punk really comes in is that in a lunarpunk society, people feel safe going out at night. Social safety nets mean that people don’t have to resort to crime to get by, rape culture has been excised from the cultural consciousness, and sex work is demarginalized, voluntary, and safe. Police, prisons, and punitive justice have given way to restorative justice and a world where anyone, regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation, can feel safe walking down the street at night.

Person wearing a black, white, and crimson cape patterned like moth wings. Cape is wider than armspan in width, makeing the wearer appear to have moth wings.
Moth Wings Cape by CostureoReal on Etsy

Biotech

Biotechnology will have a big role to play in our solarpunk future, but I especially associate lunarpunk with biotechnology. I think this might be because of the aesthetic associations with mushrooms and bioluminescence. Bioluminescent trees or algae lamps could provide electricity-free path lighting in the cities of the future, and amazing different materials are being created from mushrooms like leather, wood, paper, or even structural building materials. Hempcrete and coral-inspired biomimetic concrete are being investigated to replace the carbon-intensive traditional concrete we use for so much infrastructure today.

Magic

Maybe it’s all the purple hues or the influence of the Moon, but lunarpunk feels more magical than solarpunk to me. As solarpunk is a movement that accepts both the spiritual and the scientific, this distinction is probably due more to my own cultural biases of magic being dark and mysterious than it is to any preference for solarpunks or lunarpunks to practice magic or not. The Solarpunk Druid and Justine Norton-Kertson have said something similar though, so it seems I’m not alone. While not a large percentage of the population yet, the growing number of pagans in the world will find a home in a lunarpunk future.

Photo by brenoanp on Pexels.com

Space, the lunarpunk frontier

Space has also become tied to lunarpunk expressions of a hopeful future. One series that I’ll talk more about in a future article that embodies this is the Earthseed duology by Octavia Butler. While the events of the books are terrestrial in nature, the main character is driven to help humanity reach the stars while not neglecting the planet we call home. Lunarpunk offers an alternative to the current thrust of private, corporate space exploration making space travel only for the rich and powerful to escape the planet they’ve ruined by ignoring the toll their activities exact from the natural world.

A proposed lunarpunk flag. A crescent moon in white overlays a black half circle moon silhouette which turns into a gear. These are overlayed on top of a purple (top-left) and black (bottom-right) flag, cut through on a 45 degree angle as many anarcho-fill-in-the-blank flags are.
A proposed lunarpunk flag

Upcoming lunarpunk projects

If you want more lunarpunk, there are two upcoming projects worth checking out. Submissions are open until March 14 for the lunarpunk-themed issue of Solarpunk Magazine, and until March 31 for Bioluminescent: A Lunarpunk Anthology. The Solarpunk Magazine submission window may tentatively reopen in May if they are still looking for submissions.

I’m really interested to see if there will be any stories that are both tidalpunk and lunarpunk, since the Moon’s influence on the tides makes me feel that there is a strong connection between the two subgenres.

Do you know of any other cool projects in the lunarpunk sphere right now? Let us know in the comments below, and have a great night!

Electrify by Saul Griffith – a Review

I think at this point just about everyone knows someone who thinks climate change is a problem, but that it will be too expensive to fix, or that the solutions just aren’t viable. I think Saul Griffith’s new book, Electrify, is the perfect book for this audience.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but the blue foil shimmering on the white background of this cover certainly conjures images of the future. While tech bros promise techno-utopian carbon capture machines more efficient than trees, this book excels in rampant pragmatism. Griffith lays out a pathway to decarbonizing the United States transportation and power sectors with only currently existing technologies.

I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book, but I do think the plan to #ElectrifyEverything is a necessary, but not sufficient part of a solarpunk future. The catchphrase usually comes with some caveats, like probably not all industrial processes, and I do feel that solar thermal needs more love since a large percentage of energy use in the home is used for heating, but it’s a decent simplification for the bulk of our current fossil fuel applications.

