SLIDES AND SPEAKER NOTES FOR A TALK ON SOLARPUNK GIVEN AT UNSOUND FESTIVAL, KRAKOW, POLAND OCT 2019.
JAY SPRINGETT IS A SOLARPUNK, THEORIST AND STRATEGIST FOR HYBRID ENVIRONMENTS.
HIS CONCERNS ARE WITH CULTURE, HUMANS AND TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT. HE IS CURRENTLY WRITING HIS FIRST PUBLIC BOOK: LAND AS PLATFORM.
JAY WRITES ONLINE UNDER THE HANDLE @THEJAYMO
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Solarpunk: Life in the Future Beyond the Rusted Chrome of Yestermorrow
It’s a real privilege to be back at Unsound again. Last year I talked about conspiracy theories, the capture of AM radio by Christian DJs, Foucault, Memetic tools, and the SR 71 Blackbird, it was a lot of fun.
I covered a lot of ground on mimetic theory and media narratives. I’m going to try and do something similar today.
I’m not just going to be talking about Solarpunk. Before I get there, I’d like to talk about the nature of narratives in our wider cultural sphere. The types of futures that we all currently all share, and why we need new ones. I also hope to contextualise why I think Solarpunk is so important as a narrative strategy in 2019.
As such. This talk is split in to 4 parts.
- The requirement of ‘Mainstream Media’ for audiences to have stable expectations to be profitable.
- Visions Of The Future. How how the ones we have aren’t working for us.
- I’ll close with a few notes on the kinds of future that I think we all want to live in.
Before I begin I want to talk a little bit about quote un-quote ‘Mainstream Culture’. We are all in a peculiar position. We have access to an abundance of independently created art from all over the world. And yet the kinds of movies being made, and the types of stories that are getting told seem to be totally unoriginal, regurgitated or rebooted.
In the first part of this talk I want to about why I think that is, and how we find ourselves in that position.
I’m gonna do that 30 something man ‘I was in a band’ thing and talk about when I was a teenager.
I grew up in a small seaside town and was heavily involved in the DIY Hardcore punk scene. I grew up in an environment that was completely outside of mainstream culture. Those formative years taught me everything that I know about building community, making culture for yourself and improving the lives of people around you.
Solarpunk is Punk after all
Basically, stuck out on the edge of England with nothing but the North Sea and its wind and rain on three sides of the island I grew up on. If you wanted to see a band from out of town you personally and/or your mates had to book them and find a place to put the gig on and get as many people to the show as possible. We had to literally make your own culture if you wanted to have any at all.
It was a small but close knit community. We ran yearly inter-band community football tournaments that ended with a gig to raise money for charity in the evening.
We had punks getting their face painted, cake sales, yoga, loads of stuff. Most importantly to the theme of this years festival this community taught me about solidarity. What it means to be in solidarity with others. What if feels like when you do it. Whilst on a different scale. I really kinda feel that Unsound’s spirit is very much the same. Everyone involved is rolling their own culture. Because they all want other people to share in the one they love.
We used to put shows on in practice rooms, front rooms, bars and church halls. This is a photo of a typical show back in the day.
When all this was going on. We had three main phases that saw us though the early noughtys. Mantras that we used to all say to each other when things were getting difficult or wasn’t going so well:
I’m happy to report that Do It Yourself culture out lasted everyone. EMI collapsed in 2012 after an 80 year history, and NME closed in print in 2018.
And of course loud music as a solution to angst is still as much as a social balm as it ever was. That’s why were all here right?
Things were simpler back then however: I grew up pre-myspace. Pre social media in general in fact.
I grew up with bulletin boards, MSN and ICQ.
Back then at turn of the millenium, around the year 2000. Wider culture was still running on 90’s cultural hegemony and the end of history. We still frowned at the idea of selling out and dropping out. You can still do these things, but its far more complicated. In 2019 the only reason your not selling out is because nobody is buying.
The rules and environment for resistance has changed. But I think that today you could can still point to something and say if it was quote unquote mainstream or not. Im going to do that shortly.
The internet as much as we take it for granted. Was – and still is – a depth charge that went off right at the base of our cultural and creative world. A technology whose explosion is still rippling out causing changes, challenges and problems and issues for individuals, industries and governments.
