Solarity is the condition we inhabit as we struggle to make worlds and build futures out of the ruins of petrocapitalism. It inspires hope, creativity, and joy, even as it carries the weight of our guilt, shame, and anger at what we—or, more precisely, some of us—have been and done. It is worked into nearly everything, transforming matter into blooms and desiccations; it is existential and infinitesimal all at once. Solarity is, fundamentally, a relational condition; the heat, light, and gravity of the sun are all so deeply intertwined with earthly life that there is no “outside” of solarity. As we turn, in this moment of planetary crisis, toward the sun, we seem to be seeking both a new energy regime and a new set of human and more-than-human relations. It is also an inherently ambivalent condition. The chapters that follow are the combined work of more than fifty contributors. As a result, the meanings attached to solarity—an emergent concept being shaped by multiple voices—will be many. This is a feature, not a bug (though bugs are generative too). Solarity offers an illuminating yet blinding array of new (and ancient) histories, stories, mythologies, promises, materials, and relations that are deeply ambiguous: neither “good” nor “bad,” neither wholly “positive” nor “negative,” neither “bright” nor “bleak.” Some solarities could be revolutionary. Others will not be. These qualifiers and possibilities are bound to the particular circumstances from which they arise—historical and otherwise—as well as the subjective orientations of those experiencing them. They are, in other words, situated.
Although the condition of solarity has always been central to earthly cycles of life and death, the current ecological crisis invites a new orientation to the sun focused primarily on solarity as energy or, more accurately, as fuel. Seen this way, solarity is also an excessive flood of energy abundance. The sun’s energy, especially in discourses of solar energy and solar transitions, is depicted in grand, overflowing terms. Think of these refrains that have become truisms in the solar imaginary: “more energy falls on the world’s deserts in six hours than the total global energy consumption in a year” or “if we took all of the sun’s energy from everywhere on the planet, in one hour, we would have enough energy to power the world for an entire year.” Solar abundance also turns to the moon. Some have proposed a Luna Ring,1 with electric power to be generated through a belt of solar cells surrounding the eleven-thousand-kilometer lunar equator. Power will be beamed to Earth from the near side of the moon with the Luna Ring existing in continuous sunlight, thereby doubling the power generated on Earth in the same twenty-four-hour period.
Although claims about the quantity of energy that can be seized from the sun may be accurate, they also tend toward the consumptive. They channel the human user of energy into a web of solarity that is about capture and utility. Solarity can ebb into the domain of gluttony when there is ever, forever, more-than-enough. The power of the sun is made to figure as providing for human lives, all calculated through consumption. A seemingly insatiable human desire for power pairs well with solarity’s plenitude. Though there is enough power for all in solarity’s promise, theoretically, it is also true that such abundance rarely gets distributed evenly. But perhaps solarity can change that.
The promise of solarity’s redistribution must contend not only with the temporal and spatial logics of the sun’s radiation but also with the forms of technological and infrastructural mediation required to convert solar energy into electrical energy. It also requires us to overcome decades of negative campaigning by the many-tentacled arms of the fossil fuel complex, from media to politics, that have not only consistently emphasized—falsely and heinously—its material limits but also preposterously claimed it as destructive to industry, environment, and even health.2 Though solarity promises a transcendence of limits in terms of energy, the limits of space and materials on Earth remain. Solarity, then, requires a reckoning with our material and affective attachments to the present. For those of us in the overdeveloped world living lives of hyperconsumption, shame, guilt, and anger are often our first emotional responses to the climate crisis. Solarity asks for much more: it demands a radical hope as well as a radical reassessment of what, of the present, we might wish to retain as we attempt to rescue our future.