Electrify can be criticized for not addressing climate justice beside a passing mention. We can’t afford to reinforce the racist and otherwise imbalanced power structures that originally lead to climate change during the energy transition. That said, this book isn’t designed to message an entire Green New Deal in one fell swoop. As someone who grew up listening to talk radio as a red state Republican (more on that later this year), I think Griffith does an excellent job of doing what we engineers do best – sticking to the facts.

He lays out a clear, but concise, explanation of how daunting climate change is, but then paints a solution by the numbers to how we can overcome it and be more prosperous by doing so. I’m not usually a big fan of all the militaristic language used to describe climate work, but the comparisons in this book to World War II mobilization are useful to put the scope of the issue into perspective. In short, reducing most of our emissions will cost a little less than it cost the US to fight WWII in terms of national GDP.

I think part of the reason climate inaction has been such an easy sell is because it feels too big for any one person to have any agency in the fight. Griffith points the way for how families, especially when bolstered with government-backed loans, can replace the pieces of equipment that generate the bulk of their carbon emissions – their car(s) and their appliances. This gets people in the door for the climate conversation.

A snowy field full of solar panels with a large wind turbine reaching toward the sky in the background. There are two buildings in the background, and one appears to be a silo or astronomy tower based on the hemispherical top.

I know centrism is a dirty word in solarpunk circles, but I don’t think we’re going to succeed in overcoming climate change or climate injustice if we decide that we can’t work with people who are coming from a different political background. Red states already generate the majority of the renewable power in the country, so that’s a starting point. The Republicans I know believe in fairness and justice, but the party and conservative talk show hosts have had decades to distort what those words mean in a political context. We aren’t going to overcome that conditioning overnight, but this book is a step in the right direction, even if it does just seem like neoliberal techno-utopianism at first blush. I feel there’s more going on here than that, but maybe I’m naive.

I am sending this book and my copy of Repair Revolution to my dad. He’s retired and does solar installs on the side since he has his certification as well as experience from wiring up his old and new houses for solar. He’s also a Trump supporter which led to some… strain in our relationship over the last few years. I’m hoping that this book will at least show how we have viable path forward to overcoming the worst effects of climate change without some massive government takeover of every industry, which is what many Republicans fear. Is it going to make him gung-ho about climate equity? No, but at least maybe he’ll be interested in talking about climate solutions instead of automatically shutting down the conversation. It’s not going to be an easy process to get to a solarpunk future, but we’ll get there, step by excruciating step. Electrify shows how the energy transition can at least be a relatively painless part of the process.

Is saving money and increasing our resiliency a way to bridge the political gap, or is storytelling the answer? I think it’s probably a mix, but let me know what you think below!


Disclaimer: If you order the book using the Indie Bound affiliate link above, I may receive a small commission.

A Better Way to Tell Time – Solarpunk Chronometry

Our modern methods of timekeeping have changed our relationship with the world around us, giving us more precise measurements for science, but also abstracting us further from the natural world. I think it’s time we looked at how a solarpunk future can incorporate a saner method of chronometry.

A photo of several vintage clocks lined up in rows.
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

Our neolithic ancestors lived and moved according to the cycle of seasons and the rising and setting of the sun. Before the widespread adoption of the clock, we slept in segments, instead of all the way through the night. With the rise of the train, time zones kept people on track to their destinations. Now, some people have suggested returning to local time based on solar noon and setting any meeting times based on Universal Coordinated Time (UTC). After a year of online meetings that were held in various time zones around the world, I really see the appeal of UTC so I wouldn’t have had to run calculations to figure out when the meetings were in my own time zone. Don’t even get me started on my feelings toward Daylight Savings Time.

An image of Stonehenge. Clouds hang over the monumental stones and the grass is green.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On the calendar front, there have been several attempts at calendar reform to oust the Gregorian Calendar, including the French Revolutionary Calendar, the World Season Calendar, and the International Fixed Calendar (IFC). The IFC has 13 months of 28 days resulting in a weekly layout that is the same each month. This leaves one or two extra days depending on if it’s a leap year that go into Year Day and Leap Day. I really like the IFC, and one of the oft-cited drawbacks, constant Friday the 13ths, is easily remedied by changing the first day of the month to Monday according to ISO standards. Kodak even used the IFC for more than 60 years since George Eastman thought it was so elegant.


