The following is a primer on a concept I have termed Guerrilla Ecology. In this, we will explore a theoretical/historical basis for these ideas, goals such practices would seek to accomplish, ethical concerns, and lastly practical applications of these ideas in a way that is most consistent with these goals and ethics.
I have laid this out in a way that each of these portions can be understood completely independent of each other. However, for a complete understanding, I would encourage everyone to read this essay in it’s entirety.
2) Purpose and Goals
We have a long history to pull on in regards to these sorts of movements. One such movement named the Green Guerillas was formed in the 1970s in New York by a woman named Elizabeth Christy (1945-1985).
They seed bombed vacant lots, planted sunflowers in medians, and hung flower planters in the windows of abandoned buildings.
Shortly after the founding of this group, they petitioned the City of New York to create the Bowery-Houston Community Farm and Garden. By 1974, clean up of the vacant lot was finished, and they established the first ever community garden in Manhattan. After this project was complete, Christy was involved in providing technical support for 700 other community gardens in New York, started a radio program entitled “Grow Your Own”, created educational programs, and received numerous awards.
More information on the Green Guerillas can be found at http://www.greenguerillas.org/.
In an age of unprecedented global ecological collapse, the power of these ideas cannot be underestimated.
A guerrilla is described as:
“A member of a small independent group taking part in irregular fighting, typically against larger regular forces. And “referring to actions or activities performed in an impromptu way, often without authorization.”
Ecology is defined as:
“The scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter.”
As such Guerrilla Ecology can be described as “an individual or small independent group, that studies the processes of, and influences the distribution and abundance of, organisms in an unauthorized and independent way.”
The Guerrilla Ecologist is one who acts to BOTH understand the operations of ecology, and influence them. It is absolutely essential that we gain an understanding of the environments we are attempting to influence, prior to acting on them lest we risk doing damage in the long term. I will speak more on this topic later.
Purpose and Goals:
Everyone is talking about climate change and rightfully so, but climate change is far from the only ecological catastrophe we are facing. Oceans are acidifying at an alarming rate, nearly one million species of plants and animals face extinction, we are experiencing extreme heat waves, and studies show we only have about 60 years of top soil left if industrial farming continues the way it has.
To put it bluntly, humanity is facing extinction.
We should do everything in our power to avert ecological crisis. If we are to successfully build a movement around these ideas, it is an absolute necessity that we strive not only to avert crisis, but build a world in which we thrive. In the absence of this, we will create a cycle of perpetual future crisis.
Survival, in and of itself, is not a virtue.
As such, the goals of Guerilla Ecology include:
– Educate friends, family, and community members about their impact on local ecologies, and how these can be mitigated.
– Ensure the survival of local ecologies where possible, and combat individuals or entities that threaten them.
– Restoration of native ecology where necessary.
– Protection and re-population of species that face extinction.
– Attacking scarcity (both conceptually and materially) where this can be done through ecological means.
It’s not all bad news.
Lately, there has been a lot of stir over a particular study that showed if we were to plant 1.2 trillion trees (this roughly comes out to 170 trees per person), we could mitigate the last 10 years of carbon emissions. This is a small taste of what restoration of natural cycles brings to the table.
It is of the highest importance that we both grasp the expediency required to achieve our goals, but also reject defeatism that ultimately leads to apathy, and inaction.
While these tasks may seem daunting, in the implementation section of this essay, we will explore ways in which just about anyone can seek to accomplish these goals.
If we are to promulgate these ideas, there are a couple of ethical concerns that will need to be addressed.
There are those who may raise objections to these practices, on the basis of private property. We can attack these objections on both a theoretical and pragmatic basis.
As for theoretical objections, I would ask where do these property claims arise from in the first place? How are these claims maintained?
The short answer is violence. While this may seem like a vast oversimplification, claims of private property do not arise from anything other than a small piece of paper that represents the claim, and the violence backing that claim.
What do I mean by violence?
Imagine you walked into an abandon lot. This lot isn’t being used, and as far as you can see, there are no people in the area that would take issue with you taking up residency. You set up a small home, and start farming the area around the lot. So far so good. You wake up one morning and walk out the door to find a note attached to your door. Well it appears that someone has caught wind of what you are doing. It’s a notice to vacate the premises. But why? Who have you wronged? It is, after all, an empty lot. You’ve deprived no one of their ability to use it.
You have two options: you can either pack up and leave, or simply discard the note. For the sake of this argument, you discard the note, and go about living your life. Soon after, people with guns show up at your home. You lock yourself inside. You hear them shouting on the other side. “Vacate this lot, or you will be thrown in jail”. If you resist further, you will be thrown in a cage or, more likely, murdered in the process.
That is what I mean by violence. At the end of the day, property titles are backed by the threat of death for those that would violate them, even if the property is going completely unused.
Is this the basis of a just society? Should we simply accept “might makes right” because those who came before us did? Would it not make more sense to award property on the stipulation that it actually be used? There are a multitude of other ownership schemes that have been proposed in the course of human history. We just happen to be subject to one that acknowledges absentee ownership.
The basis of these claims rests solely on the threat of enforcing these claims, not their actual enforceability. If the bulk of society simply decided to throw off the bondage of such claims, these threats would be seen for the unenforceable immoral mess they are.
These claims can also be refuted on a pragmatic basis as well.
A report by the UN titled The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services stated that as of 2019, about one million species of plants and animals face extinction. This report also concluded that the solution is largely restoration of native environments.
Wealth has become absurdly concentrated in the US. This effectively blocks anyone from taking any real action to prevent the ecological catastrophe we are experiencing.
