Solarpunk: Optimism, Utopia, and Futurism – Genre Summary

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(Text by Cosimo Suglia)

Editor’s note: On Sunday, 27th of November 2022, our editor Cosimo (that’s me, yes, I just referred to myself in the third person, help) held a writing workshop at the MNHN (Musée national d’histoire naturelle) all about the upcoming Genre of Solarpunk. The workshop took place within their brand-new exposition IMPACT (what is the relationship between humanity and nature? Is it reciprocal? What is our impact on nature? — a few of the asked questions. Sandy and I recommend a visit!). Cosimo (still me) brought a syllabus for the participants (thank you again, for all of you who showed up!) in which he wrote a small essay that illustrates some of the core concepts. Some here, because the essay is small, does not go into detail, and was meant to give a certain overview in about 20 to 30 minutes time. Additionally, because the genre is rather young, the following essay is based on what Cosimo (yes, I, me again) understands of it. As with many things, especially with the definition of a genre, I (Cosimo that is) am adding to a discussion — to discourse. Genre definitions are always based on observation and interpretations of literary devices and ideas that are recurring in its writing. This takes time. Years and years, and a constant input and dialogue between creators, researchers, and audience. Dialogue that is kind of happening in Solarpunk but has a lot of room to grow. Something I acknowledged in and during the workshop and which lead to a great discussion between the participants. So, do the same! Nonetheless, we believe that this essay might entice some of you to look further into this subgenre of science-fiction and maybe even write a Solarpunk story!




Rhys Williams – a science-fiction and fantasy scholar at the University of Glasgow – titled his 2018-published Los Angeles Review of Books article: ‘Solarpunk: Against a Shitty Future’[1]. This, perhaps, encapsulates the essence and spirit of the genre perfectly.

The world, as it exists right now, is destructive. Take for instance the current climate crisis, which we so desperately try to stop, before the planet becomes uninhabitable; uninhabitable not only for us, but also for all the other organisms around us, which we kill in our wake. Conflicts and wars still mark our everyday life. There is a new turn towards right-wing and conservative ideologies and legislations, which are a threat to various groups of individuals and their existence (see the recent mass shooting in America, where the perpetrator purposefully targeted a LGBTQIA+ night-club…)

“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” writes the late Mark Fisher in his poignant illustration of the contemporary world Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative (2009).[2] A strong opening sentence that Fisher attributes to prominent Slovenian pop-culture-theorist and philosopher Slavoj Žižek, and literary critic Frederic Jamerson who (after Jean-François Lyotard) defined the current understanding and definition (if there is any) of postmodernism, especially in relation with capitalism (see: Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism [1991]).

Solarpunk, however, actively fights against this. Solarpunk is hopeful; a smile in times of darkness. It fictionalizes a future, in which humanity realizes and resolutely fights (or fought, since we talk about a fictionalized future) its misfortune; a future that focuses on harmony with nature; a future based on respect, diversity, and equality, away from the deadly stink of a system that rewards greed and oppression. To understand this; to believe in this, is to be Solarpunk.

Cosimo is standing next to a stand, where a sheet is attached to it. It indicates that his workshop about Solarpunk is happening here. He is wearing a band-shirt, from the british Punk-band IDLES and smiling, as well as crossing his hands in the front. He looks happy, probably because he is.

Cosimo at the workshop. Photo by Sandy Heep.


“It is hard out here for a futurist under 30,” writes Adam Flynn in his 2014 blog-post ‘Solarpunk: Notes towards a manifesto’ – probably the earliest text that tried to summarize what Solarpunk was all about. Flynn then follows up with the arguably most quintessential sentence defining the genre:

“We’re solarpunks because the only other options are denial or despair.”[3]

A sentence that becomes the first tenet of the Solarpunk Manifesto – a collaborative, re-writing of Flynn’s article, although formulated differently (“1. We are solarpunks because optimism has been taken away from us and we are trying to take it back”).[4]

Optimism here is the keyword. Much of current discussion about the future is negative, marked either by denial (right-wingers and conservatives who think that the climate crisis is a hoax) or despair (in the sense that humans can’t change, thus any hope of a harmonious future is non-existent). To counter this despair and denial with optimism is the main purpose of Solarpunks.

Interestingly enough, Flynn here identifies himself as a futurist. Futurists and futurism are concerned with the future and base their reliance on systematic prediction and speculation. The most famous movement of futurists perhaps comes from modernity.  In the 1920s and 1930s, an Italian and Russian art movement emerged, that pursued and believed in the destruction of the past and glorified speed and violence. In summary, they believed in energy.

Now, we can’t compare the 1920s and 1930s futurists with Solarpunks, because much of their beliefs were rooted in fascism (for instance, the 9th tenets of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Declaration of Futurism Manifesto starts off with “We will glorify war”).[5] However, Solarpunk too believes in energy, as the name of the genre suggests.

As of right now, the modern world and much of human history is dependent on fossil fuels – we exist in a “petro-modernity”, as defined by Rhys Williams. Again here, the relation to energy is important. Much, if not all of our infrastructure is dependent on fossil fuels – a limited resource; a non-renewable resource.

Unlike solar energy. Williams argues:

“The necessity of energy transition provides us with a historical moment of crisis in which opposing ideologies are wrestling over the future not only of energy, but of society. The point is less whether renewable energy automatically equals a fairer society, and more that the massive infrastructural changes ahead provide leverage to institute something better.” (2018)

This, of course, is self-evident: If we want to change for the better, and we change infrastructures that have dominated the past, this will have a vast impact on society. How this may look? Well, that is up to our imagination. That is what makes Solarpunk in its essence punk. A challenge against the oppressive status quo that has thus far taken away optimism and harmed the environment – socially, culturally, and also biologically.

In summary, Solarpunk imagines a future in which the main infrastructures are based on renewable energy (solar) and is (or has) deconstructing the distress capitalism and capital, the establishment, and the status quo with the aid of optimism (punk). It imagines a future in which equality and fairness reigns; a future fundamentally utopian.




[1] Rhys William, ‘Solarpunk: Against a Shitty Future’, Los Angeles Review of Books (2018) < https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/solarpunk-against-a-shitty-future/ >

[2] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (UK: O Books, 2009), p. 1.

[3] Adam Flynn, ‘Solarpunk: Notes toward a manifesto’, Hieroglyph (2014) < http://web.archive.org/web/20220117131754/https://hieroglyph.asu.edu/2014/09/solarpunk-notes-toward-a-manifesto/ >

[4] Solarpunk Manifesto < https://www.re-des.org/a-solarpunk-manifesto/ >

[5] F. T. Marinetti, ‘The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism’, Le Figaro (Paris, 1909) < https://www.italianfuturism.org/manifestos/foundingmanifesto/ >


  • Cosimo writes short-stories, poems, and plays. He has published texts with Les Cahiers Luxembourgeois, Black Fountain Press, Nos Cahiers and Solarpunk Magazine. Cosimo received the 2021 Chrysalis Award for Luxembourg: an award dedicated to emerging writers in the speculative fiction genre. Cosimo likes frogs and insects, and he sometimes says words out loud, which makes people laugh, much to his surprise. You can find more about him on cosimosuglia.com

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