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Solarpunk: A Scintillating Vision

As the quintessential Bombayite/Mumbaikar, on some days I consider the city to be a mean concrete jungle. Horns blaring all around, I strain my neck to look beyond the skyscrapers that seemingly hover over the clouds and long for a breath of fresh air - both metaphorically and literally. On other days, I find myself musing over its contrasts. I see vertical forests in the form of plant-covered buildings, lively murals empowering communities, and parks built under flyovers for kids to play in, and for delicate flowers to spread their warmth. Upon looking closely, I spot patterns of a movement that oozes optimism and promise. That is the solarpunk movement of 2008.

Opposed to cyberpunk and steampunk (that primarily revolve around dystopian anxieties, corruption, and authoritarianism), solarpunk began as a literary and artistic movement, envisioning a utopia of sorts. In this utopian model of society, humanity is working towards a climate-conscious, peaceful, and grounded future, or has already built one. Breaking the human-nature dichotomy, we strive to achieve balance as a community by using tech for restoring nature. ‘Punk’ here entails rebellion against traditional, oppressive structures of capitalism (while favoring eco-anarchism) and rejection of destructive futuristic technology that puts progress and the environment on opposite ends. It fights against our dystopian tendencies of minimizing human touch and reminds us of the old days when conserving nature as a source of well-being and healing was ingrained since childhood.

Embracing the connection between man and nature, solarpunk is particularly related to the science-fiction genre. It has been explored in literature like Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragons Anthology and Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and seen in films like Black Panther. Interestingly, Aldous Huxley wrote Island with Solarpunk themes 30 years after his classic dystopian novel Brave New World. Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers is another piece that stands out when it comes to solarpunk literature, featuring 17 uplifting fictional stories of citizens rising to tackle issues of ethics, food shortages, oil spills, and more using science - all of which is dangerously similar to what we are experiencing today.

Solarpunk focuses on resilience and sustainability. Reimagining the present society as one that lives in harmony with nature, it breeds social justice. It does not preach living without technology as an ancient caveman but rather desires a place that prospers on a blend of science and conservation. Sophisticated high-tech machines are powered up to create eco-villages, cities that run on clean energy and inhabit farmers, artisans, and programmers all alike. Machines not only exist but instead coexist with lush landscapes filled with greenery. Science ambitiously innovates forms of green technology and uses it to advance stable growth. We continue to work, but we do not let ourselves fall entirely into the trap of the rat race. Working for the community becomes essential and all make compassionate efforts to give back to a world that thrives on living in touch with our roots. Energy becomes cleaner as emissions reduce and renewables are actively discovered and used. Public transport and carpooling would be common with most vehicles being rented and not owned, thus tackling noise and air pollution. Keeping indigenous knowledge and practices at the center, communities are enriched by sharing knowledge and engaging in collective activities such as community-based farming, recycling, manufacturing, and thrifting.

As I delve deeper, my excitement for this brilliant movement begins to mirror that of a little child who experiences the soft touch of rain. Nourishing our souls, solarpunk compels us to look further into the past to help us plan our future. Take inspiration from the iconic double-decker buses of Mumbai for example that are now returning as electric ones, paving the way for ecotechnology. Or aspire to bring about a revolution via music as solarpunk themes have been observed way back in 1988. Indeed, American band Talking Heads’ 1988 hit “(Nothing But) Flowers" is regarded as one of the original solarpunk ideas. Its lines such as “There was a factory/ Now there are mountains and rivers” and “This was a Pizza Hut/ Now it's all covered with daisies” point to our yearnings for simpler times that are in tune with nature’s melody.

For the longest time, cyberpunk-focused video games depicting gray tones, apocalyptic futures, and the rule of mega-corporations have been trending on the play store. Undoubtedly, it is now time for games with delightful solarpunk backgrounds and bright, soothing graphics to take over. Not only do these offer a fantastic way to shape the thinking of the young generation, but solarpunk games like Solarpunk Futures and Terra Nil also encourage players to make those settings a reality by exploring novel designs aimed at sustainability. Games could include solarpunk acts as part of the gameplay such as smaller businesses, rainwater harvesting, searching for renewables, making DIY products, reusing resources, etc.

From Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay and Cloud Forest to Auroville in India, solarpunk architecture has been adopted all over the globe. At corporate offices, residential buildings, shopping malls, and airports - art nouveau has matched perfectly with the ideal of solarpunk, promoting rooftop gardens, indoor waterfalls, and greenhouses. Moreover, art with its power to fuel imagination has proved powerful in creating sustainable solutions. Solarpunk movement has inspired artworks depicting the co-existence of modern technologies and mighty mountains, encouraging humans to truly live life instead of glamourising shiny glass towers and robot assistants. Illustrations showing wind turbines, solar panels, and clean energy usage in the backdrop of lively fields, homes, and cities have been shown by artists over the years, building an eco-friendly attitude. To sum up: solarpunk tells us to build as many skyscrapers as wanted, as long as we are still able to count the stars high above them.

To some, solarpunk may seem unrealistic and possibly naive; yet, what it really nurtures is hope amidst the chaos. Solarpunk provides inspiration in a world ridden by debates and worries over climate change whose impact is visible in the form of drastic heatwaves, unforeseen wildfires, melting glaciers, and rapid extinction of flora and fauna. The aesthetics are gentle and more importantly vibrantly human in its spirit. Proponents of solarpunk are brave enough to reach for the sky yet never fly close to the sun. They mark the practical applications of a beautiful dream that has all the right ingredients to initiate practical action in favor of sustainability and stir movements. Solarpunk shows that tools for enkindling change are always available but demand a child-like imagination and a burning passion to leave behind a breathtaking world for others. I strongly believe a dose of this unwavering hope is a necessity for all; for when we utilize our true power, change is inevitable.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all

- Emily Dickinson, 1861

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