Episode #128 Imagination Activism: exploring radically better futures (and SolarPunk) with Phoebe Tickell
What are the most effective tools we can engage to create new, different, better futures? How do we translate our visions of a generative future into action now? What are our bridging tools, that exist now and take us forward to a world that would work for all of us?
Phoebe Tickell is an imagination activist, renegade scientist, systems thinker and social entrepreneur. Originally trained as a biologist (she has a first class degree in Biological Natural Sciences from Cambridge University), she now works across multiple societal contexts applying a complexity and systems thinking lens and has worked in organisational design, advised government, the education sector and the food and farming sector. Until 2021 she was working in philanthropy at The National Lottery Community Fund to implement systems-thinking approaches to funding and and leading insight and learning in the £12.5 million Digital Fund.
On the way through, she has co-founded a series of organisations dedicated to systems change via innovative approaches, including 225 Academy, which delivered 5-day transformative experiences for young people aged 11-18 globally; Future Farm Lab, which created systemic interventions to the food system and the Our Field Project — an experiment in a group of citizens co-owning and co-governing a field of grain in Hertfordshire.
More recently, she is founder of Moral Imaginations and RenaissanceU, a member of Enspiral, part of the Don’t Go Back to Normal Project, on the board of Renaissance U, and an advisor to the Consilience Project. She’s a certified Warm Data Lab host and an advisor to the International Bateson Institute. She recently led 1,000 people in a Collective Imagination journey in Berlin and then 4,000 in Sweden.
In all of this, she took time out to talk to Accidental Gods about the nature of the present moment, how we can find the learning tools that will bridge to the future we want to envision, and how we translate those visions of the future into values. In a wide ranging, inspiring, edge-walking conversation, she explored the balance of inner and outer worlds, tangible and intangible and how we might connect them; she talks of falling in love with Solar Punk again (her Twitter handle is @solarpunk_girl, so that feels quite huge), having read that ‘Solar Punk without the end of capitalism, is just greenwasher CyberPunk’. So we explore what cyber punk is, too, and Protopian writing, and how it relates to Thrutopian writing, before we move onto the nature of existing Solar Punk communities and how they frame their underlying values.
This was a genuinely sparky conversation: it felt as if we really dug deep into the nuts and bolts of change and how it could happen – come along for the ride!
Manda: My guest this week is someone whose work embodies all of the ways that we might move forward to that future we would be proud to leave behind. Phoebe Tickell is a friend of the podcast. She was with us way back in episode 31, near the start of the first lockdown, in the early stages of the pandemic. When we spoke about the ways that we might embody the change we need to see in the world, what was warm data and how could we use it? And how could we find ways to change who we were before we even had the words to describe it? Since then, Phoebe has been a powerhouse of activism and action. She set up Moral Imaginations, an organisation which is helping to bring about an ecological society of the future using imagination powered change.
And if you haven’t watched her video on that, I will post it in the show notes. She’s setting up Renaissance You a digital first better than free university teaching course, about regenerative leadership. Last winter, she led a thousand people at the Emerge Conference in Germany through a moral imagination journey and then was invited to talk to 4000 people at an Inner Development Goals conference in Sweden. In between, she finds time to write blogs, talk to the BBC and to come and talk to us. There is always so much to explore with Phoebe and the terrain of the conversation is always impossible to map out when we start and glorious when we look back on it. So I love this and hope you do to. People of the podcast, please welcome Phoebe Tickell.
So Phoebe Tickell, welcome once again to the Accidental Gods Podcast. It is such a pleasure to meet you and to talk with you and to find all the extraordinary, inspiring things that you’ve been doing. So welcome. How are you and where are you at the moment?
Phoebe: Thank you, Manda. It’s so good to be back. I really loved our last conversation. So I’m logging back onto this one with a lot of excitement and warmth and a feeling of picking up threads from before. I’m calling from London and I am well, I feel very focussed and very productive at the moment, which is great. Although, you know, productive as an industrial metaphor. So I do catch myself entering that kind of thinking of yeah, produce, produce, produce. But a lot is going on and I’m just staying in that focus right now.
