The exploration of ancient cultures and their wisdom can help us develop a deeper understanding of our environment and our lives. These cultures often had a close relationship with nature and understood how to manage natural resources in order to preserve them for the long term. Additionally, they grappled with the big questions of life and often developed spiritual and philosophical answers to them.
This knowledge and understanding can be used today to create a sustainable and friendly future. If we learn to treat our environment with respect and mindfulness and engage with the fundamental questions of life, we can build a harmonious relationship with our environment and initiate a positive change.
The Solarpunk/Lunarpunk movement embraces this idea and promotes renewable energy and responsible use of our resources. They strive for a harmonious coexistence of humans and nature and develop creative and innovative approaches to realize this vision.
In daily life, we can contribute practically to achieving these goals. For example, we can switch to renewable energy by obtaining our electricity from a green energy supplier or generating solar or wind energy ourselves. Also, a conscious consumption of regional and seasonal food can help to conserve our environment and strengthen the local economy.
Moreover, we can connect with nature by spending time outdoors and engaging in nature conservation projects. The contemplation of spiritual and philosophical questions can also help us better understand ourselves and our relationship to the world, and provide a foundation for a more sustainable life.
Overall, it’s about developing a holistic and respectful relationship with nature and ourselves. By combining ancient wisdom and modern approaches like the Solarpunk/Lunarpunk movement, we can create a positive future based on sustainability and community.
Here are three small practical exercises that fit with the above text and can help contribute to saving the world more relaxed:
Date your breath: A simple breathing exercise can help us relax and strengthen our connection to nature. Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, and consciously inhale and exhale deeply. With each inhale, welcome in fresh and new air and with each exhale, release all the old and used-up air.
Sustainable consumption: Another exercise is conscious consumption. Take the time to select local and sustainable products when shopping. Avoid unnecessary plastic waste and opt for reusable alternatives. By consuming mindfully, you can help conserve the environment and strengthen the local economy.
Spend time in nature: Another way to connect with nature and do something good is to spend time outdoors. Go for walks, have picnics, or explore new nature reserves in your area. By spending time in nature, you can relax and strengthen your connection to nature. This is also a great opportunity to pick up the trash that you come across on your way.
Luca Sumitra is currently living out of his backpack traveling the world. He works as a consciousness mediator and teaches mainly at festivals and events, but also works with educational institutions, with a focus on children and young people.
As genres of speculative fiction—fiction which aims to imaginatively influence the manifestation of our collective future—solarpunk and lunarpunk hold a promise that their ancestral foil (cyberpunk) does not. Whereas cyberpunk exercises a predominately negative, or critical, purpose by presenting a dystopian future we ought to avoid realizing, solar and lunarpunk both aim to envision positive alternatives inspired by a renewed cosmic spirituality. This may seem like an idiosyncratic characterization, but in what follows I will try to make clear why the recontextualization of humanity ina meaningful cosmos is what essentially distinguishes solar and lunar from cyberpunk. And, in accord with the pluralistic ethos Navarre opened this series with, I want to acknowledge from the outset that my characterizations may not resonate with everyone—and that’s okay. While it’s true that—in relation to the Earth—the Sun and Moon communicate distinct, archetypal characteristics, it’s also true that archetypes are polysemous: they manifest themselves in a range of meanings. And yet, if we are to discern what actually is archetypally lunar or solar, we must refer to realities that are not reducible to human social construction alone. Cyberpunk also partakes of the archetypal and might arguably be seen as a contemporary form of mythology conveying the dangers of hubris (think of Prometheus or Icarus). The major difference between these ancient myths and cyberpunk, however, is that between then and now has stretched a period of radical industrialization and its corresponding ecological devastation. Human hubris is writ large in the last century’s capitalist delusion of endless extraction and technological innovation cued to selfish ends. Solar and lunarpunk speculatively intervene to renew humanity’s sense of proportion (etymologically, the word “cosmos” arises from the Pythagorean-inflected κόσμος, which once denoted the universe as a harmonic order). Such speculative interventions are crucial given how pervasive the cyberpunk imaginary is today. The oft quoted saying (attributed to both Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek)—“it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism”—exemplifies this pervasiveness, for cyberpunk stories are typically characterized by a form of capitalism pushed to its most inhuman extreme. We need only call to mind Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, or Akira and we can see this possible future in vivid detail:
The Earth has become a wasteland; cities provide the remainder of humanity refuge from the larger swaths of the planet that are now uninhabitable zones of nuclear fallout. Megacorporations have taken over the function of the state and exercise control over the cultural sphere, ensuring citizens are kept pacified by rituals of escapism (digital, chemical, etc.). The unfeeling, yet self-indulgent elites live high above the clustered and polluted chaos of the urban population, ruling over them through an authoritarian surveillance apparatus that records everyone’s activity. Nietzsche’s Übermensch is translated into a crude form of technological “enhancement” that only wealthy individuals can afford (unless you happen to be a test-subject); radically hybridized human-cyborg forms emerge and prompt one of the major questions of science fiction: What is the human being?
