(Originally published on my Solarpunk Tumblr) Tumblr user kdhume just recently posted a finished Solarpunk umbrella, which is very cool looking, and made me think about one of the things that's very present in Steampunk, that I expect will be present in Solarpunk, and the ideological subtleties that might come up: pseudo-functional accessories.
In Steampunk, it's totally normal and common to add a genre-fashionable flair to an otherwise normal object by sticking some gears on it or using brass with a patina instead of steel. It goes farther than that, but as it does it only makes my point more and more: arm bands with computer arrays that, hypothetically, run on steam and gearboxes, but, actually, don't run at all.
Because the major narrative feature is there, at least in concept: It runs on steam.
And that's totally plausible -- like, nobody has much of a problem with agreeing that, on level, steampunks are allowed to pretend pretty much anything can and does run on steam.
In Solarpunk, it's not hard to see the parallel. Stuff runs on renewable energy. The basic narrative assumption is that things are carbon neutral or negative, that they rely on ethically sourced materials and alternative energy supplies, that they are the end product of a design process that seriously considered "Is the energy and material cost of this object worth the value added to the lives of its users and community and world?"
In real life, that stuff won't be. In real life, the test tube bio-luminescent algae lamps that shine bright and consume excess carbon in the air are actually just going to be plastic tubes stuffed with LEDs running on a watch battery tucked into your hat. Or something.
It's super common to look at people trying to envision and build a better future and pick it apart -- to look at it and say "There are a dozen awful things wrong with this. Do you know how environmentally damaging battery production is? Solar panels are causing a lot of roof damage. Most of that charity's money is spent on overhead, anyway." And sometimes those criticisms are legitimate, and sometimes they aren't, and in either case often they're coming from somebody scrambling for a reason not to think hard about the way they're doing things already.
And I just kind of wanted to get ahead of the cynical backlash and accusations of hypocrisy and say that it’s fine for Solarpunk stuff to not work.
Steampunk shows off often non-functional tech depicting a romanticized past. Solarpunk is going to show off often non-functional tech depicting an aspirational future. I'd like my test tube algae lamps better if they really were bio-engineered to be carbon negative, but I like them well enough while they're plastic tubes stuffed with LEDs that give me a great excuse to talk about environmental science. (Disclosure: I haven't actually made either version of this costume element.)
As far as costume props go, our cool stuff doesn't have to work, it just has to demonstrate a belief in, and desire for, the world in which it does.