Book cover of Solarpunk Winters

You may not know what solarpunk is, but the ideas it is based on may be the best chance our society has for surviving climate change. Solarpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction; it isn’t punk rock. However, like the best punk rock, it is based on challenging society’s status quos and speaking truth to power.   

Solarpunk challenges our conceptions of what the future can be. Solarpunk, and the closely related genre of hopepunk, challenge the popular view that the future will be horrible. Take a second to process that…the future might not be horrible. It’s kind of a remarkable idea! Solarpunk combines the concept of a hopeful future with the fact that climate change is happening.

Solarpunk fully embraces that climate change is unavoidable. However, in embracing the reality of climate change, the genre completely undermines the more overwhelming threats of our changing world. Solarpunk posits that climate change is not the end of the world. Climate change will change most aspects of our world, but it is not the end. Remember, an apocalypse is a literary device! It is part of a story. In the real world, there are always people left after horrible things happen. Those people who are left are responsible for pulling themselves up from the ashes to build something new.

The deemphasizing of apocalyptic themes is present in the fact that nearly every solarpunk story takes place AFTER the catastrophe. In some stories, characters don’t even address what “the catastrophe” was. Characters in solarpunk stories do not dwell on how their world became broken; they focus on how their world can be improved. This is completely different from the apocalyptic literature that dominates contemporary sci-fi.

Technology is a key component of solarpunk. Characters actively explore and engage solar power, artificial intelligences, space flight, genetic engineering, and other advanced technologies. In stark contrast to other forms of sci-fi, solarpunk rarely portrays advanced technology in negative terms. When the darker implications of tech are explored, the real danger of that technology is put in terms of how humans use the tech. By portraying technology as not being inherently dangerous, solarpunk reopens possibilities of past visions of the future; that technology may actually be our best hope for a better world.

Solarpunk’s approach to technology and community perfectly illustrates its differing perspectives when compared to other types of sci-fi. Other sci-fi genres often approach technology fearfully. For example, in Jurassic Park, genetic engineering results in people being eaten by dinosaurs. In The Spider and the Stars, genetic engineering is used by common people to develop new life forms that help their communities survive in their local environment. Additionally, in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, a community develops a new set of rules for their post-apocalyptic settlement that involves conflict resolution via fights to the death. In The Fifth Sacred Thing, a post-apocalyptic community develops new social structures based on non-violence, consensus based decision making, and mutual respect for all people. 

While not overtly socialist, the vast majority of solarpunk is distinctly anti-capitalist. In some stories, societies are distinctly and avowedly anti-capitalist. In others, characters are simply not motivated by personal profit. Regardless of stated economic system, solarpunk protagonists place the survival of their communities and humanity first. This type of altruism is counterintuitive to the corporate capitalist mindset. When characters prevail, they may enjoy material reward, but those rewards are secondary to the benefit that the efforts of the protagonist have done to the greater community.

In assuming the best in humanity and the neutrality of technology, authors of solarpunk are forced to abandon most of the tropes that have bogged down sci-fi and other genres for decades. Our visions of the future have become so obsessed with post-apocalyptic fantasies in which we could be one of the lucky survivors that we have abandoned collective visions of a positive future. Those collective visions are what we need to survive into the next century. We can’t build our future without hope, and much of that hope can come from solarpunk.

Suggested Reading

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. 2312. Orbit. 2012.
  • Starhawk. The Fifth Sacred Thing. Bantham Books. 1994.
  • Ulibarri, Sarena. Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers. World Weaver Press. 2018.
  • Ulibarri, Sarena. Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters. World Weaver Press. 2020.

Jeremy teaches sociology and is on the Board of the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism. In Summer 2020, he will be teaching a course on Environmental Justice at OSU Marion that will focus on applying solarpunk thinking to societal issues created by climate change. He will be presenting on these ideas at the Free Press Second Saturday Salon on February 8, 2020. More information can be found at

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