The XR Wordsmiths' Solarpunk Storytelling Showcase is Extinction Rebellion’s first global short story contest for all ages.
A new contest will be launched November 2022. Go to the website above or email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
The project rides the wave of the Solarpunk movement and grew from the belief that imagining a better future is the first step towards creating it.
The power of collective and radical imagination helps to inspire action against unjust, destructive futures by actively building towards the future we want to see.
The following stories - 'The Old Man and the Bird' (original artwork by Dustin Jacobus) and 'Blood Oil' - (original artwork by João Queiroz) were written by two winners in the 12-18 category, Aël Magnard and Rebecca "Reb" Spring.
The Old Man and the Bird
It had been years since the bird heard the last trucks, saws, and men cutting down the trees, killing its friends, and destroying its home. The colorful bird was singing on its tree, waiting for the Old Man to tell him stories. The Old Man told him about men’s cities: lush forests of blue, green, and gold, far away from the bird’s home. The stories were so different from the tales of the bird’s grandfather, who told him about dark, grey places of fear and misery.
He was happy. The Old Man was here. The Old Man always talked to the bird, sometimes to the trees of the forest. He thought they did not understand him, for they did not share a language. He had always said, in the old times, ‘Birds scream at the top of their lungs in horrified hellish rage every morning at daybreak to warn us all of the truth, but sadly we don’t speak bird.’ Little did he know, the little bird, and the forest, understood the Old Man. They were good friends, but unable to share their experiences.
One day, the bird decided to see the world for himself. It would be a long and tedious journey, but the bird was hopeful about it. He first went to see the Old Man to ask him for advice.
"I’m going out of the forest to see the world" tweeted the bird.
The Old Man answered, not understanding him:
"Hello little bird, ready to go out and explore the wide world on your own I see. You’ll see, it is beautiful, now that we, humans beings, have finally made peace with Mother Nature. No more plastics, toxic chemicals, pesticides, or grey fumes coming from fossil fuel powerplants. No more overexploitation, no more greed driving us to destroy Earth’s treasures. Now, green cities with the bluest skies. Families in gardens, adults reconciling with the nature they once feared. Kindness, compassion, and service are universally accepted and expected. I hope you’ll find some friends during your journey. Farewell, little bird."
Original artwork - Dustin Jacobus
Little did they understand each other, but the bird could tell that the Old Man was happy to see him. And maybe a little sad at the same time.
"Don’t worry" said the bird, "I’ll be back soon."
The Old Man let a tear roll down his cheek.
The bird flew across emeralds seas and sapphire skies, across mountain tops kissed with snow. He flew across deserts of golden sands and blue waters of tranquility. The bird learned that the world was a beautiful but fragile place, as the Earth showed him the scars man left on her.
He flew through rains, storms, sandstorms, and even blizzards (the accelerated forces of natural selection had made him a very tough bird, almost a super bird) and learned that no matter how dark the sky could be at night, the day would eventually come. No matter how the sky was filled with black clouds of grey lighting, sandstorms, or freezing ice, the sun would shine again. Yes, the little bird learned that hope would exist as long as that beautiful yet fragile world would. He learned that preserving that beauty was the only way to preserve hope. And he was glad that the friends of the Old Man had helped preserve his forest.
A few weeks later, the bird arrived at his first human settlement. (He explored the wilderness for some time, even though the city was only a few hours away). Strangely, he almost mistook the city for some alien forest, all green and blue. It wasn’t the cities his grandfather told him about. It was merrier, greener, quieter. There, the bird met a young puppy, with white fur.
"Hello, puppy” he said. The non-humans animals could understand each other, while humans animals had lost that ability since they walked away from harmony with Mother Nature.
"I’ve never seen a colorful bird like you before" said the dog. "Who are you?"
"My friend, call me Birdie", responded the Bird. "You’re my friend right?"
"I could use one", said the dog. "My name is Wouf."
"Have you ever been outside the City” asked the bird.
"I haven’t, I am still a young puppy and I have been told that outside my comfort zone (the couch) is a dangerous place to be"’
"Everybody says that Wouf; until they realize that it is not a very dangerous place to be but an exciting one".
"If you say so. You come from a faraway place, after all, you must know what you’re talking about" said the dog.
"Well. sometimes I do. Sometimes, I don’t. Would you like to explore the outskirts of the city with me?"
"I’d love to, my flying friend".
Birdie and Wouf started their journey exploring the city’s wild outskirts. They went to the hills, through flowers and encountered a few unfamiliar species of insect (that Birdie ate).
A few hours after the sun was set, they found a young couple on the sweet green grass. The pair talked about the stars and how they were beautiful. They talked about the Earth, about love, friendship, and all those marvellous things you can feel yet not see. They laughed a lot and finally fell asleep in each other’s arms. The dog, who understood man’s language offered to translate what the young human couple said to the bird.
In the morning, the bird gently tweeted and the dog woofed softly as the sound of the hills woke the young duo. They saw the bird and the dog.
"He is so cute" said the boy. He loved dogs. The girl rather liked the bird. Maybe they had something to teach them.
"Hello bird, hello dog", said the girl. "My name is Lia and here’s my boyfriend, Peter".
The dog translated for the little bird, but he already knew, of course, that the boy and the girl were together. Love was universal.
"I’m Wouf and this is my friend, Birdie", replied the dog, pointing his muzzle toward the flying creature. The boy who liked dogs understood Wouf, and they all became friends and made friendship bracelets. Because that’s what friends do.