It has benefited our lives in many ways, but also hugely impacted it in others.
For a long time. The narrative that emerged around the Internet was that it was going to cause consumers of media to atomise.
Reducing each and every one of us down to individual preferences, the experiences we wanted, and a list of things we wanted to buy.
This was the world of personal blogs and dedicated websites. Pitchfork bloggers were tastemakers and could make or break careers.
The idea was that we could all get online and connect to one another around the things that interest us: like model trains, politics, musical genres, makeup tutorials, stamp collecting or whatever.
And by doing so we would all have a nice time. After all Facebook’s mission statement “is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.“
That was the promise at least.
Then through the late Noughtys and early twenty teens. Platforms build up gravity by attracting users to their platforms. In many cases literally by scaling as fast as possible with no thought to how they would make money. What this did was capture internet uses and re-cohear this atomisation on singular platforms where they could still gather around the topics that they were interested in.
Now as we head into the 2020’s. What we’ve got is a situation where everyone is now on one of the big platforms like Facebook, and after a while they realise that building community around niche interests was all a scam. In many cases the only thing that users on facebook have in common with other facebook users is that they all use facebook.
It’s really wild to think that for many in 2019 because of the way they use the internet, it only has 6 channels.
Down at the individual level away from the main platforms. More people are making music, movies, write, make art, or expressing themselves creatively than ever before.
We all know that Soundcloud or Bandcamp are hugely important platforms, but that’s because we largely are talking to ourselves on the periphery. We still need the quote unquote mainstream platforms for promotion etc.
Regardless, I would argue that The shattering of individual interests has actually caused an excess of creativity.
Years ago now, Laurie Penny wrote something along the lines of “On the internet, all of cultural history is happening concurrently. All at once” – and it’s stuck with me.
For example: If you’re into Cool Jazz and want to iterate on the genre, but don’t like to Jazz Fusion which is where the genre went historically then you can just go for it.
You can fork Cool Jazz at 1955 straight into 2019. Our nice neat cultural historical timelines of evolution and musical revival are broken.
Everything is happening all at once.
One of the big problems that we face – and I’m not the first to talk about this obviously. Is that the business models the culture industry still use are those from the last century. They aren’t set up to make money in this new media landscape. Nor do they help or facilitate individual artists or musicians make money either.
The crazy thing is when you look at the numbers in detail, huge mainstream media entities aren’t making that much money either.
I mentioned Cool Jazz just now as a genre. I like the idea of genre because no one actually owns it or controls it. It has fuzzy edges and many participants, it is what everyone collectively agrees it is. The same also applies to Solarpunk.
The same can’t really be said of movies right now. At this point after 11 years and 22 movies Marvels MCU is basically a type of movie in mainstream entertainment in itself at this point. It’s a Marvel movie, not in the genre of superhero / action movie. Scorsese’s comments earlier this week on these movies being like theme parks is a good one.. They aren’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences.
I’m sure you’ve seen this diagram before.
It shows that in the realm of consumer goods and their global supply chains consumer choice is really an illusion.
Basically 10 companies own everything. And decisions around quote un quote ethical or conscious consumerism are relatively moot. I found out just the other day that my favourite brand of organic fairtrade chocolate has been owned by nestle since 2014 and now i’m going to stop buying it.
In 2019 the same is beginning to be true in our media environment. Disney owns: Fox Family and Fox Animation, Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, and Fox 2000 Pictures; FX Productions, Star India; Fox’s interests in Hulu, and Endemol.
They also own entirely or partially: ESPN, Touchstone Pictures, Marvel, Lucasfilm, The History Channel, Lifetime, Pixar, Hollywood Records, and Vice Media (16% stake). So that also means all of marvel comics and its 80 year history starwars, and pixar.
I’m only picking on Disney because it’s easy. But it hi-lights my point.
In the world of commodities trading. Buyers and sellers split them into three different categories.
Raw commodities like money,
Hard commodities like oil and steel,
Soft commodities like grain and fruit.
I’d like to suggest that right now in our global media landscape we have a fourth. Narrative, or Media commodities.
Because that’s exactly how Disney treats our shared cultural history. As a commodity. These franchises are the raw material with which it seeks to extract profit from.