The punk in cyberpunk often manifests through unlikely protagonists who represent the last bastions of higher values by raging against the machine—against a “society” that cybernetically reproduces inhumanity like a cancer. Whether they be actual humans or synthetic imitations who choose to honor such values, these misfits work against the “high tech, low life” character of their surroundings and shine as beacons of hope for a more humane world. A consistent archetype is the anarchist hacker who deploys their skills to throw a wrench in the system or divulge emancipatory information to the public. Sadly, their struggles usually amount to little given how pervasively the cancer has metastasized. Civilization—in these stories—seems beyond saving. Rather than presenting salutary visions of collective human flourishing, the cyberpunk genre has generally served to warn us of what we could become. These warnings are still relevant given that our world has grown to resemble the cyberpunk imaginary ever-more as the years go by. The ongoing incarceration and persecution of whistleblowers like Julian Assange exemplifies the extent to which cyber rebels pose a threat to the corporation-state juggernaut. This is despicably hypocritical given that social media and search engine companies openly track all user activity that transpires through their platforms. Our daily digital habits feed machines designed to enslave our attention and, increasingly, to shape our desires in ways that perpetuate the ravenous hunger of the monster that is neoliberal capitalism. How do we escape this capture?
Enter solarpunk, the great potential of which is the return of the central, though unresolvable, question raised above—“What is the human being?”—to its cosmic context. Unlike cyberpunk, which, as a genre, broods over the dangers that arise from technologies borne of human alienation, solarpunk takes its inspiration from the more-than-human world—specifically, the giver of life on Earth: the Sun. Both genres reflect the Anthropocene—the name for our current geological age (cene) during which the human species (anthropos) has become a planetary force. But because the cyberpunk imagination is (typically) constrained to a mechanical vision of the cosmos, it perpetuates the worst kind of anthropocentrism—the kind which mistakes our theoretical models for reality. This mechanistic model—ranging from quantum physics, to biology, all the way to macroscopic cosmology—is defined exclusively by the inorganic laws of nature and can thus only amount to a vision of death. The mysteries of life and human consciousness—in this imaginary—are reduced to sophisticated computational processes that will soon be both explained and rendered obsolete by the rapidly evolving machinations of artificial intelligence. According to adherents of this mythos, technoscience will one day realize its ultimate goal: material immortality.
Solarpunk arises dialectically as a healthy reaction to the death-drive made conscious by cyberpunk and responds by reinstating the primacy of Life in the rhythmic organism that is our cosmos. Mechanism is subsidiary to organism, the organic; life is not *in* molecules; rather, molecules arise from the symphonic action of the entire cosmos and this music is life. The wish of solarpunk is to let the light of this cosmic Life inspire all of science and invention. What are science and technology for if not the flourishing of humanity and the wider Earth-community on which we depend? As Matt Bluemink writes, “at its core, solarpunk is the ecological antidote to cyberpunk… [an impetus] to imagine a world where human beings live in harmony with nature, but in a way that embraces developments in modern eco-friendly technology.” To live in harmony with nature is to rediscover the spiritual symphony of our living cosmos. Apart from the more obvious association with solar-power and renewable energy, the solar in solarpunk also refers to the salvific fire of optimism. Solarpunks are punk to the extent that their willful optimism goes against the grain of today’s complacent irony, cynicism, and destructive nihilism. And, sharp contrast to the extrinsic individuality that characterizes cyberpunk societies (and today’s neoliberalism), the solarpunk ethos implies a perception of humanityas a whole—a whole organism to which we as individuals belong. As Adam Flynn writes in Solarpunk: Notes toward a manifesto, “Solarpunk is about finding ways to make life more wonderful for us right now, and more importantly for the generations that follow us – i.e., extending human life at the species level, rather than individually.” The films of Hayao Miyazaki are among the major influences on the solarpunk aesthetic, and this is unsurprising given that Miyazaki’s films are saturated with an environmental ethic that flows from the Japanese Shinto tradition. Indeed, it seems that solarpunk is generally inspired by indigenous wisdom traditions to reintegrate humanity in the great web of life.
Though this characterization is by no means exhaustive, I have tried to distill what seems most essential to the spirit (or spirituality) of solarpunk: the light of optimism, the primacy of Life, and the perception of an underlying wholeness (i.e. the human species, the web of life, etc.). And—importantly—these features are not arbitrary, but issue directly from our actual experience of the genre’s namesake: Sol, the Sun. Those who have spent a substantial amount of time enduring frigid nights will know how natural it is to connect the light of optimism with the promise of sunrise. Anyone who pays attention to the flora and fauna of their local environs will know what praises Life sings to the break of dawn. And many will have heard the saying, “For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike.” We do not make these things up; we either attend to such features or blind ourselves to them. The spirituality of solarpunk consists in choosing to recognize that an essential part of our humanity is connected with the Sun, that we are partially constituted by it, and that, just as it inspired our ancestors for thousands of years, it can likewise guide our own aspirations for the Anthropocene. This light-filled renewal of cosmic spirituality is one possible future; a darker future, presented by cyberpunk, consists in the further intensification of alienated anthropocentrism and its ironic apotheosis in the subhuman automaton. We have reached a fork in the road.