Manda: Brilliant. And you’re coming on to Thrutopia in a couple of weeks time. So I really would like this podcast to be open to everyone who listens to the podcast, but also to provide a bit of a grounding for the people in Thrutopia. I love the idea that productive is is industrial because I spend my life trying to be productive. And there is something I would like to explore later on about the tensions of existing in predatory capitalism, where we still have to pay bills with actual money and yet wanting to shift it and change it. And how do we change it from within when we know that no problem is solved from the mindset that created it? But just before we head into that, you have just been to Sweden, which is why I asked where you were. Because I saw an Instagram you were speaking in front of 4000 people, which sounded totally fascinating. And it, I think, is quite relevant to what we’re doing now. So tell us a little bit about Sweden. Including the make up.
Phoebe: Yes. So it was it was a conference called the Inner Development Goals Conference. And that’s a group based in Sweden that has created a set of goals that are modelled around the Sustainable Development Goals, which are 17 goals around sustainability. Sort of siloed goals like pollution and education and clean water. And obviously they all overlap quite a lot, but I think they were created by the UN to kind of help garner kind of common ground and shared missions and goals around what would we need to achieve to achieve full sustainability. And so the inner development goals flip that, turn that inside out and say, well, what are the goals that we need to achieve internally to achieve sustainability by 2030? So this was the summit for the Inner Development Goals, and I was invited after having run a big collective imagination exercise at a conference called Emerge in Berlin in November. And the director of the Inner Development Goals was there for that and basically had tears streaming down his face after the exercise and came up to me and said, Look, put the 29th of April in your calendar. We’re doing this big conference. It’ll be like 1000 people in Stockholm. And I just thought, okay, sure. No idea what this is about. So I put it in my calendar and then three months before the event, received all the information and it was actually happening and going ahead. And it was 1000 people in person, but 3000 online. So that was where the numbers came from. So that was a pretty huge, I guess, milestone in this journey of the work I’m doing with imagination.
Manda: Can you tell us a little bit about what you were doing there?
Phoebe: Yes. So I opened by introducing the concept of imagination activism. So I walked on the stage and said, Hi, I’m Phoebe, I’m an imagination activist. And then this image came up on this huge, huge screen. I’ve never you know, the stage itself is very intimidating. It was this massive stage, massive screen, lots of very bright lights. It’s funny because I’ve done so much public speaking, but, you know, obviously over COVID, so much of it has been online. And so there’s the shift from doing in-person, which I’m still getting used to, because I literally showed up in Stockholm having not written my script. Because I was just like so used to this thing of being on Zoom and you can have your script kind of there. And I was like, Oh my gosh, what am I doing? So the day before, luckily I just needed to write the kind of first 7 minutes or so, and then the rest was piecing together exercises and tweaking them and adapting them to that moment. But it was a bit of a wake up call, that we’re going back to doing these in-person events now, and you can’t do the same thing as you do on Zoom. Yeah. So that was you said to talk about the makeup room.
Manda: So tell us. Tell us yes, tell us about the makeup room. But then I want to know what an imagination activist is. Tell us about the makeup room, because…
Phoebe: The makeup room is clearly the most important part of all of this. It was just a very funny experience, like showing up in this little backstage room and being told… Basically having somebody paint over my makeup with much stronger, much stronger makeup. Just really quite funny experience.
Manda: It sounds terrifying, frankly, but that’s I think because I have never used makeup, I’ve got no idea what to do with it. So the idea that somebody might approach me with stuff would be would be horrible.
Phoebe: I just thought of it as face painting. There we go.
Manda: Yeah. Well done. You’re so good at reframing. Tell us what an imagination activist is.
Phoebe: So imagination activists are people who can agitate the collective consciousness through providing reframes, through opening portals to different realities, to exactly as you say, these reframes. These moments of shifting out of the default way of seeing and perceiving. I think it also involves painting inspiring and different futures, perhaps also dystopian futures, in order to help us orient in the present. But really, it’s about this ability to shake up the way that we are seeing and imagining and thinking. The current kind of working description is: an imagination activist is an activist fuelled by imagination and vision and equipped with the tools to build new systems to save our planet.
Manda: Right. Right. So the equipped with the tools is what sets you apart from people who just space out and have other ideas.