My version of the International Fixed Calendar (all months are the same)

What do you think? Would changing the calendar and time zones be more trouble than it’s worth? Let us know below!

Plastics – A Tidalpunk Antagonist

A plastic bottle and some other detritus are very close to the camera and litter the shore. There are sticks mixed with the litter, and the ocean and some mountains are in the background, but out of focus.
Photo by Catherine Sheila on Pexels.com

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to ocean life. While images of chairs and tires on the seafloor can get a visceral reaction, it’s the small stuff that will cause the biggest problems. Plastics don’t truly degrade, but break into smaller and smaller pieces until they become microplastics or microfibers. The chemical additives in these plastics negatively impact ocean life and human health as they’re eaten and move through the food chain. A tidalpunk future will have to deal with this legacy of waste.

Microfibers are fibers smaller than human hair shed when cloth wears down. While all microfibers can have potential hazards, plastic microfibers like polyester have the added threats of never breaking down and leaching chemicals like endocrine disruptors. At the Mid-Atlantic Marine Debris Summit in July scientists presented work on microplastics and and other sources of human trash in the ocean. I was surprised to learn that dryers, and not just washing machines can be a source of microfibers. There are now some microfiber filters available like the Cora Ball, Guppyfriend bag, or Lint LUV-R for catching microfibers from the wash.

Microplastics come from many sources, but single-use plastic packaging is especially prolific. Some scientists have called for a global ban on virgin plastic since plastic is an inexpensive byproduct of fossil fuel extraction and there is no incentive for the material to return to the technical nutrient cycle. Moving forward, we need to drastically reduce the use of plastic to prevent further proliferation of microplastics. Holly Grounds’s dissolving ramen packet is a great example of rethinking packaging design. Another promising development is plastics that can actually biodegrade outside of a high temperature composting operation.

Hands reach into a bin full of soda bottle caps.
Photo by Krizjohn Rosales on Pexels.com

Plastic wasn’t always a throwaway material, and Precious Plastic designs open source machines for processing and reforming waste plastics into durable goods. Communities in the developing world are finding ways to repurpose the waste dumped on their countries by the rest of the world. You can check out organizations like Surfrider or Plastic Oceans for other ways to help.

YES! did their entire summer issue on the plastic crisis, so I’d encourage you to check out their coverage. If you want to learn more about the current lifecycle and impacts of plastic, I’d suggest The Story of Plastic as an introduction and the longer and NSFW This Week Tonight piece on plastics as a good follow up.

While you can reduce your own use of plastic to some extent, unless you are dedicated to going zero waste, plastic is almost unavoidable in everyday western life. This is a big issue, and I feel that it’s something we’ll be dealing with for generations, even if we stopped using all plastics now.

How can we build a plastic-free future? Share your ideas below!


This is Part 4 in our feature on tidalpunk for August. See Part 1: Can Maritime Shipping Go Tidalpunk?, Part 2: Tidalpunk Food – Fishing and Farming the Sea, and Part 3: Tidalpunk Energy – Offshore Wind in the US.

Tidalpunk Energy – Offshore Wind in the US

Greater Gabbard Wind Farm in the UK – photo by SSE via a CC BY-ND 2.0 license

Offshore wind is gearing up in the United States. The federal government has announced a goal of 30GW of offshore wind generation by 2030 and 110GW by 2050. For reference, the current largest wind turbine available generates 15MW, so it would take 2,000 of these turbines to reach the 2030 goal if that were the only turbine type used.

One bottleneck for getting these projects started is Wind Turbine Installation Vessels (WTIVs). The first European offshore wind installations started in the 90s, but existing European ships can’t be used because of the Jones Act which stipulates that vessels operating in US seas must be built, owned, and operated by US citizens or corporations. Dominion Energy’s Charybdis WTIV is under construction in New Orleans and should be operational in 2023.