Astrologically speaking, we are on the cusp of Pluto’s ingress into the sign of Aquarius (a 20 year transit in total) which many astrologers predict will usher in a form of surveillance more oppressive than we have yet to experience. Many astrologers also anticipate the boundary between machines and (some) humans to increasingly blur. The pervasiveness of the cyberpunk imaginary certainly facilitates our passive entry into this Brave New World, but have the hopeful tales and practical initiatives of solarpunk done enough to prepare us to face the panoptic beast of mass surveillance? Rachel-Rose O’Leary doesn’t think so, and in her widely circulated essay “Lunarpunk and the Dark Side of the Cycle,” she furthers the dialectic of cyber and solar by positioning lunarpunk as a kind of higher synthesis of the two. According to O’Leary’s genealogy, lunarpunk flows from the lineage of cypherpunk—a movement of coder-activists who anticipated the coming dangers of mass surveillance already in the early 1990s. Cypherpunks—including Julian Assange—advocated for and innovated encryption techniques to protect user privacy. Unlike the anonymity enjoyed in the analog world of cash exchange, digital transactions are vulnerable to prying eyes. As Eric Hughs writes in “A Cypherpunks Manifesto,” “when my identity is revealed by the underlying mechanism of the transaction, I have no privacy. I cannot here selectively reveal myself; I must always reveal myself.” It is this freedom to selectively reveal oneself that cypherpunks aim to protect. Why? As Hughs writes, “we cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy out of their beneficence. It is to their advantage to speak of us, and we should expect that they will speak.” The parasitic collaboration between advertisers and social media companies to farm our attention is an obvious example of what happens when we allow such entities to “speak of us.” China’s inhumane, authoritarian public health measures are another example of what can happen when citizens lack the negative freedom (protection) of privacy. As early resistors to mass surveillance, cypherpunks resemble the rebellious (because humane) protagonists of cyberpunk stories. And indeed, as O’Leary characterizes the subgenre, lunarpunk continues this resistance, reminding solarpunks that utopia will only ever be elsewhere, while dystopia is nigh.
But, significantly, O’Leary isn’t writing speculative fiction, rather, she seems to be going a step further by attempting a more direct intervention into history itself, engaging in what might be called mythospeculation. But she doesn’t claim to be any kind of messiah, rather, she points to the advent of crypto as containing its own speculative, sci-fi potential. As she writes, “crypto is an extreme kind of sci-fi because as well as offering a vision of the future it also provides the tools to make that future possible.” She goes on to describe how the future of crypto is predominately envisioned through the idealism of solarpunk. Now there are many in the solarpunk movement who reject the whole world of crypto as merely a transposition of neoliberal capitalism into the digital sphere. A thread in the solarpunk subreddit titled “Crypto is not (solar)punk” provides a snapshot of the various perspectives involved in the debate. As one user writes,
“Regardless of the environmental impacts, which are sus at best, creating an unregulated currency that is already controlled by the rich and powerful and literally siphoning production and wealth out of the labor force of the country with get-rich-quick schemes, pump and dump, and pyramid schemes is not my idea of solarpunk. Currency as we know it wouldn’t even be needed in a truly post-scarcity solarpunk world. Cryptocurrency is just capitalism turned up to 11.”
With the recent downfall of FTX we know that this is indeed an accurate characterization of some developments in the world of crypto, but others argue that this just proves the true potentials of blockchain technology have yet to be tapped. Another user in the subreddit debate conveys this with respect to the capabilities of NFTs:
“an NFT is really just any data stored on a blockchain that isn’t interchangeable with the other items on it (in the way that one bitcoin can be interchanged with any other bitcoin, because they’re all the same as each other). That means that NFTs could conceivably be used not just for securely keeping track of ownership, but generally for issuing records that can’t be forged or modified, or (along with smart contracts) exchanging data between two parties when the terms of an agreement are fulfilled. We can do those things without trusting a third party – or really, trusting anything except math – and without centralizing authority in the hands of a bureaucracy which might become inefficient, abusive of its power, or corrupt. A large part of solarpunk is the smart and responsible application of technology to improve our lives, and if blockchains were applied properly, they have the potential to legitimize and strengthen the sort of bottom-up social relations that, to me, are vital to the successful implementation of solarpunk ideals.” It is presumably this capacity to cut out third parties (i.e. banks, governments, etc.) and the centralizing power such entities currently enjoy that makes crypto, as O’Leary suggests, an “extreme form of sci-fi” by providing the “tools to make that future possible.”
Blockchain technology, as this user points out, enables peer-to-peer transactions that could provide bottom-up, grassroots movements an economic alternative to the state-mediated systems currently in place. This potential of decentralization is presumably what O’Leary means when she describes crypto as an extreme form of sci-fi, one that provides a vision and the tools to realize it. Unfortunately this potential is hampered by another widely celebrated feature of the blockchain—transparency, the expectation being that public access to transactions will mitigate corruption, or at least make it easy to spot when it does take place. But if we recall the central concern of cypherpunks—privacy—then we might rightly hesitate to celebrate a technology that exposes our transactions to prying eyes. Indeed, this is O’Leary’s main concern, for while many in the Global North might look upon the insistence for privacy with suspicion, those who have faced state-sanctioned oppression know better. That O’Leary knows better becomes evident in another article in which she compares the lunarpunk insistence on encryption with the guerilla style warfare of the Irish during their recent revolutionary period:
“Fighters lacked weapons, but the people and rugged landscape protected them. The new warfare favored hit-and-run tactics and disrupting enemy intelligence. It was the dawn of modern guerrilla tactics – and it won Ireland its independence. These guerilla tactics are no longer feasible today. Modern surveillance technologies and automated weaponry have turned the world that we inhabit into a desert with no protective cover. Resistance fighters are easy targets.”