Phoebe: True. Yeah. That’s a really key part. It’s the imagination to implementation or the imagination to legislation. We’ve been playing with these different memes of how do you embed imagination? It’s not enough just to imagine and dream the future. How do you actually create that bridge into the systems that we’re building?
Manda: Right. So I would really like to talk about the bridge, but just before we get there, a question about this whole conference; the Inner Development Goals. And you said we’re aiming for sustainability by 2030. Is this planetary sustainability or internal sustainability or Swedish sustainability? What scale are they looking at?
Phoebe: I think for the Sustainable Development Goals it’s planetary sustainability. So it was…
Manda: Yes, it definitely is. But what about the inner sustainability goals that the conference was about?
Phoebe: Yeah, it’s really connected to the SDGs. So they’re saying the SDGs are trying to achieve this. You cannot achieve that without the inner work.
Manda: Right. Yes, totally. Okay. If an Imagination Activist is equipped with the tools to bridge. How do they acquire those tools?
Phoebe: That’s a great question. So the tools to bridge, in my eyes are the tools to our learning the tools that exist in these different futures that we imagine. So if we’re talking about living in a world that is equitable, where people are considered equals with each other and with non-human beings, what does that actually look like in terms of laws today, in terms of organisational structures? How does that look like in the way that we’re living day to day? And when it comes to digital tools, when we’re talking about these big visions of the future; what I’ve mapped out so far is how do you translate visions of the future to values? Like how do you really move from a sense of where we want to go to a sense of what is important to me? That’s one of the first jumps that’s really key in moral imaginations and we talk about. And then from those values, how do you jump from: these are the values that are central to me, these are the principles, these are the things that are important to me. How do we then create a world that actually prioritises those things and protects them and stewards them and safeguards them for the future generations?
Manda: And presumably somewhere along the line, it has to be not just the values that I value, but the values that the collective values. So two questions. One is presumably this is collective values. It’s not just my values. I don’t want to impose my values on everyone, but I would like to have a voice in the crowdsourcing of a collective set of values. That said, I’m aware that my values could probably evolve and that potentially either in the process of crowdsourcing collective values or in some adjacent process. I could evolve to a different set of values and that potentially and I’m thinking on the fly here and this may be total rubbish and please feel free to say so. We need to help people to get to a core set of in a way, transcendent, transformative values, not just the ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’ values that we have at the moment. And then bring all of those together in a collective movement. Which means inspiring a lot of people who will never, frankly, listen to a podcast like this. And reaching them in ways that that begin that process. So actually, there’s quite a lot of questions there. So how do we do that?
Phoebe: There’s a lot there. But I completely resonate with what you’re saying. The transcendent values, the moving. That is the process, the kind of moving from I to thou, which I think Peter Block talks about. How do we actually access that higher sense of of why am I here on this planet? What is mine to do? That those bigger questions that allow us to tap into some sort of higher, more transcendent or I often talk about deeper because I have a bit of a resistance to the transcendental movement, of kind of leaving the earth and getting in the rocket ship going to Mars. It’s like all of it kind of layers on top of each other. You know, it’s interesting to see how those memes, Christianity, and there’s so many memes that sort of sandwich up on top of each other to get us to that Elon Musk, go to Mars situation. But how do we deepen or whatever your metaphor is? There is a way of tapping into a set of values that is coming from a sense of what’s important for the whole. So it’s interesting. We start talking about collective imagination and imagining alone. I would argue that it’s it’s basically impossible to ever imagine totally alone, because our imaginations are not independent. There is no kind of inner world that is separate from each other, from the world outside, from our memories, from all of the things that are constantly… From the bacteria in our guts. So even the idea of a solo independent imagination is a construct. So I think there is… But then you start to move into the territory of collective consciousness and things that start to feel a little bit unrigorous or lacking…
Manda: Difficult to pin down.
Phoebe: Difficult to pin down. Exactly. So I think I stick to the idea that actually our imaginations are just not independent. And this is also one of the topics that’s coming up around the inner development goals. Is actually what does it mean? What is the inner world? And we all we all acknowledge that there is an inner, there is an outer, there is something that’s more tangible, that’s a different way of describing it, that for me, feels a little bit more like a useful metaphor here. Of like the tangible and the intangible. But as soon as we start talking about inner and outer, it sets up a construct where there’s some sort of boundary between ourselves and the outside world. But then at the same time, we can all acknowledge that there is a lot going on behind these eyes, behind the things I’m saying. There’s a whole awareness that’s happening and that is, in a sense, inner and yet it’s also shared and it’s also not independent. So anyway, that.