One of the challenges that a company like Disney faces however, is that these franchises as commodity are becoming harder and harder to make money from. The reason being is because in most cases the franchises they own were created in a media environment where everyone would have been exposed to them.
Everyone being exposed to the same media created what we will a ‘cultural grammar’. From a time Pre-iInternet. When media consumption looked very different.
Today everyone knows or gets Simpsons quotes, or gets that “I’ll be back” is a reference to the Terminator. These are memetic grammars that we all share, know and understand.
What’s happening today with the companies that are selling narrative or stories as a commodity, is that media organisations now have to continually return to these moments of shared grammar in mass culture in order to continue to make money.
There business model’s rely on selling to mass culture, so new product has to continually reference something from a time when everyone shared the same culture and their business model still worked.
At the beginning of this year there were 115 Remakes or reboots in the works. Commodities that provide the mass market with a set of stable expectations.
So then. And I hope you are still with me.
In order to continue to profitably mine the stable expectations of the wider cultural imagination, mainstream culture has to continually frack the past to create future material.
Or literally as I’ll come on to shortly – The future.
It’s not that all the reboots, remakes and nostalgic mashups like Ready Player One are unoriginal. It’s that under the logic of a capitalist cultural monopoly, commodity owners have to continually frack the past from a time when a collective cultural grammar still existed to still make money.
This is perhaps best summed up by Reappropriating Gramchi.
Let’s then quickly look at the kinds of futures we currently seem to be getting out of the media machine. Most of them are actually visions of the future drawn from the past.
This is what I mean in the talk title by the rusted chrome of yestermorrow.
- There’s the 2001 space realism as Seen in ad astra.
- In real life amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is talking about building space stations that were imagined in the 70’s
- The expanse
- And films like the martian. All of which seem to ignore the huge economic, cultural and environmental crisis we are facing in favour of neoliberal future of progress forever.
- Or there’s retro futures we see in films like Tomorrowland, that borrows heavily from the 1950’s. That lost in space aesthetic.
- The Jetsons. Terribile idiots on the internet still moan about not having a jetpack. But I for one am happy to know that the out of town shopping center still exists in The Jetsons future.
- Sometimes like in the video game series fallout the 50’s retro future is remixed with post apocalyptic fears of the the cold war.
- Or straight up post apocalyptic movies are rebooted to reference ecological collapse instead of fears around peak oil.
The science fiction author Cory Doctorow said “Science fiction isn’t predictive of the future. It tends to be about diagnosing our current aspirations and anxieties”
Anxieties of course of which of course we have many.
But as I’ve said our current popular culture seems unable to process or engage with with the scale of the crisis that we face.
Regardless of the futures that they represent. Culture is full of narratives of individual superheros (or saviours) that come to save the day.
But in the last decade these saviours have had to come together in increasingly desperate attempts to defeat existential crisis of ever increasing magnitude.
Out in the real world of course. No one is coming to save us.
This has not gone unseen, The Comic book writer and author Alan Moore said in an interview back it 2014.
To his mind “this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence”
The author and youtuber John Green said the following about the future.
Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. (…) You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present
So then we are in need for new futures. Because we are all starved for visions of the future that will sustain us. The only way that this is going to happen is if we create our own.
To prime us before I start to talk about Solarpunk – I want to go in to cyberpunk quickly as it is the genre that it is most usually contrasted with.
This is a still from Netflix’s Cyberpunk epic – Altered Carbon. We’ve also just had the Blade Runner sequel, Judge Dread and Total Recall reboots. with a Robocop reboot just announced. And of course the Polish made Triple A video game Cyberpunk 2077 due out next year.
Cyberpunk as a genre explores or rather explored the way technology shoves human life into ever greater levels of abstraction like ‘Cyberspace’
In fact many of the concerns of the genre have come true: the rise of corporate power, ubiquitous computation and the like. Robot limbs and cool VR goggles. But in many ways it’s far far worse. The existential threat of climatic change looms over all our futures, and our institutions seem to be unable or unwilling to do anything.
But the dark future that cyberpunk produced – The 80’s. As a decade, were bookended by the eradication of smallpox in 1980 and the global ban on CFC’s in ‘89
Cyberpunk then, was about the politics of the 1980s. It was about urban decay, corporate power and globalisation.
