Putting the Brakes on Dystopia: Speculative Design, Solarpunk, and Visual Tools for Positing Positive Futures

Sam Holleran [1]


Abstract: This article examines the ongoing program “Solar Punk Futures” an initiative of Ellery Studio Berlin that brings together scientists, researchers, and visual thinkers to examine the energy transition from a Solarpunk perspective. It asks how we can let go of dystopian scenarios and, instead, envision a carbon-free future, and the new forms of social organization that decarbonization will engender.

Solarpunk is a literary and visual movement that originated in Brazil in the early 2000s. It rejects dystopian pessimism and puts forward images of renewable-powered utopias that challenge us to alter our social habits. Ellery Studio is working with several educational and nonprofit organizations to use Solarpunk as a jumpoff point to break down climate policy and model desirable futures with novel visual tools. This article asks how a largely aesthetic movement can achieve transformative power? And how speculative design processes might move beyond “visioning” to transition organizations and communities.

Keywords: Climate strategy, speculative design, future scenarios, Solarpunk, popular education




With the reality of climate change, settings in dystopian imaginaries reign. There’s been a vast proliferation of apocalyptic films, tv, and novels. We are bombarded with images of flooded cities, burning forests, and geoengineering schemes gone horrifically wrong. Reveling in humankind’s downfall can be easier than trying to ameliorate the bad situation we find ourselves in. While it is clear that steps need to be taken to safeguard the planet’s future, it is difficult to get started, and many choose complacency. Others have tried to break free from this torpor to put forward radical ideas for what a de-carbonized future might look like. Visual thinkers, with their ability to conjure alternative futures, have been at the forefront, including the relatively-new Solarpunk Movement. But they are still navigating a denuded public sphere and evaluating the manner by which graphic visions for the future can contribute to real systemic change.

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