Manda: Yeah.I would love to unpick that, but I think that’s probably a rabbit hole that would not interest the listeners too much. Just, very slightly. So I just this last weekend was teaching my last ever foundation dreaming course because I’m handing over teaching to my very wonderful apprentice. And we talk about consensus reality and all the other realities. Because it seems to me that tangible and intangible: the intangible becomes tangible if we allow ourselves to go there. That as soon as we enter, whatever we might call the shamanic realities; and listeners, you’ll just have to accept that this is a thing that is reproducible and relatively consistent. Then people’s perceptions of what is tangible and what is not tangible change markedly. And part of the work of a weekend, which is an incredibly short time span, is to get people fit at the end, to go back into consensus reality without really breaking apart. So I’m really interested in the processes you’re undertaking in Sweden and with Emerge when you’re doing 1000 people in a collective imagination. How do you and they step out into presumably a future that we would all want and then come back into this reality? Is there a jarring and a disjunct that you have to manage as the leader of that?
Phoebe: Definitely. And that is something within the workshops of the smaller groups that I work with, with communities and organisations and other kind of mixed groups. It’s something that’s more pronounced because we’re usually working in a deeper way. The sessions are longer. The session in Sweden was just 25 minutes total, so that was the real magic trick there and that’s what everybody commented on afterwards. It’s like, how did you do that in 18 minutes? Like how do we go all the way there and then come back? And it was so short. And that’s what I was mulling over in the weeks before the session. Was like, how to do that journey and to go to a place beyond space and time and then to come back. And I think the way to do that is through continual connexion with the audience and a sort of, you know, you’re taking people on a journey. And it’s really I guess it’s the same as like a pilot on a plane, you know, you’re landing the aeroplane afterwards. But hopefully you’re not doing that alone. Because I mean, at least for me, whenever I’m doing this work, there’s a sense of such togetherness. Even though I’m on this stage and there’s a thousand people out there, I feel as if we’re in a very intimate conversation. And there’s laughing, there’s tears, there’s connexion, there’s a lot going on, there’s a feeling of the whole. There’s a feeling of holding the whole.
Phoebe: And that they’re holding the whole with me. So it’s not just me holding that. And so then when we kind of return from that, you know, there’s a lot of ways to start preparing that journey back. You know, you don’t suddenly say “aaaannnnd…. It’s over!”.
Manda: Yeah. Okay, good. Okay. I’m understanding the process more.
Phoebe: There’s a gentleness.
Manda: And at the end of it, do you have 1000 or potentially 4000 people who feel then as if they are in community? Have they got a baseline and a shared set of narratives and a shared set of purposes from which they can then build?
Phoebe: It’s a great question. I think they do have a sense of being in community, but there isn’t a sense of a shared one consciousness, of like we all we’ve all thought of the same thing and we’re all kind of starting on the same baseline. I think that there is a shared… If you then mixed everyone around, you know because they’re in little groups or they’re in pairs; if you mixed everyone around completely, I think they would be starting from a shared place that was not there before.
Manda: Okay. So this is a self-selecting group of people who presumably have paid to be there.
Manda: Are they then… Are you seeing them as seed to get out into their communities and are able to build something similar in a group of people who haven’t self-selected to be here? I have a mission to reach all the people who wouldn’t self-select. But we did have somebody on last night’s call who is in Hollywood who, if I understood him correctly, was saying There is nobody in Hollywood who’s going to entertain your ideas of difference because they’re all locked in ‘Let’s make another Marvel movie, because that’s how we make enough money’. So I’m really curious as to how you see us disseminating this.
