Solarpunk and Sustainability: Towards a Better Future

By Christie Johnson

Are you struggling to feel optimistic about the future?

There’s no denying it: we live in an incredibly volatile world. Ecological collapse. Tsunamis of plastic pollution. Rapacious wildfires. Mass displacement of communities. It’s hard to feel positive in the face of an intensifying climate crisis.

When embroiled in fossil fuel-guzzling systems and insatiable consumer culture, is it possible to find a way out of this perfect storm?

For Christina De La Rocha, Ariel Kroon, and the rest of the solarpunk community, accepting inertia while waiting for dystopia just isn’t an option.

This article explores the solarpunk movement, its vital role in the fight against climate change, and how Solarpunk Presents is making the world a better place, one episode at a time!

Their podcast can also be found on YouTube.

What is Solarpunk?

You’ve likely come across cyberpunk culture. You might have even heard of the steampunk movement. But what is solarpunk?

Imagine a world filled with endless opportunities to connect with rich biodiversity. A world without pollution, environmental degradation, or waste. Green cities brimming with sustainable technology and biophilic design. Regenerative and circular systems enabling us to live in deep symbiosis with nature. Rooftop community gardens. Streets occupied by more pedestrians than cars. Local produce stores on every corner. Clean energy. Clean water. Clean living.

This eco-tech vision is the epitome of the solarpunk movement. Rather than anxiously staring into the climate abyss, the solarpunk medium offers a hopeful panacea to an otherwise fearful reality. As Glasgow University Research Fellow Rhys Williams puts it, solarpunks are here to stand up “against a shitty future.”

First coined in 2008, the predominantly online movement was formed in response to what writer, podcaster, and strategist Jay Springett calls a “need for new futures”. Unlike the cyberpunk genre which propagates doomsday predictions and dystopian catastrophes (think Mad Maxor Cormac McCarthy’s The Road), solarpunk provides an alternative narrative bursting with unflinching optimism.

The “solar” in solarpunk represents a society thriving on clean, renewable energy while “punk” refers to the movement’s unapologetically positive outlook despite pessimistic and hopeless predictions.

According to solarpunks, creating a fair and clean society isn’t an unachievable or faraway notion. The apocalypse is avoidable if we take meaningful action now. Going back to Jay Springett, the solarpunk ideology is about “looking laterally at what’s already in the world, and projecting it forward. The world around usright now provides a rich soil of ideas.”

The solarpunk movement also plays with the idea of decentralised infrastructure and technologies as a direct antithesis to the capitalist systems that are no longer serving people and the planet. Embracing renewable energy and circularity is a fundamental part of the solarpunk future.

“We’re solarpunks because the only other options are denial or despair,” says Adam Flynn in his Solarpunk: Notes toward a manifesto. Amid growing eco-anxiety and climate breakdown, the solarpunk movement dares us to dream of what a truly sustainable world looks like.

Greenery and massive structures seen from the air in Singapore - Solarpunk and Sustainability
Photo by Sergio Sala on Unsplash
Caption by Sergio: “It’s not really allowed to take a drone in public, therefore I had to wake up very early to shoot this aerial shot in Gardens by the Bay, an amazing nature park in Singapore. Totally worth it!”

Solarpunk in the World: Singapore’s Garden City

Possibly one of the most befitting examples of the solarpunk aesthetic is Singapore’s Garden City.

After gaining independence in 1965, the city was awash with slums, pollution, and jobless communities. With limited land and natural resources, Singapore created a self-sufficient ecosystem bursting with approximately three million trees, green rooftops, cascading vertical gardens, and reservoirs. Marina Bay Sands, the Supertree Grove, the Cloud Fountain, and Jewel Changi Airport are but a few extraordinary examples of how human beings can find a way to slow the rampant pace of urbanisation and live in harmony with nature.

But Singapore’s fervent green thumb is an effort to counteract its biggest ecological flaw. Since British colonisation in 1819, the city has lost 95% of its tropical rainforest. The proliferation of gardens in the sky and areas of lush biodiversity is an effort to make up for vegetation loss on the ground. Singapore has even planted a virgin rainforest in the heart of the city!

Trees inside a huge glass building
Airport Boulevard, Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore
Photo by Arvin Putra Pratama on Unsplash

Introducing Solarpunk Presents

For tenacious solarpunks Christina De La Rocha and Ariel Kroon, standing still just isn’t an option when facing environmental disaster and social injustice. “A more sustainable and just future won’t arrive by itself,” Christina tells us. “We need to start working on it! Maybe we need to kick ourselves in the pants to get moving. Or maybe we just need to see what we could do and how great the outcome could be.”

