Solarpunk is a Container

We need something to carry our culture forward. A vessel we can fill with collective meaning about the state of our world and its future. There are three main candidates for that vessel.

Solarpunk is the one that will win out.

Solarpunk is not an empty container. Stuff’s been poured into it in the last decade: an aesthetic, a reverence for green technology, a hope vibe. Still, it’s about ten percent full if that.

Right now, it’s not what’s in the container. It’s the container itself. Solarpunk stands for something. “Punk” means clear-eyed skepticism and deep-seated resistance against the status quo. “Solar” means using any available tool or weapon — like technology — to build a new world.

Resistance alone is futile. It won’t win the game. The status quo is too dominant. It has figured out how to coopt and/or marginalize all challengers. That’s why we need innovation. We need to use our creativity and cleverness to change the game, to make it not even a fair fight. That’s what “solar” means. It’s a metaphor, a cosmology. Not a literal technology.

Solarpunk is using technology to challenge the status quo for the future of the planet. It’s not about our energy sources. It’s about our culture, our systems and structures. It’s about who decides the rules, and who gets hurt by them.

Culture will save our planet. Some tech, like web3, will be used to change culture. Other tech, like greentech, will be ubiquitous once we change our culture. Solarpunk is a container to pour our new culture into. It shapes the culture. A culture that stays resistant — won’t be coopted. And stays optimistic — won’t be defeated. Beyond that, the rest is still to be defined. For instance, what is the solarpunk vision held by marginalized communities? Undefined. How will gen z’s solarpunk vision differ from the original one? Undefined. How will solarpunk influence, and be influenced by, the metaverse, especially since solarpunk’s orientation is very much IRL. Again, undefined.

It’s not yet clear what solarpunk is, but we know what it isn’t. It isn’t the other two vessels.

Solarpunk is not capture culture. Capture culture is what we call our current culture, one that has been captured by corporations. It’s the status quo. It’s twenty-six years of Cop26’s, it’s the media, web2, the sustainability-industrial complex, DEI, forever wars, the product is you, lobbying, greenwashing, tracking your every move, regulating bathroom breaks of mega-warehouse workers. The scale and sophistication with which corporations construct and play the meta game is breathtaking. Awesome in the true sense of the word. We cannot defeat capture culture, we cannot change the meta game, we cannot win the battle for planetary justice, with anything less awesome. In fact, it must be considerably more awesome. That’s solarpunk.

Solarpunk is also not cyberpunk. Cyberpunk taught us to look for and grasp the capture culture meta game, to imagine changing it. That’s its enduring legacy. We needed the red pill. Now we have it. But as a container, cyberpunk wasn’t intended to give us hope about IRL. It wasn’t intended to include everyone, just transhumanist hackers clever enough to break out. Most humans don’t want to be pseudonymous lab rats moving through a token-incentivized, trustless maze. They want to live with and love the people in their communities. Most humans don’t want to get summarily fired by a giant baby in charge of plotting the zero-point-one-percent’s escape to Mars. They want and deserve a livable real-life world.

Solarpunk is not capture culture, and it’s not cyberpunk. Solarpunk is what we’ll call our culture when we finally start playing to win against the perpetuators. Solarpunk is the best possible purpose for technology, especially web3. Solarpunk is changing the meta game to one that can’t be won by Meta.

Solarpunk is a container. Beyond that, we have no idea what solarpunk is.

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