Phoebe: Yeah.That is what I am working on now. That is that’s not going to happen in an 18 minute session. That’s really more like a taster and almost like a small psychedelic experience; a non-drug induced psychedelic experience that could maybe be a wake up moment for people; a moment of connexion with a part of themselves they haven’t connected with before. But that is absolutely the work. You know, for me, that’s the bit where everything gets very exciting. Is how can we equip people to be able to run this sort of work with their communities and to be able to be those faith keepers and people who are inspiring, but not just…. What what people fed back to me after that session, and what I hear a lot, is like the thing that people really love about this work is that it’s not positive, utopian. It’s not that, but it is deeply hopeful and inspiring. But it’s not doing that from the place of denying the grief and the pain and the darkness. And actually, that’s what I think is the only the only way that we can be authentically and responsibly inspiring. Is really holding all of it and allowing people to process. Its sense making, its meaning making and all of that is necessary to be able to authentically be an imagination activist, to be able to help really have that full force of imagination and inspiration and hope without being a sales person or a kind of false prophet. So I think that’s a very important part of this, but I’m exactly excited about how to equip people. What does that take? How long is that process? How to take what I have created and learnt in my last 30 years and how to package that into a form that other people can take on and also make their own, because this has to become viral. So it’s got to be something that people can also make their own.
Manda: Yes. But it has to also, I think, become resonant. Because, yes, we had an interesting conversation last night about the difference between viral virality and resonance, and that virality has a tendency to spread by promoting outrage and resonance spreads I think more it’s a kind of serotonin oxytocin level. But it might not get as far or go as fast, but it will be deeper.
Phoebe: No, it’s very helpful. It’s a very helpful metaphor shift.
Manda: Thank Natalie Nahai of the Hive podcast.
Phoebe: I’m going to be doing an interview with Natalie.
Manda: Yeah. There you go. She’s very insightful. Yes, she’s one of our facilitators and also going to be one of our speakers. Yeah. So taking all of that, I’d like to take a slight step sideways, because I have been reading Solar Punk since our last conversation and you said, but hey, Solar Punk. And become quite intrigued by it, but still, the Solar Punk that I have read has all had a jump cut between where I feel the world is now and where whatever the narrative is starts off. There’s either been some amazing technological development or a social switch flipped, such that everyone is, or at least the majority of people are now co-operative and decent and full of integrity and shared purpose. And yet I remember you saying, that there are people living in Solar Punk realities right now. So there is that possibility. So tell us what solar punk is, because most people listening will have no clue. And then let’s explore that a little bit more.
Phoebe: What a great prompt. Solar punk is so exciting. I find it so exciting. So I actually started writing a blog post last night which is titled Falling Back in Love with Solar Punk, because I had fallen quite out of love with solar punk for the last maybe like six months. I’ve been seeing a lot of co-option of Solar Punk with eco modernism and kind of eco brutalism and greenwashing and techno utopianism. And I found a set of videos and articles that I was reading that really (that I can put in the in the show notes) resparked the original reason I got so excited about Solar Punk. And one of these videos had a quote which was, I believe: Solar Punk without like the end of capitalism is just greenwash cyberpunk.
Manda: Right. Yes.
Phoebe: And so that has just really regenerated my passion and excitement for Solar Punk. Because at its core, the reason I came to Solar Punk was because my first ever blog, just my name dot com, it used to be humans nature tech. So it was this braid of how do you bring these things together? Like I was a scientist. I loved spending time in nature. It was very clear to me that nature is our saviour, in a way. That’s where redemption and regeneration lies. But at the same time, we’re this highly technological species and to deny that is to deny, you know, our left arm. You know, it’s trying to cut something off that is inherently also human.
Phoebe: And so the whole movement that I was finding in rural California and these places that I was travelling, of like, No, let’s go back to the land. It’s like, why would we go back? When, you know, it’s inherently part of us? There’s an integration needed and I’m always interested in integration. How do we integrate what is going on and then move forward into another state of complexity, that integrates all of those things? So how do we integrate social justice, racial justice, intergenerational justice, interspecies justice with technology, both high tech and low tech and whatever appropriate tech? Like what is the right technology that is needed, to meet the needs of this situation while creating the least harm possible. In fact, instead of the least harm, creating the most regeneration and good. And then the last bit of protecting, stewarding and regenerating nature. And I just got so excited because I felt as if it was like finally a narrative that was integrating all of the parts of my myself. So my own integration was being found in this narrative integration. This person who has the background in technology and science and even genetic engineering, in my undergrad in the first years of research I did at Imperial College London. And then to have people react so strongly, you know, at that. But at the same time continue to use Mac books that are created with minerals that are mined, you know, it’s just… It’s like, how do we integrate rather than reject?