The rise of zero tolerance policing, anxieties around health care and the psychological toll of the Cold ‘Forever war’ and the possibility of nuclear annihilation.
Today however, Cyberpunk has become a vision of the future that is still being fracked from past visions of the future.
And yet the video game cyberpunk 2077 set 58 years in the future STILL looks exactly the same as the future placed into our cultural imaginations in 1982.
The movie blade runner which the genre as a whole owes a great deal of is aesthetic too is literally set in 2019.
Solarpunk is a Narrative Strategy.
One that is more than just a genre. It is a movement that is attempting to construct a new idea of the future. However, it has fuzzy edges and allows anyone to play inside it.
The comic book author and writer Warren Ellis wrote on ‘Refuturing’ last year.
The sense of creating new immediate futures and repopulating the futures space with something entirely divorced from previous consensus futures.
Solarpunk attempts to re-future all of our imaginations.
In 2012 fellow solarpunks.net colleague and Admin Adam Flynn published the first first post: ‘On The Need For New Futures’
Stating that ‘Progress/development is not the same as growth, an integral thesis of Solarpunk should be about decoupling the first from the second. More is not better‘.
The first mention of Solarpunk that I can find online is a small blog back in 2008 with a post titled ‘From Steampunk to Solarpunk’.
It speculates on an economy based on renewables and mentions the very real Beluga Skysail technology that can be used to replace fossil fuels to power cargo ships.
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Solarpunk however in many people eyes (including my own) truly began in 2012 In Brazil.
With the publication of the first solar punk anthology subtitled. Ecological and Fantastic Stories in a Sustainable World. – now available in English though world weavers press after a successful kickstarter to translate it in 2017.
And so Solarpunk bubbled along online for a few years, with many blogs and voices too many to mention here contributing to the scene.
Then in 2014 two things happened in the same week.
The first, Tumblr user @missolivialouise posted a Solarpunk mood board with her original art alongside illustrations by Japanese artist Imperial Boy. Solidifying the aesthetic of Solarpunk.
Second Flynn posted Solarpunk: Notes Toward A Manifesto on the Hieroglyph Project saying:
Our future must involve repurposing and creating new things from what we already have (instead of 20th century “destroy it all and build something completely different” modernism).
In 2015 fellow Solarpunk and close collaborator Andrew Dana Hudson posted the long read: On the Political Dimensions of Solarpunk to Medium.
Coining the now eponymous Solarpunk phrase ‘Move quietly and plant things‘.
Solarpunk at this point was still a small but vibrant community of tumblogs.
In 2016 SolarpunkAnarchists.com appeared with their extremely SEO friendly essay “What is Solarpunk?” and described it as ‘Practical Utopianism’
An eco-futurist movement which tries to think our way out of catastrophe by imagining a future most people would actually like to live in, instead of ones we should be trying to avoid.
Rejecting both the “low-life and high-tech” dystopias of cyberpunk (Neuromancer–style urban noir) and the low-life and low-tech survival slogs of post-collapse science fiction – Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Mad max,
Solarpunk aims to cancel the apocalypse.
It attempts to foster a socio-cultural environment which emphasises individual autonomy, consent, unity-in-diversity, with the free egalitarian distribution of power.
Of course with these principles comes polyphony, one cannot speak for other Solarpunks, only be in dialogue and occasional chorus with them.
The upcoming 21st Century shift toward clean energy opens the future to an age of ‘innovative dissent’. Solarpunk seeks to leverage the narrative logic of decentralised infrastructure and technologies to change the kinds of politics and futures we can imagine.
A Solarpunk plot unfolding in real time right now is Spain’s attempt to make it illegal to use solar panels to go off the grid (which has since developed into a “sun tax” on photovoltaic installations). Power has already seen these possible points of narrative entry and is already circling it’s wagons around the kind of future we want.
Another real life plot happening right now is the Preschool growing fruits and veggies ordered by the city of Atlanta USA to stop its sales.
“If we change the ordinance, then that means every person in a residential area could have a farm stand, and we could end up with one on every corner”.
I don’t know about you, but a farm stall on every corner is exactly the sort of future I want to live in.
Solarpunk is also not unaware of the fact that new technologies don’t inherently alter the power dynamics that govern the division of domestic labor, or even call them into question.
