Pokémon is a Solarpunk Utopia
How sustainability, green energy, and hope propel the franchise.
The world of Pokémon; a magical world where you train tiny pocket monsters to do battle with one another. Have you also considered that this world is also a utopia of renewable, sustainable energy?
Take another look around this whimsical place. Nearly everything is powered by Pokémon — from electric types providing power to the grid to riding Pokémon as the default method of transportation — and the few things that aren’t are green and sustainable. Pokémon offers a hopeful future where humans are at peace with nature (not just Pokémon themselves) to the betterment of everyone who lives there.
You don’t have to look very hard to find instances of renewable energy and lack of pollution. The Valley Windworks close to Mt. Coronet, a massive wind farm high on a mountain. The endless, popular bike routes and walking trails connect cities. Solar power is present even in smaller locales like New Bark Town. In the games, there’s minimal urban sprawl and the only car I can remember seeing anywhere is the moving van your mom shoved you in the back of at the start of Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald. Then there are the large wildlife protection zones, carefully managed and protected, allowing in only a few trainers at a time and ensuring the Pokémon within are well cared for.
The environment is clearly valued as a high priority in the Pokémon universe, including an emphasis on wildlife conservation as a guiding principle — but what exactly about that makes it solarpunk?
An emerging genre of hopeful fiction
You may be already familiar with genres ending with the suffix -punk. Steampunk, dieselpunk, retropunk — most of these genres describe certain time periods and themes therein. For example, the one you’ve probably heard the most about is steampunk, a reimagining of usually the late-1800s where the Industrial Revolution was powered by steam. These stories also tend to be swashbuckling, action packed adventures with a mystery at the heart, trending sometimes toward darker noir.
Dieselpunk usually describes a World War II-ish world of fantastical diesel powered mechs and automations fighting the war. Retropunk is a very wide ranging term, but I’ve most seen it applied to 1890s — 1950s era fiction, people often adapting attitudes of that period to a future with more expansive technology (think Bioshock Infinite).
Solarpunk, meanwhile, is about the future that could be: where fantastical machines are powered by renewable energy — or if not fantastical machines, then our homes, our cars, our current technology. If retropunk pulls antiquated, often problematic if not overtly racist attitudes forward, then solarpunk seeks to show us how our current world can be better if we prioritized things like the climate and our health and fellow human beings. Think of solarpunk like Star Trek — imagining the ideal, the best case scenario of what might happen if we worked together for once and the betterment of our planet.
While solarpunk stories aren’t devoid of problems or conflict, they do tend to start and end in a place of hope. The ideal. Out of any of the other -punks, solarpunk is trying to say, “We can have this. We can have algae lamps. We can have solar power. We can have wind farms. Look how cool it is.”
Of course, we can’t actually have Pokémon (dammit), but the world of Pokémon can inspire us, and certainly inspire Nintendo’s target audience — the next generation.
There’s a reason Pokémon continues to endure
Nostalgia isn’t the only reason why Pokémon has survived as long as it has. As I’ve written before, Pokémon has been nothing but a positive force in my life, and looking at other lifelong fan reactions, I’m not the only one.
Hope is an important thing. It’s also something that has been lacking in our stories of late. That doesn’t make it any less important. In a media landscape where Avengers are corruptible or killed off and Jedi try to murder their own family, franchises like Pokémon can provide a safe haven of sorts, and a message to children that any challenge is conquerable if you put your mind to it, make the effort, and plan your strategies carefully.
There’s hope in the world of Pokémon. That’s perhaps the most important facet of solarpunk — that undeniable, ever-present feeling of hope. This is a world where a ten year old is perfectly safe leaving home and walking out into the world to have an adventure. This is a world where the biggest bad guys want to covet the world’s most valuable resource — wild, independent Pokémon— for their own selfish gain and hoard the resources developed therein for their own gain. This is a world where you’re only able to catch Pokémon after you impress them in battle and after which they become your lifelong, loving companions.
Pokémon is a game that makes you feel good for having played it. There’s a whole meme around how the closest we as a species will come to world peace is the magical summer that Pokémon Go came out, and it feels like there’s absolutely truth to that. Pokémon is a game that captures the attention of children everywhere and teaches them lessons without them realizing it.
That is the power of solarpunk stories. A utopia that is theoretically possible, within our reach, and that inspires us to try and capture it for ourselves.