Transparency, for O’Leary, is like the first iteration of the Irish revolution—when Irish fighters tried to overcome colonial rule by occupying the most public outposts of their territory. But being so conspicuous backfired when the British army arrived and closed-in, catalyzing the recourse to guerilla tactics. Today’s mass surveillance is a similar development. Those solarpunks who, having recognized the emancipatory potential of crypto, opt to join forces with popular blockchains like Ethereum and Bitcoin, put themselves at risk when—in the near future—state regulation sweeps in and transparency backfires. O’Leary and others in the DarkFi movement refer to the latter development—state-based crypto regulation—as “the coming storm,” and position lunarpunk as a revolutionary countermeasure. As she writes, “lunarpunk is a guerrilla movement committed to establishing a digital forest in cypherspace using tools like encryption that its fighters can recede into.”
“Lunarpunk’s believe freedom can only be found outside the logic of domination. This means lunar society must completely decouple itself from the current paradigm. As such the lunarpunk future is born from a conflict that solarpunks seek to avoid.
This solarpunk repression is its weakest point. Solarpunk cannot build the vision it projects if it has already integrated the oppression that it hopes to break away from. By favoring transparency in its systems, solarpunk is tragically engineering its fate. Surveillance – the mechanism of authoritarianism – is bound to the solarpunk destiny.
For solarpunk to succeed it must integrate the lunarpunk unconscious. The only hope for solarpunk is to go dark.”
Just as many in the solarpunk movement reject crypto altogether, many might also take issue with the claim that solarpunk has “integrated the oppression it hopes to break away from.” This may not be true of the movement broadly speaking, but it is an unfortunate fact that the greenwashing powers of capitalism have already made inroads into solarpunk aesthetically. The short film “Dear Alice,” a Miyazaki-inspired animation, is a case in point because it doubles as an advertisement for the Greek yogurt company Chobani. The product placement is truly cringe in an otherwise diverse, utopian vision of a solarpunk future. The presence of a decommodified version of the animation on YouTube and a thread discussing the advertisement on the solarpunk subreddit are enough to show that many in the movement do not wish to capitulate to the powers that be.
As O’Leary understands it, the darkness of lunarpunk refers not only to the cover of anonymity, but also the willingness to look into the dark—to accept uncomfortable truths. For lunarpunks this means embracing the fact that we are living in the midst of a dying empire—a phase of decline which typically features an intensified effort of the state to exert control over citizens—hence the unwillingness to reform. And like fungi in the midst of this decay, the lunarpunks of DarkFi are generating an anonymity-focused layer 1 (foundational) blockchain in hopes of fostering a decentralized economy that could unite a patchwork federation of anarchist communities around the globe. Herein lies another important feature of lunarpunk: the recognition that—out of death—new life can emerge. And whereas solarpunk especially emphasizes a compassionate perception of humanity as a whole (including the future of our species), lunarpunks insist on the integral role each individual plays in the moral drama of history. Up until this point a question may have been hovering in the mind of the reader: “But isn’t anonymity a potential hazard? Won’t it incentivize and facilitate criminal behavior?” Justin Murphy posed this question to O’Leary during a dialogue the two had on the zero-knowledge crypto-anarchy of DarkFi; her response conveys the spirituality that undergirds true anarchy when understood as an ethical form that arises spontaneously from the human heart when we have had the chance to grow into virtue rather than be coerced to imitate it:
“I don’t think anonymity is necessarily a catalyst for bad things, and I also have optimism and faith in people, and I don’t think we need to persecute everyone with this invasive surveillance in order to protect us. No, I believe that people can live ethically and that their ethics should come from themselves and not be imposed on them… let the people do their things, fulfill their destinies—let that arise from them organically, as it should, in the spirit of affirmation.”
By insisting on the negative freedom that cryptography provides (freedom from prying eyes and coercion), it might seem like lunarpunks prize technological fixes over the cultivation of inner freedom and virtue. But the convictions O’Leary expresses above convey the exact opposite. The negative freedom of privacy becomes necessary in our technologically mediated world so as to carve out enclaves where the positive freedom of affirmation can flourish organically. One might discern echoes of Nietzche’s yea-saying here. Cryptography can support the latter, but true virtue can only arise out of individual self-transformation. No technology—no matter how sophisticated—can achieve this for us. Such transformation is the spiritual basis of ethical anarchy. If solarpunk steers science and technology away from the alienated and hubristic ends of cyberpunk, lunarpunk rounds off by reminding us that the key to a future of mutual flourishing ultimately lies within.
“Yet, we should also demand the light, the transparent fullness of solarpunk optimism. This is how I imagine a perfect synthesis of solar- and lunarpunk. A transparent society of utopic quality (demand nothing less) protected by a vigilant darkness. Without the light what is there to protect anyway? We should never give up the sun to the state.”