It attempts to play with power dynamics by imagining new ways of being in the world with new technologies as props.
As it developed, Solarpunk created a multitude of spaces for indigenous sovereignties, reproductive justice, and radical queer politics. It contrasted the popular grim futures of cyberpunk with a bright green optimism.
Rhys Williams wrote on Solarpunk in the LARB in 2018 that:
It’s possible that a shift to renewables will spell the end of capitalism; that alternative forms of energy are not compatible with capital’s grail of profit and growth – But where there’s a capitalist will there’s usually a capitalist way.” The necessity of energy transition provides us with a historical moment of crisis. Opposing ideologies are wrestling over the future not only of energy, but of society. The point is less whether renewable energy automatically equals a fairer society, and more that the massive infrastructural changes ahead provide leverage to institute something better.RHYS WILLIAMS – Solarpunk: Against a Shitty Future
In Solarpunk, Energy is explicitly political, and the unfolding processes that renewables provide, the transmutation of wind, water and solar once projected forward result in new human lifeways. A humanity in communion with the environment.
Solarpunk treats sustainable innovations as a problem of politics as much as engineering.
It is not a genre that relies on huge technological leaps into the future, nor by taking wistful glances at the past, but by looking laterally at what’s already in the world, and projecting it forward.
The world around us right now provides a rich soil of ideas.
Jumping the fence from its Tumblr garden in 2015 with the first english anthology Wings of Renewal, and steady stream of books, anthologies, and zines has continued since.
With people talking (like me) about it and at events like this one. Panels at cons, and discussions at summits on renewable energy etc
Solarpunk is also being used to refuture the minds of people taking part in community and public policy. Indeed Almanac for the Anthropocene: A Compendium of Solarpunk Futures will be published next year as part of a series from West Virginia University Press.
If you hadn’t heard of solarpunk before today, I can assure you that you will hear it again in the near future. But as i’ve said it’s not just a fiction genre, you can also become a solarpunk:
The second biggest channel on the encrypted and decentralised social network scuttlebutt is Solarpunk. There are many creative technologists building projects under a Solarpunk banner. The contraption in the image onscreen is a self steering bouy that sits out to sea and provides community wifi to fisherman out to sea who live on a small island just off Australia.
Last year the UK think tank Public Interest published a long piece on the importance of narrative and framing.
How do we frame our way out of this mess? Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the narratives.
Social movements across Europe face some common framing challenges. They asked over 200 campaigners—environmentalists, feminists, anti-racists, new economists, and many more—what we’re up against, analysed the trends and pulled together the key lessons.
- Appeal to people’s better selves.
- Promote an expansive, diverse understanding of ‘us’
- Call for collective responsibility
- Show that change is possible and that people can make it happen
- Talk about how the system is designed for inequality and avoid zero-sum debates
Solarpunk as a genre passes all those requirements with flying colors.
Collectively agreed bottom up, by the people participating in the fuzzy edges of genre.
In 2017, the Science fiction author and futurist Madeline Ashby gave us all one piece of advice: And that is “to talk, loudly and frequently and in detail, about the future you want. You can’t manifest what you don’t share.”
This is exactly the principle that Solarpunk seeks to follow.
That’s what excites me about Solarpunk so much.
It has become a movement that encompass speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable civilisation look like, and how can we get there?”
It is concerned with the struggles en route to a better world and solutions to live comfortably without fossil fuels, to equitably manage scarcity and share abundance, to be kinder to each other and to the planet we share.
Solarpunk should be considered A Grand Dress Rehearsal for the future we would we would like to live.
Told though story, dreams and song. Inspired by the practical developments and interventions in the world that exist today as its stage.
Solarpunk as a movement is building new futures in the minds of individuals but also creating and inspiring communities to DIY their own better futures into existence from the bottom up.
It is not one that is being sold to us by large corporations or anyone else. For example: If you are into Permaculture, then your street, back garden or apartment becomes the setting for the Solarpunk future that you can imagine.
