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Why Solarpunk is the Future We Should Strive For

Technology in the last few years has advanced way beyond what we could have imagined. It’s both a boon and a bane. Recent advancements in technology have left all of us wondering whether all this innovation is for the good of humanity. This leaves us with a burning question: How do we advance technology for the benefit of humankind and the environment? This is where Solarpunk comes in.

Solarpunk envisions a future where technology and humanity can exist harmoniously in tandem with the environment. Unlike cyberpunk and steampunk, which had little to no influence on the environment, solarpunk presents a future where technology helps improve social, economic, and environmental aspects by embracing sustainability.

Why Solarpunk in tech?
Samsung tops the list as the leading carbon dioxide emitter amongst tech companies. Amongst the Big Five tech giants (Apple, Amazon, Google, Meta, and Microsoft), Amazon stands out as the biggest polluter. In 2021, Amazon’s carbon dioxide emissions exceeded 16 million metric tons, almost 20 times greater than the emissions of Microsoft, which has the smallest carbon footprint among the five. However, Microsoft still contributes significantly to carbon emissions with a footprint of nearly 870,000 metric tons.

Ten years ago, when we thought about pollution, what came to our minds was heavy vehicles, cars, and factories. But today, tech companies are one of the major contributors, too. The cloud currently possesses a larger carbon footprint than the entire airline industry, with a single data centre consuming as much electricity as 50,000 homes. Training an AI model emits over 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxidealmost five times the average lifetime emissions of a car.

If we continue to ignore the technological advancements that contribute to environmental pollution, rapid progress will exacerbate environmental degradation, including issues such as climate change, species extinction, and resource depletion. To counteract this, the Solarpunk movement is not just important but essential.

Baby steps towards Solarpunk
Credit where credit is due—some tech companies are trying hard to make changes. For example, Tesla has catapulted the electric vehicle (EV) industry. Within the United States, Tesla’s production expansion rate matches that of all its competitors combined. Based in Austin, Texas, this EV manufacturer holds a significant share, constituting 61% of all fully electric cars ever sold in the US. This dominance in the EV market surpasses Apple’s grip on the smartphone industry.

Apple, on the other hand, aims to make all its products carbon-neutral by 2030. Also by 2030, it plans to reduce its overall carbon emissions by 75% compared to the levels observed in 2015. Along with a remarkable 65% growth in revenue, the company has already reduced its emissions by over 45% since 2015. Apple’s sustainability model teaches us that, contrary to popular belief, being sustainable doesn’t eat into your profits.

Not only tech giants but also smaller tech companies have taken significant strides towards a Solarpunk future. For instance, ManageEngine, an IT management software company, has committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions. The company has designed green data centres to maximise its energy efficiency and minimise its environmental impact. Headquartered in Chennai, India, the company has deployed EVs for transporting goods across the campus. Additionally, two five-megawatt, on-grid solar energy farms have been installed to meet the headquarters’ energy demands. Zoho, the parent company of ManageEngine, has also acquired 375 acres at its US headquarters to set up solar panels.

All these steps, although not sufficient, are important towards the Solarpunk vision.

A final word
Technological inventions have been rising at a rapid pace with no regard for environmental degradation. Before, our focus was on cyberpunk—AI, cyberware, and more. Now, the threats are all too real for us to ignore. Climate change might reduce life expectancy by half a year. The Amazon rainforest experienced its lowest water level in 120 years due to a drought that severed food and water supplies to villages, all the while causing damage to the world’s most diverse ecosystem.

Our collective attitude towards technology and the environment needs to change for the well-being of our communities. More than simply pursuing technological advancement, we should strive to find ways to address challenging environmental threats. These efforts won’t go to waste but will aid humanity in coexisting with nature alongside technological innovation in a Solarpunk future.

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