Amen—we should never give up the Sun to the state, for the transparent light of surveillance is only a counterfeit of the true, life-giving light of our star. Dylan-Ennis’ vision of synthesis and O’Leary’s Jungian call for solarpunk to “integrate the lunarpunk unconscious,” are—in my perspective—contemporary intimations of the ancient Pythagorean understanding of the cosmos as a harmonic order. But this harmonic order is not something that is merely given, rather, it is something human beings must participate in if we wish to keep the music of the universal process going. The bare attempt to discern the distinct archetypal character of Sun and Moon at work in these subgenres and the relation that inheres between them is an exercise in this cosmic participation, this renewal of cosmic spirituality. If, in the constraints of this post, we take the light of optimism, the primacy of Life, and the perception of an underlying wholeness to convey the essence of solarpunk, lunarpunk bodies forth the inverse: a familiarity with darkness that wisely guides the light of optimism, a sober recognition that the mystery of Life is ineluctably bound up with the mystery of Death (including the death of empires), and—alongside the light-filled perception of wholeness—an equal respect for difference, for the multeity at work in this harmonic unity we call our cosmos. Whereas the Sun, shining on all below irrespective of differences, occupies the daytime sky alone, the Moon shares the vault of heaven with other planets and a countless host of starry worlds. Contemplating this great celestial diversity, we are filled with awe, perhaps terror—or maybe even a bit of both. Just as the Sun can shed light on what it means to be human and guide our aspirations for the future, so too can the Moon. Unless (or until!) we discover humanoid beings elsewhere in the universe, we ought to measure our essence in close connection with the planet which hosts us: Earth. We are not just on the Earth, but are brought forth through the dynamism of its being. But the Earth would not be what it is if it were not simultaneously dancing with the Sun and the Moon. The three celestial bodies constitute a whole in the form of a tri-unity, with Earth harmonizing the polar extremes of Sun and Moon. Unlike the irresolvable negation of contradiction—the stasis of binary opposition—the tri-unity is a dynamic, ever-evolving harmony that recapitulates itself at all scales throughout the cosmos. In a similar vein, BrightFlame speaks of the “nonbinary nature” of solar and lunarpunk, describing their connection “as varied and changeable, not fixed like a molecular bond,” that they “don’t just touch one another, they overlap.” Her characterization is reminiscent of how many have described the Chinese yin-yang which features an interpenetration of light and darkness, one that is more suggestive of a dynamic tri-unity than a static, binary opposition.
The same intuition of threefoldness manifests itself in the Celtic triquetra. Indeed, a trinity in some shape or form shows up in the symbol systems of many ancient cultures across the globe, a fact which may be taken to suggest that the harmony of three was an obvious feature of the natural world for our ancestors. But between now and then our thinking—especially when it comes to number—has become woefully abstract. The emergence of lunarpunk in wake of solarpunk bespeaks the potential each imaginary has for overcoming this abstractness through a reattunement the meaningfulness of the more-than-human world. That this is already happening is evident in the sequence of their articulation: given that we are beings of the Earth—cradled between the weaving of Sun and Moon—it was inevitable that a genre inspired by the light of day would be followed by the darkness of night. The two constitute a polarity, a rhythm—a dynamic relationship undergirded unity (i.e. harmony). Aesthetic sensitivity to the natural world expresses itself as a creative continuation of this polar rhythm. We see this in the first characterizations of both genres, but particularly in the effort to articulate the essence of lunarpunk always in relation to solarpunk. As Justine Norton-Kertson writes, “Lunarpunk is to Solarpunk as flowers are to fungi”—a very apt transposition of this polarity, for most flowers do open to greet the daylight, whereas mushrooms tend to thrive in the damp breath of shadows.
If cyberpunk serves to warn us of the destructive potential that human hubris writ large spells for the future, solar and lunarpunk—taken together—enjoin human beings to become capable of comprehending the speaking world once more. This renewal of cosmic spirituality is what we need to offset the damage that has been and will continue to be wrought by technologies concocted by alienated anthropocentrism. Only a spirituality that flows from a recognition of our cosmic context will know how to wield the power of technology responsibly. Though we cannot separate solar and lunarpunk, we can and must distinguish them to better understand the task ahead. Sol ignites the salvific light of optimism, reattunes science and technology to the primacy of Life, and perceives the wholeness of humanity and the Earth community; Luna reminds us that we’re already in the midst of a dystopian cyberpunk story, that we can skillfully negotiate the decay of empire by receding into the dark forest of a parallel cypherspace-economy, and that this technology can help to safeguard the freedoms necessary, though not sufficient for, human actualization. Most of all, Luna reminds us that the latter—the actualization of human potential—can only be achieved at the individual level as we each work inwardly to transform ourselves into ethical beings who are capable of partaking in the spiritual anarchy of the future by striving to live up to it in the present.
Ashton K. Arnoldy is a Ph.D. candidate in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies; his dissertation is focused on the evolution of consciousness as presented by Owen Barfield. Ashton doubles as Aʅʂσ Kɳσɯɳ Aʂ, a multimedia avatar dedicated to fostering anthropogenesis and cosmological orientation. For more, check out the multimedia lunarpunk series Lunar Return, the blog/podcast MicroKosm, and the weekly Calendar of the Soul livestream.