Charybdis will first get to work here in Virginia building the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project. Hampton Roads, Virginia has been billing itself as a hub for the offshore wind turbine industry. There’s a long history of maritime industry on the Virginia coast, so it’s great to see these communities able to transition with the winds of change.

The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project isn’t the only offshore wind farm to be in development here in the US. After the failure of the Cape Wind Project in Massachussetts, offshore wind’s future was murky in the US. However, Maine appears to be the only state explicitly rejecting offshore wind, with new projects being planned on both coasts including New Jersey and California.

A pile of one dollar bills spread across the frame.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As mentioned previously, one problem I see with a lot of developments in tidalpunk-related tech is that so much of it is big money, high technology equipment that is difficult to build and procure without large governments and corporations. For instance, Dominion Energy has had a stranglehold on the state legislature in Virginia for decades due to their shady business and political practices. Offshore wind offers a big opportunity for cutting carbon emissions in the grid, but I’m wary of the lack of community control over these generation resources.

As I live in the US, this blog tends toward developments here. Do you have offshore wind in your area? Let us know about it in the comments!


This is Part 3 in our feature on tidalpunk for August. See Part 1: Can Maritime Shipping Go Tidalpunk?, Part 2: Tidalpunk Food – Fishing and Farming the Sea, and Part 4: Plastics – A Tidalpunk Antagonist.

Tidalpunk Food – Fishing and Farming the Sea

The camera looks up at a school of fish from below. They appear to be swimming in a circle around the center of the image.
Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com

Dr. Sylvia Earl says we need to stop commercial fishing if we want to keep our oceans healthy. Over-fishing and pollution are driving many species to the brink, not to mention the harm of increased ocean temperatures and acidity brought on by climate change. For those of us not in societies where fishing provides subsistence, is there a better way to get our fix of fish?

On the horizon, and already on some store shelves, plant-based seafood could prove to be a way to get that taste of the sea without the environmental and human toll. This is good news since beyond the environmental toll, industrial seafood also has more than its share of human rights abuses. Current faux fish focuses on staples that are more about what you do with them than the underlying flavor of the meat. Crab cakes, shrimp, and canned tuna substitutes are the leaders of the pack here. While lab-grown seafood is getting a lot of investment, it is still nascent at best like lab-grown meats. Unsurprisingly, it takes a lot of work to grow cells outside of a living organism.

A diagram showing a boat on the surface of the ocean over seaweed on a line and oyster, mussel, scallop, and clam cages.

The image describes the advantages of this "polyculture farming system:"
-High yields of shellfish and seaweed
-Small footprint
-Low barrier to entry
-20 acres, a boat, and $20-50k
-Carbon and nitrogen sink
-Zero inputs: no fresh water, fertilizers, or feed
-Storm surge protection
-Rebuilds marine ecosystems
GreenWave’s Aquacultural Model

The real rock star when it comes to aquaculture and sustainability is seaweed. Able to sequester carbon, serve as a protein source, reduce emissions from cattle, and provide oil for biofuels, kelp is truly the wonder algae. One of the best primers on the potential of seaweed to help in the climate fight is the two-part podcast on kelp farming from “How To Save a Planet.” These episodes center on the efforts of GreenWave, a non-profit developing a 3D “polyculture” system for growing kelp and shellfish in the ocean. Since kelp and shellfish don’t require agricultural inputs (fertilizer, fresh water, etc.), this form of aquaculture is both eco-friendly and economical. Plus, with all the co-benefits to shoreline and marine communities, this is a great example of multi-solving.

Unfortunately, a lot of the ocean-related technologies being developed right now are from big governments or big corporations. GreenWave is focused on building a network of small holding ocean farms instead of replicating terrestrial agriculture’s industrial model though. They’re putting the punk in tidalpunk!

If you have ideas on how to bring these emerging technologies into the commons, let us know below!


This is Part 2 in our feature on tidalpunk for August. See Part 1: Can Maritime Shipping Go Tidalpunk?, Part 3: Tidalpunk Energy – Offshore Wind in the US, and Part 4: Plastics – A Tidalpunk Antagonist.