Manda: Yes. And how do we integrate and move forward to something different? So how do we do that? What is Solar Punk giving you that lets you see a path forward?
Phoebe: So for listeners who are who are listening and just thinking, what on earth is Solar Punk? Solar punk is born from something called cyberpunk. And cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a dystopian and futuristic setting that tends to focus on a combination of low life and high tech. So featuring very futuristic technological and scientific achievements like AI and cybernetics, most often juxtaposed with societal decay, collapse. You’ll recognise cyberpunk from films and books like Blade Runner and other kind of cyberpunk fiction that you can look up. And so solar punk basically reacted to that as a utopian alternative. And maybe protopian would be a better term, rather than utopian. Because utopian is often a sense of like this, this on an unreachable, unattainable kind of good life. Whereas Protopia is a very relevant term for the Thrutopia Master class. It’s a state that’s better than today; it’s better than today and better than yesterday, but it’s only a little bit better. And actually people often say that Protopia is quite hard to visualise, because it’s still got many of the problems. It’s even got new problems and it’s got new benefits. So it’s much more complex than utopia, that’s just like, oh, yeah, it’s going to be great. It’s like, actually, it’s going to be a bit better than today, but still lots of problems and even more problems, but also new benefits.
Manda: And presumably a sense that the trajectory is towards something that we would be proud to leave to our kids, which is our Thrutopian concept.
Phoebe: Exactly. Exactly. Thrutopia is almost like a set of protopias. Like staggered protopias that lead you to a collective…. I still struggle with the word utopia because it feels so monochrome. It’s like a pluralistic situation that is acceptable to as many people as possible. It’s what I think is like a realistic…
Phoebe: What do you think of that?
Manda: I don’t Know. I don’t know. It’s an interesting thought. I think what I long for, that sense of yearning is to have a vision of a future where everybody wakes up with a sense of confidence that they are in the right place at the right time. They can connect to the web of life, ask ‘what do you want of me?’ and respond in real time. So that humanity is fully integrated in what seems to me to be a much greater consciousness, and playing a part with our technology and our capacity to, I don’t know, dig holes in the ground or move rocks or whatever is needed. And I don’t know that that has a name yet. And it would need to be shared by the wide majority of people. And it may be that I am one of a small handful who thinks this is a good idea. I do think it’s the only way we get through, because if we don’t actually start regenerating the world, then we are going to be breathing 9% oxygen quite fast, which isn’t good. So I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know. I get a bit stuck. I never did languages, like my beloved partner. So when somebody last night started talking about, I don’t know, neo modernism or something, I have no clue what that is. Nor am I particularly interested in losing bandwidth to find out. I just want to write the stuff that works, but that feels… I think it is important to me that the trajectory feels as if it’s somewhere we all want to go. All of us. And it has to be not just Guardian reading slightly leftwing progressive people.
Phoebe: Exactly. I’m desperate to have those conversations with as many people outside of this tiny bubble. And unfortunately, the tiny bubble is often saying, you know, we need to be more inclusive, we need more voices in the room. But not those voices, not these voices.
Manda: Exactly, yes.
Phoebe: And it’s like, wow, there’s so much work to do on that. But it’s so exciting. Like, it is the work if we actually want collective imagination, collective intelligence, collective… If we want to steer this ship in a way that is not being steered by the kind of leaders that we have steering today. Like if there is going to be this citizen movement, you know, as John Alexander talks about, and using deliberative democracy and all of these other collective tools. Like there’s so much talk of that on the progressive left and so little practise of doing the actual diverse cross, you know, trans partisan work. And so much reaction. And that’s where I think our biggest work lies, is actually doing the inner work, the personal work. The work around triggers and and personal traumas, which actually is at the core of this reactionary, divisive othering. There’s been so much research around this and A Larger Us is a great organisation to have a look at, who’s done a lot.
