Solarpunk: A Genre of Activism
originally published on October 13, 2021 at solarpunkmagazine.com
When I was in school, I had some professors who insisted that as teachers, they were also activists. They were right, but I don’t believe any teacher is automatically an activist just by virtue of teaching. The way those particular professors taught — the knowledge they created and shared based on their research and that of others, and the teaching methods they used — turned their teaching into activism, i.e. something that disrupts the status quo with the goal of creating social and political change.
The same is true of literature and other kinds of art. Being an author (or artist) and storyteller can be an exercise in activism, depending on what you write about and why. A coming of age story may not inherently be a work of activism. A coming of age story about BIPOC youth navigating and challenging racist systems and institutions in their school, however, is without question activist literature.
Solarpunk is an excellent example of a space where speculative literature and art come together with present day, real-world activism in a shared purpose to build, create, and be disruptive. Solarpunk literature and art are activism by definition, at least by the definition of activism given above.
Solarpunk is still a relatively new subgenre of science fiction, and any attempt at definitions are just that, attempts. Further, attempts to define the genre are likely best left at the descriptive level rather than the prescriptive, meaning that we aren’t trying to tell anyone what solarpunk is, we’re just describing what we’ve observed it to be.
That said, I believe there is general agreement that solarpunk stories are generally about futures where humanity has either solved, is in the process of solving, or is otherwise working together to creatively and optimistically adapt to climate change or live in harmony with nature. They are also about justice, Indigenous sovereignty and leadership, anti-authoritarianism, and ending white supremacy. This general theme and hopeful, utopian tone is the backdrop against which solarpunk stories exist and are told. That is activist art. It’s imagining a new and better world in a way that is rooted in social problems and global challenges. It’s literature and art that proposes solutions. Rather than ending at apocalypse and dystopia, solarpunk art and stories use apocalypse and the collapse of dystopia as a starting place, and then weave tales that propose creative, even if fictional, solutions to rebuilding society…