Can Maritime Shipping Go Tidalpunk?

A cargo ship sails down a channel next to a tug boat. A series of cranes dot the sides and background.
Photo by Martin Damboldt on Pexels.com

Since summertime is beach time here in Virginia, this month we’ll be taking a look at some developments toward our tidalpunk future. Today, we’ll be looking at how the maritime shipping industry is working to clean up its act.

While at sea, the majority of cargo ships use high sulfur fuel oil, the most polluting fuel in use today. With a global target to reduce maritime shipping emissions by half by 2050, however, the shipping industry is looking at its biggest change since switching from coal to diesel 100 years ago. While diesel won’t be going away soon, a mix of new and old technologies are receiving interest to replace fossil fuels in shipping.

The most exciting development in my mind, is the interest in bringing back sailing vessels for cargo transport. While a handful of clippers are still operating as cargo vessels, new ships in development like the EcoClipper500 could pave the way for a retro-futuristic tidalpunk future. As we’ve discussed before, the best way to clean up shipping emissions would be to exercise the first R and reduce the amount of stuff being shipped around the world in the first place. A combination of sailing vessels and distributed manufacturing of goods could make a big difference in carbon emissions and material waste.

A sailing ship with a white hull sails along a mountainous background. It has three large masts that are only partially rigged, presumably to keep speeds low for maneuverability.
Photo by Inge Wallumru00f8d on Pexels.com

In port, those diesel fumes can add up to some gnarly local air pollution for these communities. Oslo, Norway intends to be the world’s first zero emission port by investing in electrification of ferries and installing shore power so visiting boats can cut their engines while docked. Cleaning up the air is good for humans and wildlife that live near these industrial hubs, so cleaning up ports is an important piece of environmental justice work. Other ports are cleaning up their acts around the world including Los Angeles, Auckland, and Valencia showing this trend isn’t isolated to Scandinavia.

Despite their questionable environmental cred, cargo ships can still be a less carbon intensive option for long passenger journeys when compared to flying. According to Will Vibert, a cargo ship passenger, they can also feel surprisingly luxurious. “As I soon came to understand, the luxury of being at sea is not about fine food or a plush mattress; rather, life at sea itself – the tranquil pace and intoxicating sense of adventure – is the true luxury.” Later in the article they relate a similar luxury in the time-consuming, but languid process of North American train travel as I have experienced myself.

Do you have any thoughts regarding the maritime shipping industry and tidalpunk? Have you seen any cool initiatives at a port near you? Let us know in the comments below!


This is Part 1 in our feature on tidalpunk for August. See Part 2: Tidalpunk Food – Fishing and Farming the Sea, Part 3: Tidalpunk Energy – Offshore Wind in the US, and Part 4: Plastics – A Tidalpunk Antagonist.

Institutions Are the AIs Your Mother Warned You About

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Pexels.com

If you pick up a book or movie about Artificial Intelligence (AI), there’s a good chance you’ll find a story where robots or AI have subjugated humanity. The Terminator, the robots in The Matrix, and the Borg all strike fear into our hearts because they lack humanity. The cold, calculating logic by which they see the universe makes them alien and incapable of the things that define human experience like compassion or love. The thing is, the AIs your mother warned you about are already here. We call them institutions. 

In Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novel Oathbringer, Nale, the Herald of Justice, says, “The purpose of the law is so we do not have to choose. So our native sentimentality will not harm us.” In modern times, we say the law is blind, but recent protests over racially-motivated violence committed in the name of the law show that removing human choice from the equation just creates an algorithm for oppression. We’ve given the appearance of impartiality to a process that is biased because of who wrote the laws and when they were written.