Manda: Braver Angels are doing a lot as well. Yeah. And George Marshall doing huge amounts on the language. But but even so, I was at Schumacher when George Marshall talked to us all about work he’d done in Alberta with the tar sands. And he’d invited people in and he’d had a town hall and he’d got them to say what it was they were proud about, about being Albertans. And it was all about providing the power for the world. And we work hard and we’re independent. And he had transformed that to, yes, we are proud, transformative Albertans and the world depends on us for its power. But we have loads of sun and wind and water and it’s not really healthy for us to be completely dependent on the fossil fuel companies because if they go down, we go down with them. And wouldn’t it be good if we were proud independent Albertans working in other ways? And it sounded to me then. I listened to that and thought, God, yes, that’s that. Surely that resonates! And it has made, as far as I can tell, no difference whatsoever. So the theory, and I get really excited by that and think, yes, yes, change is happening! And actually, you know, the opposite. Everything the divisions have got more and and the bulwarks have got higher. And I’m really interested in how you think we connect with people for whom connexion with others outside their tribe is probably not a priority, currently.
Phoebe: That’s a huge question. I mean, that’s like a podcast episode in itself, but…
Manda: Let’s do it. We just need to find the time.
Phoebe: I think you have to open the conversation about the things that matter. You know, there have to be things on the table that everybody agrees matter and they care about and pulls people out of that logical left brain, argumentative way of thinking. And actually what is the deeper conversation here? What are we all, here, a common goal? Like what happens in a crisis where people really mobilise around a common goal no matter what their position or political standing.
Manda: Which is why the right is so clever in creating the crises that unite people around a common goal. Putin might be about to launch a nuclear war. Okay, let’s all forget about progressive values and do what you want us to do. Does Solar Punk reach into any parts beyond the progressive left or is it a progressive left thing?
Phoebe: It does.
Manda: How does it do that?
Phoebe: So it has a very strong libertarian kind of thread. Of solar punk, you know, becoming independent, self reliant. So there are interesting kind of different strands of Solar Punk, which I also find very interesting. You know, the kind of getting independent from the state narrative.
Manda: But still within community? Because everything that I’ve understood so far is that our way forward is communitarian.
Phoebe: Yeah, well, Solar Punk has community baked in. Like community is like a deep part of the Solar Punk movement. And I think that’s why it’s interesting, because it’s like you come for the self-reliance and you stay for the community. Like you might get kind of green pilled by the Solar Punk idea of becoming 100% independent and like cut off from everyone else. And then once you’re there, you realise actually the really cool part of this is community. I mean we have to wait and see, because solar punk is right at the beginning of its slow momentum. It’s been growing since early 2000’s. I came across it in around 2014. And now you know, how many years later? 8 years later, just been interviewed by the BBC on Solar Punk. So it’s like this is a very slow cultural…
Manda: But the BBC has got it. It’s hitting the mainstream.
Phoebe: It’s happening. It’s happening.
Manda: So and you were talking about, Just before we end, a community near Heathrow that is a Solar Punk community. Can you tell us a little bit about that as we close? Because it sounded fascinating.
Phoebe: Yeah. So that community is called Grow Heathrow and I came across them during the years that I was working on fossil fuel divestment at the Universities of London. So I started the Imperial College Divest Movement. And so Grow Heathrow is a grassroots community that was created in resistance to the new runway at Heathrow, where like 20 people just started living in the place where this new runway was meant to be built. And they’ve had the police show up periodically, but they’ve they’ve embedded themselves really deeply into the community there. They run loads of community events. They have a free bicycle repair shop, and they all live in treehouses. And they heat water through using old radiators and solar power. And they’re using all of this like hodgepodge together, like new technology, old technology, permaculture. I mean, it’s a really interesting place if you go and visit, you know; they’ve created a lot of decentralised community governance, how they share tasks, how they keep things going, shared childcare and like kitchen rotas and drying herbs. It’s an interesting place to step into, as like a post-apocalyptic grassroots community.
Manda: What makes this a Solar Punk community? When it sounds to me like quite similar to quite a lot of the other communities that have been trying to stop fracking or HS2 or any of those things.
