Is it almost February already? Well, Happy New Year anyway! Hope things are off to a decent start for you all, and if not, I hope they improve soon.
I have several updates to post. First of all, last summer, our family moved from Charlottesville, VA to the Augusta, GA area, so I hope that goes some way toward explaining the dearth of posts from me in the last year. A big thank you goes out to all the guest bloggers who have been sharing their thoughts on Solarpunk Spirituality over the last year and helping me keep things running here. We will hopefully have one more post in the series before we call it to a close. Be sure to let us know what you think about it all and whether we should do another guest blog series on other topics in solarpunk!
A few podcasts have dropped in the last few months featuring me. Most recently, I was interviewed by Ariel at Solarpunk Presents about the Solarpunk Spirituality Series. In December, I was on two more episodes of If This Goes on Don’t Panic: another episode of my book review column Book Navigator and a solarpunk panel Q&A with Justine Norton-Kertson, Susan Kaye Quinn, Alan Bailey, and myself to wrap up the year of solarpunk columns over there.
I also have a piece about designing Heirloom Devices in the Solarpunk Conference Journal that was just published (for free!). Go check that out if you’re interested on my take on how to design devices that better fit into a solarpunk future. This is really a continuation of my thoughts from the Solarpunk Phone Series I wrote a few years back.
How was 2023 for you? Do you have any solarpunk plans for 2024? Let us know below!
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.
Seeds for the Swarm by Sim Kern takes us on a journey of the near future where warming has continued and much of the United States is now barely habitable. People from the “Dust States” try to emigrate through a tightly-controlled border to the “Lush States” or muddle through with that rugged individualism we take so much pride in here in the United States.
This feels like a very likely future with continued exploitation of oil and corporate/government collusion leading to huge sacrifice zones where people work hard in polluting industries that are choking their communities so they can put food on the table for their families. Rylla, our protagonist, wants desperately to go to college, but doesn’t have much hope of getting out of the Dust States even though she’s in the top of her nationwide virtual high school.
When she finds out the oil company in her hometown plans to destroy the watershed that provides what meager water is available to her region and is the last thing to give her hope, she gets a ride to speak to the state legislature committee in charge. Despite an impassioned speech, her entreaties fall on distracted ears beholden to corporate overlords and gadget addictions. One viral, embarrassing remix of her speech later, she gets recruited as a scholarship student at a university in the Lush States.
Starting with her interaction with the elected representatives, Rylla does a lot of growing up in the course of this book. It felt like Kern took everything I learned during the course of my twenties and made Rylla face these hard truths all in the course of a single year. During her many misadventures, I identified with Rylla’s tendency to get swept up in the ideology of the groups she would spend time with before becoming disillusioned when she found they didn’t have the answers she needed.
This future has glimmers of hope, but the carcass of our current world is still the dominant society. While there are a variety of themes explored, I think the most important is how the protagonists push against eco-fascism being the only solution to solving the climate crisis regardless of who is promoting it. I think it really fits into what Andrew Dana Hudson said when he was interviewed by Solarpunk Magazine:
a solarpunk future is one in which the climate crisis is escalating, institutions are failing, late capitalism is getting even more precarious and putrid, and while technologies of sustainability might be becoming ubiquitous, we haven’t yet managed to fully phase out the toxic old for the green new. It’s a future (slash present!!) in which we need a movement of solarpunks to shove us onto a better path
Our Shared Storm: An Interview with Andrew Dana Hudson
As someone who is an engineer, I really love the interactions between Rylla, a humanities major, and all of her engineering/scientist friends. They’re preoccupied with how to get their projects to work the way they want them to without necessarily thinking about what secondary or tertiary effects the technology might have on the world. They are often dismissive of Rylla’s legitimate concerns and only later realize that she was right in being worried. The Ian Malcolm quote from Jurassic Park comes to mind of “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Rylla’s other main companions are her fellow humanities majors including her previous public school rival from another Dust State and her nonbinary roommate who literally smashes the patriarchy. As one might expect, it’s up to Rylla to join the forces of science and the humanities to defeat the eco-fascist Big Bad at the end of the book. I do feel like this book is a little better about explaining why the kids have to be so instrumental in saving the day compared to most other YA novels where it seems the adults just really needed to go on vacation that week.
There are plenty of mishaps, victories, death, and embarrassments to go around in this story, making it a solid entry into the YA genre. I could’ve done without the love triangle, but I know that’s a hard trope to kill. Rylla and the other characters feel like real, messy humans who are doing their best to make it in an imperfectly hopeful world.
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. It 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!
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.
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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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.
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.
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!
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 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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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