For example, computer AIs developed to help with criminal sentencing calculate recidivism probabilities based on historical policing data. The “impartial” AI looks benevolent, but when the data it is fed derives from hundreds of years of racist policing practices, it’s not hard to see why the AI is more likely to suggest a light sentence for a white defendant than a person of color. In January 2020, the increasing reliance of law enforcement on AI-driven facial recognition systems led to the first known wrongful arrest based on the inability of facial recognition systems to distinguish between people who aren’t white men. Modern law enforcement has been investing in tools that entrench racism behind a steel and plastic veneer of impartiality. The subjugation of parts of humanity is already in progress, and it’s grounded in the biases of programmers—who are all too human. One of the most basic thought experiments of AI gone wrong is Nick Bostrom’s proposed paperclip maximizer. Because it only has one goal, it will execute that function without taking other consequences into account. As the AI ramps up its production of paperclips, the planet it’s on is consumed by iron mines and paperclip factories until those who originally programmed the AI are consumed for their raw materials. While this example may seem ridiculous, it’s the logical conclusion to business models that are designed to maximize financial growth.

Corporations are single-minded AIs programmed to make a profit. Since corporations exist in large part to separate legal liability for the corporation’s actions from its members, there are few truly effective checks on a company’s behavior. With these inputs, it should come as no surprise that the corporations of the world have done irreparable harm to our biosphere. The board of directors and shareholders are still human, but as Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

While the AIs in The Matrix at least leave humans the illusion that they are not slaves, the Belters who work in the outposts of the solar system in the The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey are at risk of losing their very air and water if they do not comply with the demands of interplanetary corporations. Even when a discovery is made that would change the very nature of human existence, the Protogen company seeks to profit by starting a war between Earth and its former colony, Mars. The corporation’s pursuit of profit manages to oppress humankind without a single sentient computer. 

We don’t need to look to a dystopian future to find artificial intelligences bent on human domination. They’re already here. The first step to creating a world with AIs we can work with is disarming the dangerous ones. Congress has started the process of fighting corporations with its recent Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets Report coming after years of effort from groups like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, small businesses, and cooperatives. At the same time, The Movement for Black Lives has been steadily growing to point out the flaws in the current legal system. Overcoming systemic racism and corporate power are the major battles we have against malicious AIs right here and now. We should be developing better ways to make humans part of the AI feedback loop, as Douglas Rushkoff suggests, so that when the computer-based generalized AIs come, we’ll be able to work alongside someone like Data instead of under the gaze of Skynet.

This article originally appeared on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) blog in March of 2021.

Why Solarpunk Matters

A flag with split diagonally between green on the upper left and black on the lower right. An 8-rayed sun symbol is overlayed at the center with a black upper left and green lower right.
One of many solarpunk flags

As we enter a new decade, it can be hard to remain upbeat about the future. While I previously addressed some of the things I think define solarpunk, I think the most crucial piece is hope. I won’t get into the distinctions between hopepunk, solarpunk, and their related subgenres (tidalpunk, lunarpunk, etc.), but suffice it to say, in the face of the acceleration of the climate crisis, the pandemic, and decades of dystopian stories in fiction, it’s time for some positive possible futures.

Dystopias have their place in fiction warning against the perils of certain trends in society or potentially dangerous technologies. They can be great foils to techno-optimism, but when all you get are dystopias, it can become difficult to imagine your way out of a crisis. This is no more apparent than what is happening with the current climate crisis.

After decades of dismissal or denial, people are waking up to the fact that the carbon has hit the fan and we don’t have a lot of time left to act if we want to avoid the worst effects of global warming. We’re at a decision point, and after only hearing depressing news from the media and watching movies based on dystopian futures like the Hunger Games or Handmaid’s Tale, it’s no wonder that many are ready to just give up trying to fight what feels like an inexorable foe.

Now, more than ever, we need stories that paint a positive future. People have been bludgeoned to numbness by threats of rising sea levels, increasingly unpredictable weather, and the extinction of many of the other species on the planet. We need to show people that there is hope for the future and that we can still beat this thing. Is it too late for some species? Yes. We’re not going to come out of this unscathed, but if we don’t start acting now we might not come out of the other side at all.

