The Power of an Aesthetic

This is from an excellent article in last month’s Climate Change Review:

Imagine a city of the future. Are there flying cars, cities with buildings taller than mountains, robots at every corner? Or is the world of your imagination one torn by conflict, struggling to survive amidst increasingly hostile climate change?

There are two common perceptions of the future in popular culture. One is stale and grey: bureaucratic and “futuristic,” filled with advanced technologies, massive transportation infrastructure, and towering monuments of glass and steel. It is sleek and clean, ordered and controlled, impressive and far beyond a natural human scale. It is “utopia,” possibly. But it is isolating, devoid of human character or charm. A monoculture of perfect lines.

The other is dystopia. Society is in ruins. Think Mad Max, The Matrix, or Wall-E. The planet is in shambles, whether or not that be because of war, aliens, or yes — climate change. Cities are dingy, overcrowded, perhaps ruled by a totalitarian state or beings from other planets. Or, perhaps the cities are gone, and the only humans left are those who roam the deserted landscapes of a forgotten world in packs of savage marauders.

Neither options appear appealing: controlled, heartless utopia, or broken, merciless dystopia.

Art by Imperial Boy

Now imagine a future where we not only curb emissions, but get to the source of our problem. Imagine a future where we stop our obsession with growth, and put a new emphasis on resilience. What does this look like?

A growing aesthetic movement called Solarpunk may provide an answer.

Known for its burgeoning stock of illustrations depicting futuristic cities spilling with vegetation, radical designs for clean energy infrastructures, and creative bottom-up solutions to the contemporary struggle of ensuring a sustainable future for the planet, Solarpunk can be thought of as something that, according to one proponent, “seeks to answer and embody the question ‘what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?’”

Solarpunk: The Power of an Aesthetic