The bird asked the humans if they wanted to explore the world with him. They told him they’d be glad to go with him. They packed their bags full of what they called ‘green equitable tech’ - solar-powered cameras, field recorders, and other devices that would enable them to record what they saw and heard on their journey. Soon enough, the little group went out in the wild, explored ancient and forgotten cities, and met new people, animals, and ideas. The young couple became married and adopted the dog (who was free to come and go out of the house as he pleased) and lived a happy life. Meanwhile, the bird learned to talk to the trees.
A few years later, they saw each other at the Old Man’s funeral. They were sad and cried a lot, but were happy too, for his body was to become part of the Earth again. During the funeral, there were almost as many non-human animals as they were humans.
For the first time in many years, the bird experienced sadness. Wouf grew older, faster than Birdie. The man, Peter (who was not young anymore, except in his head) learned the bird’s language, (he was terrible at it, but he tried) for he knew that when the dog eventually passed away, they would not be able to share their experiences.
However, Wouf lived longer than anyone could hope. The bird eventually found happiness again. They all went on a trip to see the wonderful world once more. This time around, they were able to take a shuttle to see it from above. It was magical and at this moment, like all astronauts that came before them, they understood how this world was their responsibility and how beautiful and fragile it was. Like hope. They all thought that they must take care of it, for the dog while he was there, and all the dogs that would come after him.
After Wouf’s death, the bird went back to the forest to talk to the trees and to die in peace. (He was very old when Wouf died). He knew that Peter’s children would take care of the forest, like their parents and the Old Man before them. Birdie was glad he had the chance to travel the world and tell his story to all the birds in the forest. And now that his story was over, it was time for someone else to take his place, so the story of hope would live in the hearts of all living inhabitants of Earth.
I walk through the tall grass, it whispers against my legs. My bare feet press against the soft soil and I hear Mother Earth calling out to me, crying for help. Along the horizon, I see the oil pipeline cutting across the forest, swaths of trees chopped down in its wake. A scar cutting across Mother Earth, drawing the blood from within her to the surface. Blood flowing forth, a torrent of blood. Crude oil. Blood oil. They keep cutting her. They don’t bother to put on a band-aid. They don’t care. They just want her blood. Fossil fuel vampires.
Original illustration - João Queiroz
My head throbs painfully. A blob of black liquid collects up the hill. It flows from the pipeline. It flows down the hill. Blood. Flowing right toward me. I blink. Then I run. The wind carries me forward, pushes me on, until I see a shaky outline, the worn shingles of my roof. The frame still slants from last summer’s hurricane, but it’s home. My mama must’ve seen me running for my life, because she throws open the wooden front door with the peeling green paint. I dash in and flop onto the flowered couch with the worn cushions. My heart beats rapidly in my chest, and I feel like I can faintly hear Mother Earth’s heart beating rapidly far below me. Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump.
I hear Mama clomping down the stairs and look up from my bowl of cereal. When she rounds the landing,I see her dressed in a crisp, forest green, dress suit. A patch on her suit reads “Green New Deal.”
“Mama! Your suit looks beautiful! Where did you get it?”
“From my new job.”
“Oooh, what is it?”
“We finally got funds from the government to build renewable energy in our community and clean up the mess from the old oil pipeline. And I was selected as one of the coordinators for our community!” Her smile spreads wide and her eyes sparkle for the first time in what feels like forever.
Papa and I walk towards the creek, the slender fishing poles slung across our backs shining in the sunlight. Papa’s muscular, tired frame is outlined by the brutal rays of sun. The worms thrash about in the can I carry. I can feel their little bodies press up against the metal sides of the can, trying to break free.
I see the creek shimmering in the sunlight, and I dash towards it.
“C’mon, Papa!” I smile back at him.
But when I reach the creek, my body goes stiff with shock. It isn’t the water in the creek that was shimmering in the sunlight. It is the oil. The thick black ooze flows with the creek, rivulets of darkness, as far as the eye can see. Its oily black tendrils spread over the width of the creek, curling around the roots of trees. A fish leaps out of the water, its once pink-and-white body now covered in black.
My heart squeezes. My heart feels pain for the Earth, like my heart has oil being squeezed out of it. My heart feels pain for the creek, like my own blood is mingled with oil.
Papa walks up behind me and gasps. “Oh no!” He falls to his knees and covers his mouth with his hands, staring in horror. I fall to my knees beside him and bury my head in his stained white shirt. We hold each other as our tears fall, our river of tears making its way down to the creek, joining the flow of water and oil. All we can do is hope that our tears will wash away some of the oil. That one fish in there could breathe in the water from our tears instead of that oil.
When the final school bell of the day rings, my friend Alicia and I run outside with the rest of the students. The blue sky is bright and clear. The sun glints off of the solar panels that workers are now installing on the roof of our middle school. We watch for a moment in awe as the solar panels are lifted and secured into place by strong people in green vests.
We walk down to the Green New Community Farm, where vast fields are lush with green plants of all kinds. We each grab a small wicker basket and walk over to the strawberry patch. We pluck the juicy berries off their stems, laughing to the sun’s sweet melody. When nobody’s looking, I take a bite, the telltale juice running down my chin and filling my mouth with heaven.
We run up to the table where they’re handing out bags of produce to a line of people with ragged clothes and weary eyes. A man at the front with wrinkled skin takes a bag of produce with shaking hands as he leans on his walker. I hand him my small basket of strawberries. He takes one, closes his eyes, and slowly and methodically takes a bite.
“Oh sweet heaven! How I have missed fresh strawberries! Thank you, girl.” He places the basket of strawberries in his walker. Leaning on his walker, he slowly walks away, all the while saying, “Mm mm mm. Sweet heaven.”