Positive news about efforts in various parts of the world that are actually moving the needle on carbon emissions and other environmental issues is critical. Stories that show how the future could be so much better with clean energy and equitable distribution of materials is a much easier sell than saying certain behaviors or items should be banned. “Theft of Enjoyment” featured as the boogeyman when Republicans incorrectly claimed that the Green New Deal would make hamburgers illegal. As icky as advertising can be, only fitness companies make money by telling people what they shouldn’t have. Showing how much better our possible futures could be will have people running toward something instead of fighting tooth and nail to preserve what they already have, even if it isn’t good for them.

Cover of the Sunvault solarpunk anthology. The full title says SUNVAULT: Stories of solarpunk and eco-speculation and it is set on a colorful picture of a city with a river and lots of vegetation.
Sunvault – A solarpunk anthology

As the near future foil to cyberpunk, solarpunk is here to show us the world we want to have, not the one we’re afraid is coming. Does that mean that solarpunk is free of conflict or struggle? No. Solarpunk isn’t a perfect world, but it is a better, more equitable one. Solarpunk is giving people something worth fighting for which is much more powerful than asking for people to fight against something. In the face of the climate emergency, it can be easy to get overwhelmed, but solarpunk is what keeps me from giving up in the face of imposing odds. As Miguel de Cervantes said, “Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!

How do you maintain your mental health in the face of climate catastrophe? Has solarpunk helped you weather the storm to your psyche as it has me? Let us know below.


Rocking a Pebble in 2020

My beausage-rich Pebble smartwatch

I’ve mentioned before how my Pebble smartwatch is one of my favorite devices, but I thought I’d detail how the device is helping my sanity in 2020, four years after Pebble company shut down.

Pebble was one of the first successful smartwatches, and raised $10M on Kickstarter, making it the most successful crowdfunding campaign to date when it closed in 2012. Watches started shipping in 2013, and even seven years later, the Pebble is one of the best smartwatches available.

In 2017, I joined the smartwatch crowd with a used, original Pebble. Smartwatches aren’t a required part of modern society, but my Pebble lets me triage incoming smartphone notifications and send simple replies. I set my phone to silent and receive a gentle vibration on my wrist whenever a notification comes in for one of the apps I’ve allowed to notify me. When I unlock my phone later, I can see any low priority notifications, but I really enjoy not having the mental clutter of seeing or hearing every single notification as it comes in. My Pebble makes my smartphone experience significantly more pleasant and offers me a small bit of mental clarity I wouldn’t get otherwise.

Earlier this year, my Pebble had started dropping it’s connection to my phone and experiencing some strange issues. Afraid it was dying, I put it in airplane mode and used it as a regular watch for a couple months. After digging around online, I decided the most likely culprit was the battery, so I ordered a replacement. Then, I kept using the Pebble as a regular watch for another month since I was so intimidated about cracking it open to replace the battery.

Internals of a first generation Pebble smartwatch

I eventually worked up the courage to do the battery replacement, and I am so glad I did. I’d forgotten how much calmer my mind feels without the incessant chimes and dings of my phone’s notification system. The new battery is slightly bigger so the watch back isn’t flush anymore which hampers its water resistance, and I cracked the backlight guide which gives a slight line down the middle of the display, but I’m just going to call that beausage and move on. It’s only visible when the backlight is on anyway, so it’s exceedingly minor.

One downside of having a watch from a defunct company is that not all of the watch apps work anymore. Luckily, the back end for many services is now maintained by the Rebble community, so if you have a fancy newer Pebble Time, you can still use voice dictation, and the app store is still there even if not all the apps work 100% anymore.

The Pebble isn’t perfect by any means, but a smartwatch that still works seven years after its debut seems pretty solarpunk to me. When Android Wear and Apple watches get relegated to obsolescence by Google and Apple, Pebbles will still be telling time and making life subtly better. Like any electronic device, I can see where the watch may eventually break down, but I’ll probably try to find another Pebble unless someone comes out with a similarly simple smartwatch. I would suggest upgrading to the Pebble Steel though since the plastic casing seems to be the most fragile part of the whole watch.

Do you think smartwatches are an unnecessary extravagance, or something that can help deal with information overload? Let us know in the comments!