How many genres does it take to change a light bulb . . . from incandescent to LED? That is, from authoritarian, individualistic, power-over, capitalist tropes to regenerative, interconnected, just, collaborative ones. (Pardon the cliché.)
My thoughts about solarpunk and lunarpunk continue to evolve, just like the amorphous container of each vibe/genre/aesthetic/movement (abbreviated as vibe in this essay). Here are my musings of the moment (February 2023).
Jay Springett, a consultant strategist and writer, gave a very interesting presentation about solarpunk. Key takeaways for me: solarpunk is a growing container where gravity pulls some core, mutually understood concepts towards the center, and ideas around the edges are more blurred and in flux—this, by design. It’s an aesthetic of many voices; as such, solarpunks can speak only for themselves, not the movement as a whole.
Jay says in the presentation, “solarpunk asks: What if we together, collectively, create a container that can be used by anyone to place their ideas about the future inside. And what sort of stories would that container with the things it contains, create?”
I love the image Jay creates of the solarpunk container, which he deems a memetic engine that re-futures participants’ imaginations—an engine for producing ideas about the future. In other words, the container holding various inputs becomes an idea-generator, which inspires more inputs to the container and continually reshapes it. Here is my doodle of such a container.
Though the container is more a shapeshifting amoeba than round, and its edges are permeable so ideas flow in and out. Note that the ideas in my graphic are examples to show the form, not an attempt to capture the state of solarpunk or the ideas drifting around the container at the moment.
In his essay “Solarpunk: A Container for More Fertile Futures,” Jay says “solarpunk is defined by the ideas it produces, not by the container itself.” Yet to me, it’s both the mechanics of the container—a shapeshifting, dynamic engine—plus the generated ideas, which become fuel for more ideas.
How does lunarpunk fit?
In early 2022, I wrote that lunarpunk is the way in which we understand the Earth as sacred—how this turns into a lifestyle and a spiritual form. And that lunarpunk expresses its magical and spiritual side more readily than solarpunk.
I also created this graphic early last year:
As I write this essay nearly a year later, the above no longer adequately captures lunarpunk.
How they combine in me
I jumped into solarpunk several years back because the vibe describes my path and my life’s work. I write, teach, create, and act for justice and a regenerative world. Thus, solarpunk.
Yet, I also make magic for justice and a regenerative world. As a Witch, I sense and shape energy. I talk with nonhumans like trees and mycorrhizae. I explore the Web of Life. Much of my teaching and writing helps humans feel their connection with the Earth and develop de-centered relationships with Earth kin. I lift different ways of knowing. So, lunarpunk.
Perhaps solarpunk is my activist side and lunarpunk is my magical side and my connection with the Web of Life.
But I don’t like binaries.
The alchemy of solarpunk and lunarpunk
Solarpunk and lunarpunk, to me, are not a binary and not opposites. Besides, binary thinking is a characteristic of authoritarianism, white supremacy, and religious dogma: it doesn’t fit with a solarpunk or lunarpunk vibe. We stay clear of binaries in my spiritual tradition (the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft), recognizing that there are at least three options or paths in any situation.
In any event, I would argue solarpunk and lunarpunk are not separable. Yet I hesitate writing inseparable, which brings to mind an image of two atoms linked in a static way to form a molecule (like CO, carbon monoxide). Since lunarpunk and solarpunk are amorphous, their connection is varied and changeable, not fixed like a molecular bond.
Furthermore, solarpunk and lunarpunk don’t just touch one another, they overlap. But to what extent? Does it depend on the context, the particular example?
Or is lunarpunk totally within solarpunk like a starfish in a tidal pool? Perhaps like mitochondria within a cell, lunarpunk energizes solarpunk. Or is it the reverse, and solarpunk is subsumed in lunarpunk like humans are part of Nature.
Does the vibe change more to lunarpunk or more to solarpunk depending on what is highlighted in the amorphous shape?
Perhaps lunarpunk and solarpunk totally overlap, neither a subset of the other.
Then what about as an art aesthetic, you might ask. Some say that solarpunk displays vivid and bright colors like in daylight, and lunarpunk displays shadow and bioluminescence like nighttime and underwater. To me, these highlight different areas of the form like my spotlit amoeba doodles, above. The aesthetics are connected—we can’t have shadow without light or brightness without dimness.
As a genre, lunarpunk might be an apt term for stories that tend towards fantasy. Yet is any literary work lunarpunk without being solarpunk? What of a story with no technology, yet all about creating just and regenerative culture? To me, that is still solarpunk highlighting a particular part of the amoebic container.
When I include communication between humans and non-human Earth kin, I’m not writing the fantastical, I’m writing of different ways of knowing. When I write of sensing and shaping energy—universal life force that flows through all creatures of Earth—it’s not fantasy. (See my stories “Myco Macro” and “Maybe We Are All Witches” as examples.) My manuscript about a coven thwarting those who harm the Web of Life contains the kind of magic and workings we Reclaiming Witches practice, including working in the astral realm. All of these works might be called lunarpunk. And they are also solarpunk.
What to call the combined vibes
I feel that solarpunk and lunarpunk are not two different vibes—they are one. For example, non-Western/non-dominant ways of knowing are as integral to solarpunk as lunarpunk. Solarpunk is enlivened by the sacred, by spirituality, not separate from it. Lunarpunk is as much about creating a just, regenerative, bright future as solarpunk. As much about cooperative, mutual, fossil-free societies as solarpunk. Interdependence and communication among the Web of Life are central to both.