T.X. Watson. An early leading voice in the Solarpunk community and founder of the original Solarpunk press zine wrote their thesis on ‘Memetic engines of AntiCapitalism’
Defining memetic engineerings as the following: Advertising is a form of memetic engineering, as is propaganda, political speeches, standard curricula — every organised effort to control the information people receive and how they feel about it
Solarpunk then is a collective ‘Memetic Engine’. A cultural construct, or media entity that is a tool that powers and provides the ‘refuturing’ that our collective imagination needs.
This is narrative as a battleground. Solarpunk as an engine to spin out new futures is designed to self-replicate.
Solarpunk is a ‘world’ first one we can step into, and a set of narratives story’s or books – second.
Earlier I said that one of the key words in Solarpunk is polyphony, one cannot speak for other Solarpunks, only be in dialogue and occasional chorus with them.
When the solarpunk community talks about the setting as being concerned with the quote “struggles en route to a better world”. end quote.
You will find a diversity of opinion on what ‘better’ even means. It isn’t one total future, its many many local ones… But that is ultimately ok. This frustrates many of its critics. But that ok. Living with indeterminacy is a feature of all our futures, not a bug.
On screen is Solarpunk inspired Kaleidoscopic compass of speculative multispecies imaginaries. It is an output of thinking on the more than human world I did with some folks from the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (Kyoto, Japan). It presents 16 futures in a 4×4 compass. Some of my favourites are the ‘Plotocratic Tardigrade Moon Exit, the Animist Big Table Zapatista Pluriverse and Luxury paradise built in hell eco retreats.’
I’m showing you these 16 futures because:
Writer and theorist Paul Graham Raven in his essay Ways of telling tomorrows makes the case for the utility of science fiction to reconcile historical trajectories with extrapolated trends. To act as a storehouse for tools and strategies for potential futures.
Solarpunk as both sci-fi genre and movement provides us with “a sandbox today where all these ideas and solutions might be tested to destruction without consequence.“
Solarpunk is a tool for rapidly prototyping narratives and exploring the future that we are collectively on the verge of actually actualising if we wish to fight climate change. You can do it by yourself and tell other people about it. Or get together with friends and talk loudly and in detail about the future
I’d rather we all think though the kind of future that requires us to plant billions of trees, and re-wild huge tranches of our landscapes to greening our cities together – than leaving it up to the people who have historically been in charge and made the mess in the first place.
We can prototype futures together as Solarpunks. But whatever the futures that we create together are.
Let’s set them in The Era of the Anthropo-green.
A new geological epoch defined by the outcome of a different sort of human intervention upon the earth. The Anthropo-green stands in opposition in every way to the human centric woe is me self flagellation of the Anthropocene.
This is also the future that I am writing about in my forthcoming book LAND AS PLATFORM.
It acknowledges that humans have an impact on the world. But stands for a civilisation that shapes the world around us with gardeners hands.
A patchwork of ideas and physical areas of mixed stewardship and land use with some left to play out nature’s brutal but beautiful realities.
But here’s the thing about the bright green green future. There are many groups that are pushing for this, extinction rebellion, Greta Thunberg and the adjacent NGOs etc. I’m sure you have local ones here in Poland too.
One of the things we’ve been told that we need to plant billions of trees to save the future. But If you plant a single tree, or billions of them – And this might surprise you – they grow.
But once they are in the ground then what? Our partnership with the more than human world becomes a journey we as a species and community need to take together. Humans and the natural world.
Life ‘Unfolds’ around us
There is deficiency of long term thinking in western culture and this is vital that we all think inside our potential Solarpunk sandboxes about how the future plays out.
Our modern world attempts to focus us towards the short term and quarterly growth. But in the real world, away from high frequency ledger entries. It takes 100-120 years for an oak tree to grow from seed to full canopy height – That is three human generations.
This is real growth. And I’d like to propose to you all that everything that occurs in the duration between the decision to plant an ACORN to It’s full grown crown is short term thinking in the context of the Anthopogreen.
Beyond 2150 is the medium term.
The King of Limbs, in Britain is over 1,000 years old. It has been growing quietly in place since before the Norman Conquest.
Millennia long scales of engagement with world around us are almost unimaginable when contrasted with 2 week long Agile sprints popular in the tech development world.
However, as a developer friend recently quipped – Agile demands that we iterate.
Because given the unpredictability of climate change and the influence it will have on ecological systems we have no idea if the trees we plant today will even be healthy or able to survive in the bioregions of 2120.