First volunteering as nonfiction editors at Solarpunk Magazine in the publication’s founding year, the pair wanted to dive deeper into nonfiction topics and explore new ways to communicate important messages on sustainability and the future of our world.

“We don’t want to live in a dystopian future and have concerns about the somewhat dystopian present,” says Christina. “We’re exploring making the world a better place for people and the environment right now.

And so Solarpunk Presents was born! Initially formed as a companion podcast to Solarpunk Magazine’s fiction-based Solarpunk Futures, Christina and Ariel bring aspirational nonfiction stories into our collective consciousness. After a successful first season, they decided to “go big or go home” and are now hosting the podcast independently to reach wider audiences. “We’re still solarpunks at heart and solarpunks are our core listeners,” explains Christina. “But building a better, more sustainable, and socially just future for ourselves is not a niche topic! It’s something we should all be working on.”

Adam Flynn, in his manifesto, speaks of the solarpunk movement as a platform for “ingenuity, generativity, independence, and community” which is exactly what Solarpunk Presents achieves. Every episode features compelling interviews with people who are tirelessly working towards making the world a better place.

Learn about a climate grief chaplain who is helping climate activists avoid burnout; or, a Pacific nation that is saving itself from rising sea levels. Discover the meaning of “wilderness” and how urban planning can preserve democracy. The stories at Solarpunk Presents provide a remarkable window into a future bursting with hope, beauty, and action. Christina and Ariel show us our dreams can become reality.

What Next for Solarpunk Presents?

So, what exciting plans are on the horizon for the Solarpunk Presents hosts?

“We have some great interviews lined up for season 3, which started at the end of June 2023,” Christina tells us. “We’ll be exploring carbon capture and storage to help bring our greenhouse gas emissions down toward net zero; solarpunk art and AI; birdwatching as a gateway drug for environmental action; the creation of a board game designed to teach people about climate change… among other things!”

And watch this space for Christina’s upcoming nonfiction novel! How has the Earth sustained life for billions of years? What powerful forces are at play to consistently maintain this formidable and mystifying biosphere we call home? These are just some of the fascinating questions Christina will examine in her new book.

“A lot of what the book will explore is how, through a combination of interacting biological, physical, geological, and chemical processes, the Earth has managed to have a climate that is stable enough to remain habitable,” says Christina. “Yet it can wander from so-called greenhouse phases, where it’s super warm – like when the dinosaurs were alive – to so-called icehouse phases.”

Solarpunk Presents: Show Your Support

The most crucial way you can support the Solarpunk Presentspodcast is by listening! Make sure to check out the Solarpunk Presents website for the latest episodes. If you’re a Patreon member, then you’ll get exclusive access to new episodes a week early.

The podcast also graciously accepts financial support from anyone who can give. You can join the Patreon membership (there are several tiers to choose from!) or give a one-time donation.

And don’t forget to leave a review! Sharing your feedback on iTunes or your podcaster of choice really helps the podcast reach wider audiences.

Share what you’ve learnt with your inner circle. The more earth-loving conversations we have within our communities, the more chance we can affect change now and in the future.

People walking around and between giant human-made trees
Photo by Coleen Rivas on Unsplash
Caption by Coleen: “I was on a layover in Singapore and decided to visit the Super Tree Grove at Gardens by the Bay. I arrived in the late afternoon and the lighting was brilliant. This is taken from the walkway connecting the trees. Just an amazing site to visit, especially at sunset.”

Solarpunk: Useful Resources

Interested in learning more about the solarpunk movement? Alongside the Solarpunk Presents podcast, here are some incredible resources to get you started:

Solarpunk and Sustainability: Final Thoughts

Whether you identify as a solarpunk or not, a sustainable future is something we should all be actively working towards.

The weight of the climate crisis and all its boundless uncertainties can feel overwhelming. Helplessness and inaction creep in if we can’t see a way forward.

The solarpunk movement is a hand to hold in the darkness; a green light of optimism at the end of the proverbial tunnel. It rouses our imagination and dares us to dream. It ignites the fire in our bellies and moves our beating hearts toward positive action.

Although solarpunk may not have all the answers, choosing to walk the more hopeful path is crucial. Because taking small meaningful steps together can make a big difference.

As the pithy solarpunk saying goes, it’s time to “move quietly and plant things.