The Jacobin Magazine has recently called for More Radical Climate Fiction after reviewing the winning stories of Grist Climate Fiction Contest, which in the editorial's opinion didn't go deep enough into politics or conflicts of the climate change.
It's a pretty common criticism of Solarpunk as a budding genre. In aiming to paint an utopian and highly aesthetic vision of a better world many authors choose to leave a lot of politics and potential struggles out of their stories.
I think that we don't need to avoid politics or community conflicts, even open struggles in our dreams of a better tomorrow. For the past few months I've been working on a list of story prompts - and concrete Solarpunk communities which don't shy from hard questions while still being full of hope. I'd like to share some of them with you.
All the prompts envisioned below are set in the years 2030 - 40, with no technologies or scientific advances beyond what we currently have. They explore multiple categories of problems: cultural, economical, infrastructural and political. Each of the groups consists of a gallery of colorful and varied people whose goals will often clash with each other, even if they all mean well. I think this is what's the most important in Solarpunk: a community.
Feel free to use any of the ideas below, but please email me if you publish anything based on it!
- A full-fledged town built from a refugee camp which was set up there two decades ago. The inhabitants speak their own creole, a mix of more than five languages, and have very shaky relationship with their neigboring communities / states, each of which considers it a lawless territory and might be plotting to take over.
- A community center / library / educational hub initially set up to help people like coal miners respecialize and find other jobs, now became a place for unofficial "pilgrimages" of people striving find their role in life and learn the history from those who lived it
- A canteen in an isolated scientific / environmental outpost, where scientists, engineers, cooks and maintenance staff show each other their human face, while still remembering the importance of their role here and the harsh conditions of the outside (eg: cleaning the plastic from the oceans, measuring the North Pole ice levels etc).
- A squat / hackerspace within a city still clinging to their own ways while the rest of the world changes. Activists, technologists, inventors and educators trying to show the communities around them that it's possible to live differently, while actively squabbling over whose plan is the best.
- An internet community of very specialized experts, only a handful of whom are there in the world. Normally hermits, conservationists, experts in maintaining long-forgotten infrastructure, they consider themselves a family, even if each of them speaks a different language and comes from a different culture. Once a blue moon they can even physically visit each other.
- A community of disabled people sharing best tricks on how to deal with the harsh world not made for them. A lot of what they share remains unspoken, for every one knows the pain and the challenges they face.
- A small, rural town next to whom A Great Infrastructural Project was built: a dam, a huge solar / wind power plant, a gravitational battery, etc. Over time, the corporations and the government forgot about them and in order to avoid a catastrophe they need to work with loony, driven activists who came from all over to help them.
- A shantytown next to an electronic waste site in the Global South, where the electronics are remade and cannibalized to repair and maintain the local hospital tools, as no Northerner will ever come with newly-milled replacement parts. They slowly evolve into their own version of Shenzen, where all knowledge is shared and all kinds of crazy inventions pass.
- A community of Wikipedians / archivists / cartographers fighting to save as much unwritten lore and knowledge as they can, before the old generation passes away. They're not hired by any university or organization, but connected by their love for the folk tales and belief that the natural medicine might be worth researching today
- A group of cooks, dietitians and teachers tasked with creating and promoting well-rounded and tasty vegan / vegetarian cuisine in a world living through the culture shock of no affordable meat
- A military unit which switched from tanks to firetrucks decades ago. Now they're fighting climate disasters, being more engineers and firefighter than soldiers, which is a dream for some and a nightmare for others. The rookies, well-versed in the new reality are struggling to understand the language of the old officer, still clinging to the military jargon.
- A group of doctors and engineers from a Global South country (Cuba would be a good fit) on a mission in the North, helping the specialists there live in the world after The Great Internet Collapse, where the AIs will no longer make suggestions and the Clouds can't calculate the load bearing strength of a pillar.
- A team of environmentalists and neural network researchers training new bee-like AIs by having them coexist with the animal populations of a local ecosystem, calling themselves "the beekeepers"
- A group of mercenaries, bodyguards and defense contractors hired by a billionaire to protect him in his remote stronghold after the market collapse. Their boss eventually got bored of living there and ordered them to harass people from neighboring villages, barely making ends meet. He didn't expect the bodyguards to turn on him. Now, after their boss had an accident, the security personnel with no experience in community building or local language is trying to open the stronghold and join their distrusting neighbors.
- A modern cargo ship with sails and solar panels, trying to replace the oil guzzlers of the old and connect the world again. Crewed by sailors old and young, engineers maintaining some experimental solutions and some communities trying to travel in old container-houses, they have a lot on their plate.
- An anarchist crew of a modern zeppelin, the fastest and cheapest mode of transportation for several remote communities, always welcoming a new member, even if they're clearly a runaway kid looking for an adventure.
- A group of scientists, environmentalists and politicians / lobbyists to the UN analyzing the footprints of the solar panels and windmills around the world, trying to answer the question: is sending a rocket to the moon and back to get a tonne of moon soil the best thing we can do in the middle of the climate crisis? Is moon helium fusion the best way forward?
- A motley of neo-archeologists, data experts, doctors and biohackers going through databases of the fallen pharmaceutical corporations, looking for drugs and solutions which worked, but were too cheap for capitalists giants to market. With so many medicines and procedures gone or extremely hard to get, maybe this is the best chance to find new cures?
- An extremely powerful co-op / union of rare earth miners, who fought their owners and won long ago. Now they're against a much bigger challenge: how not to become like them, especially knowing that without their work very few people will be able to produce any electronics?
- A collective of doctors, epidemiologists and educators researching new pandemic threats, trying to convince other communities that they need to vaccinate and avoid some places / behaviors - without using violence or direct power. Good to explore against a stateless society where you cannot just force people to do something.
- A community freshly moved into a new, wooden, sustainable, climate-controlled tower designed to help them be close to each other and live communally. For some, a dream come true, for others, a culture shock, but everyone is struggling with traumas of losing their old homes to floods, fires and relocation programs.
- A team of architects and civil engineers working on future- and catastrophe-proofing a city needing to make hard decision and gambles trying to prioritize the threats. Their biggest, heart-wrenching challenge is balancing effectiveness and accessibility of their solution. Sure, they can make sure no one in that one block will get flooded, but the other half of the district would need to wait.