Solarpunk Is Not About Pretty Aesthetics. It’s About the End of Capitalism.
Many solarpunks agree that the “punk” element becomes clear when they go past the movement’s visuals and into the nitty gritty. Solarpunk is radical in that it imagines a society where people and the planet are prioritized over the individual and profit. Of course utopian visions of the future aren’t new and art and technology have long drawn from nature: Just take the example of Belgian architect Luc Schuiten, whose drawings and buildings often employ biomimicry, where the form and function of organic elements influence design. The movement gained traction in progressive circles on early 2010s Tumblr, but as its popularity has bloomed over the past 10 years, early Solarpunks fear capitalist co-option. Flynn calls it “fake Solarpunk urbanism,” luxury condos with a green roof that price out existing communities and might end up doing more environmental damage.
This is a lengthy article with a lot of interesting links, and it’s worth checking out solely for the beautiful embedded video.
I think the emphasis on “radical action” might be somewhat misguided, though. My concern, as always, is the way anti-capitalist movements are embedded within the language of capitalism. Like, we have to be active! And go out and do things! And harness our energy as our best and most productive selves! I think this neoliberal emphasis on individual agency and power strays a bit too far into the territory of ecofacism, which holds that people who don’t have the skills or resources to survive environmental catastrophe deserve to die.
For me, the appeal of solarpunk is that you don’t have to do shit. You don’t have to work. You don’t have to make money. You don’t have to buy things. You don’t have to participate in “community improvement” projects. Instead, leave your job early and turn off your phone. Stay at home and chill out. Sit out on your porch and have a drink with your neighbors. Grass and flowers will grow in the cracks of the concrete without your help. All you have to do is literally nothing.
One of the reasons I enjoy living in Philadelphia is that it’s a very compact but very green city. The great thing is that it’s not green because of city planning or district gardening budgets, but rather the exact opposite. The city just lets plants grow, and nobody who lives here does anything to stop them. The Amish set up farmer’s markets on the weekends, and nobody bothers them. People sell fresh fruits and vegetables out of the backs of U-Haul trucks in parking lots on the weekdays, and nobody cares. Nobody chases away the urban outdoorspeople who plant gardens in the larger public parks. The city is covered in folk art, from Isaiah Zagar’s broken glass murals to the work of street artists whose tags are elaborate illustrations of Studio Ghibli characters. This aesthetic exists because nobody “did” anything to “fix” it, and it makes Philadelphia a comfortable and interesting place to live.
At the same time, a cleaner and more carefully managed solarpunk aesthetic would make much more sense for a place like New York, where “just letting things break” would result in most of Manhattan Island flooding in less than 48 hours. The sea level is rising, and I assume that the flooding is going to happen eventually, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have stylish vertical gardens while the city is still above water. People have to eat, and people have to live somewhere, so your rent might as well pay for community deck gardens and solar panels.