I admit: I cringe when folx call solarpunk and lunarpunk opposites. I think this is because I want a vibrant, dynamic container. One that is the most pluralistic and feeds the “uncommons,” as Navarre described in his introduction to this blog series.
Just as mycorrhizae and trees combine as a regenerative forest, lunarpunk and solarpunk form a whole. Take either away and you destroy the forest.
If we erect borders in the forest to define lunarpunk versus solarpunk, the forest is less interconnected and dynamic, less able to thrive. Yet, at any given moment we interact with a different part of the forest, thus changing how we express the vibe.
If we separate lunarpunk from the amorphous, pluralistic solarpunk memetic engine, the container becomes less rich, the engine has less fuel.
What would I call lunarpunk and solarpunk combined? Perhaps just solarpunk.
How many genres does it take to change that lightbulb?
One amorphous, evolving genre or vibe.
BrightFlame (she/they) writes, teaches, and makes magic in service to a just, regenerating world. Her short- and long-form speculative fiction tend towards solarpunk/lunarpunk, including in Solarpunk Magazine Issue 6, in Bioluminescent (Android Press, January 2023), and in a forthcoming solarpunk anthology. She’s known for her teaching in the worldwide pagan community and is affiliated with a sustainability education center at Columbia University that features her workshops and nonfiction. She lives on Lenape territory (Turtle Island) with a human, a forest, a labyrinth, hawks, bees, ponds, turtles, monarda, fox, fungi, rocks, and many other nonhumans. Find her writing and doodles at http://brightflame.com, @BrtFlame on Twitter (if it’s still there), and @BrightFlame@wandering.shop.
We’ve talked about solarpunk, lunarpunk, and tidalpunk a great deal here, and one question I hear repeated is whether we need three different subgenres or if there are sharp distinctions between them at all. For me, solarpunk, lunarpunk, and tidalpunk each embody the same values of ecology and equity while expressing them in their own way. They are parts of an ecosystem and reliant on each other.
When I found solarpunk, I loved how the movement embraced both the scientific and the spiritual. Neither one was superior. They both informed the other to come to a greater understanding of the world around us and how to make it a better place. Science without spirituality* becomes the fuel for cold, capitalistic domination of nature, and spirituality without science can lead to superstition and bigotry. When we combine both, we get something that’s better than the sum of its parts.
Lunarpunk foregrounds spirituality and the inner work we do to build a better world. Solarpunk focuses on the application of societal arrangements and appropriate technology to approach the climate crisis. Tidalpunk reminds us that while we might inhabit every corner of the land, three quarters of the Earth’s surface is simultaneously alien and the home we left behind.
Because one person’s utopia is another’s dystopia, solarpunk is sometimes described as optopia: “the best possible place we can create given the circumstances.” One way we do this is by working together to cover for each other’s weaknesses and to enhance each other’s strengths. Pluralism, or everyone having their own perspective respected even when in contradiction, is something I feel is critical for solarpunks. Marisol de la Cadena goes further with the concept of uncommons, wherein “participant entities may become into commonality without becoming the same.”
In the spirit of uncommons, this year we’ll have several contributors presenting their own experiences with solarpunk/lunarpunk and the spiritual. As we present this series, keep in mind that we will not be encompassing all possible ways of how spirituality interacts with solarpunk, lunarpunk, and tidalpunk, but rather our own small facets of a greater whole.
* I’m defining spirituality here as all the squishy and difficult to define things that make us human. This includes the paths followed by atheists, pagans, Abrahamists, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and everybody else.
The Upcycle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart is the followup to Cradle to Cradle. Written in 2013, it brings a decade’s worth of new information and experience to the concept of Cradle to Cradle design thinking.
If you’re interested in the circular economy and can only read one book – this is it. There is a short section at the front that recaps the underlying principles of Cradle to Cradle systems in case you haven’t read the first book. While Cradle to Cradle was groundbreaking for the concept that we should design human industry to be a positive good for the environment, The Upcycle contains many more specific examples of projects where the authors were able to achieve these ends.
For example, in the book there is a story of Dan Juhl who pairs farmers with investors for building renewables on their land. The investors get a guaranteed return on their investment for ten years, and the energy generation equipment reverts to the farmers after this period. More renewables end up on the grid, and families get an additional source of income by owning the means of energy production.
The physical book itself is a nice counterpoint to the design of Cradle to Cradle. While Cradle to Cradle was designed to be reusable in technical nutrient cycles, The Upcycle is designed with biodegradable inks and paper so that it can become a biological nutrient again. One of the main ideas of Cradle to Cradle design is that things should be delineated into two separate nutrient streams: biological and technical. Wood, paper, and things of this nature can be reused as they would be in nature by returning to the land while technical materials like plastics and metals should be reclaimed for infinite technical cycles. Preventing the creation of “monstrous hybrids” is an important goal of the Cradle to Cradle design process. These materials are amalgamations of material that are difficult, if not impossible to separate and reuse. This is particularly harmful if the materials in these hybrids are toxic in nature. The book quotes McDonough, “Let’s put the filters in our heads and not at the end of pipes.”
