Set above highly urbanized and tech-forward New York City, the Hudson Valley offers nature reserves and varying topography that help make it a perfect experimental ground for a global environmental movement to take root. Solarpunk is the newest movement capturing the attention of locals, inspiring a refreshingly optimistic feeling when it comes to building a sustainable future: hope.
So what is Solarpunk, exactly? Adherents describe it as the imagining of a future where humans will not only move past harming the planet, but even thrive in harmony with nature. Here in the Hudson Valley, the focus of Solarpunk lies heavily in art, conservation, and creative writing. But the international movement is multifaceted. As Brianna Castagnozzi, a Poughkeepsie resident who helps edit Solarpunk Magazine, puts it: “The thing about Solarpunk is it’s not just one thing.”
Pasha Radetski, a multidisciplinary artist and winner of Ecosystems X: Future Artists, stumbled into Solarpunk through his world travels and brought the movement back to the Hudson Valley. He believes that art and education drive the message and movement of Solarpunk. “It’s all about giving people hope and working to manifest that vision for our future,” he says.
Radetski’s first Solarpunk exposure was over a decade ago when he was studying international river sites. “I was working on field artwork projects at the time. I visited the Atlantic rainforest, which has some of the most biodiversity in the world. They were upcycling timber there and creating what was described to me as a natural energy portal in the landscape.”
Radetski says the communities along the river had a very intentional approach when it came to the give-and-take of natural resources. “It was a reciprocal relationship between the river and the people. They plant trees along the river edge, the roots anchor the soil, and in turn preserve the river banks.” This attention to preservation of the riverbanks allows communities to thrive without resource depletion. “It was so simple,” Radetski says, “and so Solarpunk!”
He was determined to educate others and ideally apply what he had learned to the communities along the Hudson River through a new project he calls River Movements. “It is an attempt to build a focused grassroots movement by creating ongoing art programs and hands-on workshops that will engage the youth from the local communities to learn the principles of reforestation along the Hudson.”
The hope is to reframe the river as more than just a body of water and instead as a natural resource and ally for a utopian future. “Only when Solarpunk becomes part of a culture can people begin to make steps towards a sustainable future,” he says.
Castagnozzi, for her part, was introduced to the Solarpunk movement more locally when she began her graduate work at SUNY New Paltz in 2016. As an English major, her professors taught writing through the lens of science, conservation, and art. She became interested in environmental systems throughout the Hudson Valley, at the local and federal level. “The environment at SUNY New Paltz … really cultivates Solarpunk,” she says.
A rich roster of organizations have helped conserve land and establish new trails in the Hudson Valley. Infrastructure projects here, Castagnozzi says, align with a reimagined future of the Hudson Valley — one that is oh-so-Solarpunk.
Seeing local conservation efforts like this inspired Castagnozzi’s writing career and even led her to work in falconry. Then she saw the job posting for Solarpunk Magazine. The magazine provides a utopian artistic hub for envisioning a sustainable future through creative writing. But Castagnozzi says, “People forget this movement is ever-changing. Our magazine is art and fiction-focused, but other people practice Solarpunk with a scientific approach to envisioning a future where nature and technology coexist.”
Though Solarpunk Magazine doesn’t provide a practical roadmap to a utopian future for their readers, Castagnozzi says her co-editors are exploring ways to possibly move in that direction down the road. “We have editors in all different time zones, some with a STEM background,” she says. “And it’s cool to see how perceptions of Solarpunk differ across the country, through science and art.”
She sums up the novelty of Solarpunk, particularly its local growth, this way: “I’ve noticed a bigger push to combat climate change in the Hudson Valley, and Solarpunk is seeding it with ideas of what a better future can look like. It gives people hope.”