We only have 10 years to save the world, but it’s going to take us 100 years to do it.
This ongoing iteration, or unfolding of trees and the living world around us means that we need to collectively foster a new way of seeing the world. One of a developing present.
Rather than being fixed to a specific idea of the future, we all can use solarpunk to imagine 100s or 1000’s of them. We don’t just need to stick to the UN’s global goals or KPIs.
We can’t say we’ll pant all these trees and then walk away from the future. We must walk into it – together.
Wendell Berry wrote that the woods are:
Always finished, always being made, the act of there making forever greater than the act of there destruction.
How long does it take to make the woods? As long as it takes to make the world.
Again I want to stress the importance of concept of the developing present. You can experience it directly by paying close attention to the living world during the changing of the seasons. Unfolding is the momentum of the world preceding.
(Music is the perfect medium. If anyone wants to take crack at making a solarpunk soundtrack to something let me know after the talk.)
As it was with burning carbon the decisions we make today will affect humanity intergenerationally.
In the face of the momentum of the climate and the world that will begin to flower around us if we do the things that need to get done.
We can’t over plan the future down the finest detail. But we can flesh out high level consensus that makes sense within the context of our local communities. More importantly we can tell others about them as loudly and in detail about them as possible.
We are faced with making decisions that will affect generations to come, these keystones need to be loosely agreed but deeply impactful.
We all want to help fight climate change, but decisions made by our governments both local and international that today cannot lock in our descendants.
I’d like to introduce you to some Keystone ideas which I think will apply in our Solarpunk and everyday futures.
Keyline design is a design and planning process for understanding the landscape. It is primarily concerned with the movement of water around the landscape and the placement of ponds or wetlands. It is as useful to you if you live in a drought prone landscape as one that floods.
It also benefits from being a design system that allows you think think about modular infrastructure. planting trees on the lines you see on screen and doing agro-foresty etc.
Keyline planning can be applied at the high level national landscape level down to you back yard or local green space.
This image is from Ridgedale farm. A farm in Sweden that is doing regenerative agriculture based on Keyline design.
You can see chickens in pens that are moved everyday. They move through the landscape between treelanes 72 hours behind the cows kept in electric nets.
You can also see ponds built in advantageous parts of the land.
If you live in a city, then design patterns like Sprawl Repair by Galina Tachieva are useful to know about. It explains in detail elements that can be used to create depopulated market garden agrihoods or alternatively re-densify urban environments away from needless sprawl. It’s the sort of book that you can show up at local planning meetings with and point to it when the council is talking about new developments being built in your neighborhood.
A more immediately applicable example is David Holmgren (the co-originator of permaculture’s) newest design manual: Retrosurbubria: The Downshifter’s Guide To A Resilient Future. It’s basically a manual for creating a Solarpunk world around if you live in a house or apartment.
It is a weighty tome of design patterns and mental models that can be adopted by anyone living in a city, with ideas for window boxes scaling up to retrofitting whole streets in coherent ways
It focuses on and recognises the importance of topics such as:
- Provision of basic needs rather than resource-expensive wants.
- Simple and robust systems that are capable of being maintained without expensive and specialised technology.
- Progressive ruralisation at the local level in which biological needs and functions of food supply, water and nutrient recycling are fundamental to the future.
- Relocalisation of our economies and decision-making structures to individuals.
But smaller design patterns taken at the individual level are just as important as larger ones. If you live in an apartment with a balcony here’s one such example.
I assume the indoor plant trend is just as popular here as it is at home..
There are loads of guides of how you can do things at household level that are more than just making the place look nicer. But there are also thing happening at the national or even…
At the supra-national level.
Like Africa’s great green wall initiative seeking to re-green 11 Million Hectares. A decade in and they are about 15% done, with a projected short term date of finishing in 2100.
So to conclude.
If you want a better future, and are already involved in activism of all kinds then Become a solarpunk. Stand in opposition to the doom and gloom of our current media environment, adopt a more sunny disposition. It’s why solarpunk is punk.
Refuse rebooted and reheated stories and visions of the future that pervade our media culture.
And Talk loudly about the ones you DO want to see. What they look like, how they make you feel.
Write stories, Make Art, and music about them. Because we can’t manifest what we don’t share.