Phoebe: I think those for us are the tastes of solar punk tomorrow. Like I think that is at least, if we’re talking about protopias, like what does it look like to step out of individual, living in houses into working on the land, living in community and still using technology? And the next step would be bringing the kind of smart… There’s a bit of a movement around smart villages. Which, again, if it’s AI and if it’s blockchain based, if it’s technology that is still operating on a kind of monopolistic capitalist paradigm that’s not Solar Punk. So I don’t think any really good examples of solar punk in action exist. But I think that’s also because there are so many dependencies on the current system and it’s kind of the more experiments we can have, the more we can start to iterate through snipping those ties to the current system. And obviously there’s so much work going on around new economies and permaculture, regenerative agriculture, all of the inspiral decentralised leadership stuff that I used to be in. So there’s a lot going on. But I’d love to see like the world’s first, you know, trying to be truly solar Punk community. Or 90% Solar Punk. Here are all the Solar punk values and the technologies and the things we promise not to do and the things that we’re trying to wean ourselves off.
Phoebe: That would be very interesting. So I made a list of these actually for a Solar Punk talk I did recently. So I’m just getting that up. Some of the Solar Punk values that I’ve got listed here are: mutualism, pluralism, interdependence, a kind of commons mindset, non extractivism, co-operative models. Well-being first. Stewardship over ownership. Regeneration over conservation. Collective over individual. Although I would map all of these as tensions, but moving closer to the collective of the individual, the tension around like local and global, and then also this interplanetary tension. For some people in Solar Punk, that’s a whole debate and discussion. How to be operating in that local bio-regional context and connecting to the global. And then decentralised and centralised, especially around kind of energy and micro-grids. And that’s a big theme as well in the Solar Punk discussions. And then the tension of lengthening the time perspective to future generations and not just current generations and also interspecies over anthropocentricism, is another really core tension and kind of value in Solar Punk.
Phoebe: And I can also just attach an image I made, where I’ve got kind of three columns: of humans, nature and technology. And then like lists of different practises like agroforestry and forest schools, land based living, data governance, participation, citizen assemblies, community infrastructure, renewable energy, personalised medicine, technology assisted learning.
Manda: And how we make the switch from the current system to that system without ending up in jail. Because just particularly in Britain for those listening from other nations. But a lot of what you said, feels to me we have to either find legal sidesteps or we have to just ignore the current legal system. And that means enough people, because the legal system is only there by consensus. But enough people have to stop consenting for the new system to come on board. And that step strikes me as really, really interesting. How do we step out of predatory capitalism into the Solar Punk world? And what happens at the interface when the two meet? Because if there are very small numbers of Solar Punk, it’s going to get messy and not good.
Phoebe: Well, just to say that that paints solar punk as a very dissident thing.
Manda: Hmmm feels like it
Phoebe: And I think there are ways to… I know Canticle Farm is a great example of a community in Oakland, in California, that is basically living a solar punk existence, but within almost like a kind of island of sanity within the system. And finding those ways to interface, you know to be…
Manda: Right, they must own the land, though, they haven’t just occupied it.
Phoebe: No, you’re right. They own it. They’ve raised the funds to buy the land. Definitely. And maybe that’s part of the project, is to actually map out what are the the kind of dependencies that need to be mapped out.
Manda: Map out the bio regions and and just pick some and sort them. Maybe that’s the way forward.
Phoebe: To be discussed.
Manda: Gosh this conversation could be so fruitful.
Phoebe: To be continued…
Manda: Yes, definitely. We will continue at another point.
Phoebe: And in our session, our Thrutopia session.
Manda: For now, we need to stop. Definitely.
Phoebe: I can’t wait to meet everybody. And I hope if you’ve been listening, I hope this is a good introduction and we’ll continue.
Manda: Fantastic. Phoebe Tickell, with all that you’re doing, thank you so much for taking the time out to come on to Accidental Gods. It has been an absolute pleasure.
Phoebe: Thank you so much. It was really, really good to be here.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Phoebe for the depth of her thinking and the quality of her capacity to express everything that she encompasses. With Phoebe I always feel that we’re getting to the edge places that we need to explore, if we’re going to expand the boundaries of what we know and what we can do. And I am so looking forward to a second part of this conversation. In the meantime, if you want to follow her on social media, certainly on Twitter, she’s at solarpunk_girl, and I think she’s the same on Instagram, although I never go there, so I can’t be sure. But whatever you do, however you follow her, know that you will be stimulated and challenged and your thinking will be led into new places, which is what we need if we’re going to change the world. So thank you, Phoebe.
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