The Upcycle is a breath of fresh air. McDonough and Braungart show how we can rethink the way we design everyday objects to fit into the constant cycles of Mother Nature and end the insanity of cradle-to-grave mentality. Cradle-to-Cradle design is definitely the way we should be thinking when we design technologies and objects for our solarpunk future.
Do you use any Cradle to Cradle products in your life? What has your experience been? Let us know below!
Despite marketing jargon, I don’t think that we’ve yet reached the point where our technology is “magical.” A cave person might feel differently, but smartphones, computers, and televisions are clearly tools in my eye. There are a few exceptions, but I want devices that more elegantly flow with our lives instead of us molding our behavior around the device.
In stories, magic feels more like an extension of the being wielding the power. Even when the power source isn’t from within the individual, magic is still channeled through the magic user, so they must be in tune with it, but not consumed by it.
Technology that “just works” is a step in the right direction, since few things are as un-magical as having to reinstall drivers. I think we can go farther though. For me, at least, it’s easy to get lost in the technology itself and lose sight of the end goal of the tech. To be truly magical, I think the device and interface need to melt away so we can focus on the real reason we’re using it. At their core, smartphones are devices for communication. How do we make meaningful communication with those we care about easier?
Take the pencil. As long as it’s sharp, most people don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how much it weighs or how thin it is. It gets the job done and you don’t have to think much about the object itself. There are certainly applications like art where the hardness of the graphite is an important consideration, but for the majority of situations, the pencil is incidental to the outcome of wanting words or doodles on the page. The pencil is an extraordinary piece of technology because it works so well that we pay it barely any heed.
A few devices approach this simplicity: e-readers, Pebble smartwatches, smartpens, the Beeline bike navigator, the Typified weather poster, voice assistants, and most calculators. Maybe I just don’t have the headspace for multi-function gadgets, but for me, the more functionality you cram into a device, the more unwieldy it becomes. Perhaps some brilliant UI/UX designer will come up with a way to make the multi-function nature of the smartphone more seamless, but as of now, I find smartphones to be amazing but kludgy.
The people working on the Skychaser solarpunk comic are doing a great job of thinking of magical technologies. You should definitely check them out if this is something that appeals to you.
I don’t have the answers for finding the right balance of functionality and magic but wanted to explore some of the questions with you. Maybe you have some ideas of how to make technology a little more magical. If you do and want to share, please post something below!
Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We Make Things
Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart is about envisioning a better way to manage human interactions with the natural world. The authors ask,
“What if humans designed products and systems that celebrate an abundance of human creativity, culture, and productivity? That are so intelligent and safe, our species leaves an ecological footprint to delight in, not lament?”
Starting from the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, they analyze the design decisions that led capitalist society to the environmental crossroads it faces today. While things weren’t quite so dire in 2002 when the book was written, its analyses of the pitfalls of rampant industrialization are thorough and thought provoking.
The most refreshing part of this book though is it isn’t just a list of where capitalism went wrong and why we’re all doomed. Cradle to Cradle outlines ways in which designers, engineers, and scientists can work together to deconstruct the current way we make things and redesign our material lives to benefit the natural world. The main idea, which I find to be very solarpunk, is to look at how in nature there is no waste. Everything serves a purpose in the environment. The fruit of the cherry tree feeds birds and animals while those animals spread the seeds of the tree. The droppings of those birds and animals fertilize the ground where the cherry tree and its offspring grow so that they can offer more food. Everything has its place in the cycle.
In one project, a shampoo was redesigned from scratch to only have positive effects by carefully selecting every chemical going into it, including the bottle. Herman Miller had a new factory designed including natural lighting, more ventilation, and a “street” with plants inside to bring nature closer to the workers. As we saw with the Nature Fix, bringing humans and nature together has positive benefits for human health, and by bringing the outdoors in, Herman Miller was able to bring its new focus on environmental sustainability to the forefront.
The book isn’t just anecdotes and feel-good aphorisms, it also includes a framework for how to approach design to ensure maximum good. One of the ongoing themes in the book is that so far, most industry has tried to do less bad to the environment when it cares at all, but it’s time to go a step further and see how we can take industry and make it improve the world around us.
A success story in this vein tells of a textile factory in Europe that worked to make a better upholstery fabric for office chairs. When the regulators came to check the factory’s wastewater (effluent), they were confused as the water coming out of the plant was cleaner than that going in.
The equipment was working fine; it was simply that by most parameters the water coming out of the factory was as clean as — or even cleaner than — the water going in. When a factory’s effluent is cleaner than its influent, it might well prefer to use its effluent as influent. Being designed into the manufacturing process, this dividend is free and requires no enforcement to continue or to exploit. Not only did our new design process bypass the traditional responses to environmental problems (reduce, reuse, recycle), it also eliminated the need for regulation, something that any businessperson will appreciate as extremely valuable.
One of the things I’m hoping to investigate further in 2019 is the circular economy, and I think the design strategies outlined in Cradle to Cradle are a good first step in this direction. I found there is a followup book called The Upcycle written in 2013 that I will be checking out from the library soon.
Have you read Cradle to Cradle or have thoughts on the circular economy? Let us know below!