We live in a world where 1 in 6 people do not get the food they need to be healthy (this will translate to 36 million people dying of hunger in 2019), and as many as 1 billion people lack proper housing. The list goes on and on.
And for what? Their pristine, chemical laden, monocrop, front lawns? I do not see how this could possibly be morally justifiable.
Unintended ecological damage
Another objection to such action that I touched on briefly earlier, is the possibility of unintended ecological consequences. I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding the local ecology of the areas where these actions are taking place. Before taking any action, one should study the local flora and fauna, and invasive species.
Local state governments and colleges are good resources on these topics. They generally have listings of any species you want to avoid. In the Age of Information, there is no excuse for not understanding these complex relationships, before taking action.
Always keep in mind the long term consequences of your actions. It may seem like a good idea to seed-bomb a local golf course, but if you are planting in areas that are maintained regularly, this will likely result in increased herbicide use. This is the opposite direction we want to be going in.
The following is a rough introduction to techniques that can be used to advance the goals listed prior in this article. All information listed in this section is merely introductory. More research is merited on all of these topics for proper execution.
Seed bombing is one of the easiest, cost effective, and least visible tools in the Guerilla Ecologists arsenal.
The first step to creating a seed bomb is to find out what you are going to be bombing with. There are a lot of tutorials online that make blanket recommendations. However, given that an understanding of our local ecology is essential to what we are doing, we need to be on the look out for species that are invasive in our regions, as well as species that are native and support local ecosystems. Local wildflowers are a good place to start research.
In order to create a seed bomb, you need rich soil, non-toxic clay, water, and seed. Start by mixing equal amounts of clay and soil. Work the mixture together, slowly adding water until the soil and clay have mixed well. Flatten out the mixture and cut them into squares, roughly as large as you want your seed bombs. Take one of the squares and roll it into a ball. Once the mixture has formed a ball, simply take a toothpick and make a hole in the ball to the center, and insert the seeds. Let the seed bombs dry and harden for a couple hours and they are ready for use.
For best germination rates, use seed bombs within 48 hours and in times of the year where germination will be most likely. Seed bombs generally store for 6 months.
Plants generally used in seed bombing include, but are not limited to:
– Milkweed (generally for the purpose of creating an ecosystem for Monarch Butterflies)
– Wild Sunflowers
– Native Wildflowers
– Clover (for soil regeneration)
Cloning is the process of creating genetic replicas of existing plants. Exercise caution with such a technique, as creating large ecosystems of genetic replicas is a path to ecological collapse. Take clones from all sorts of different plants in different locations to ensure genetic diversity in the long run.
In order to clone a plant, first take a cutting. To take a cutting, simply cut off a small branch 4-8 inches long at a 45 degree angle. Cut off any smaller branches coming off your cutting while leaving the leafs at the top intact. Then take your cutting and dip it in a rooting solution.
There are many different kinds of rooting solutions on the market. However, these are mostly over hyped. If our goal is to reduce ecological impact, there are many DIY methods that are just as suitable.
The method I have found most success with is Willow Water. In order to make Willow Water, simply harvest young branches (green/yellow) from a Willow tree, remove any leafs, and steep them over night. You can also place them in room temperature water over 3 days. Either extraction method works.
One of the advantages of Willow Water, is that not only does it contain the rooting compound Indolebutyric acid (IBA), it also contains Salicylic acid (SA), which helps prevent bacterial and fungal attacks on your cutting.
Other popular DIY solutions can be made from Cinnamon, Apple Cider Vinegar, Honey, etc.
Once your cutting has been dipped in the rooting solution of choice for 15-30 seconds, insert the cutting into a grow medium. There are many different mediums people use. Water, rock wool, or even just soil. In order to reduce inputs, my medium of choice is soil. The issue with cloning in soil is that you cannot tell if roots have formed, whereas with water or rock wool you can. Regardless of the medium, it needs to be kept moist. If you are going to use a water medium, the PH needs to be kept from 5-6.
Putting a humidity dome over your cutting may help its chances of rooting if the environment you are working in is dry. New clones should be given a rest period of at least 6 hours without light daily, or they will burn. Generally expect to see roots within 1-2 weeks. Some plants can take up to 3 weeks. However, if they have not rooted at this point, they are likely non-viable.
Do not be discouraged by cuttings that do not take. Different plants require different conditions and learning how to adjust for these takes practice.
Grafting is the process by which the tissue of two separate plants are joined in a way that they continue to grow. There are many different techniques for grafting. This is only meant to be a brief introduction, so I will keep it short.
There are two parts to grafting: rootstock, and a scion. The scion is attached to the rootstock through exposed tissue, and the fusing process begins. Constant pressure needs to be applied to keep the the exposed tissue firmly placed together.
Not all species are compatible with each other.
“Tree of 40 Fruit” was a series of trees created by an artist of the name Sam Van Aken. Through grafting, he was able to create trees all over the US that produce 40 different kinds of fruit.
In San Fransisco, activists are grafting fruit onto decorative trees. This is an excellent way of bringing food production to urban areas. Most of these grafted trees can be found through FallingFruit.org.
While this may all sound new and exciting, the reality is grafting has been around for a very long time. Research has suggested that grafting was practiced in China before 2,000 BC. A text entitled the De Agri Cultura, dated to 160 BC in Rome, detailed grafting techniques. Humans have been doing this for a very long time now.
Plant-based remediation (Phytoremediation) is the process of removing harmful compounds from the ground with plants. Through this process certain plants, called accumulators, are planted in an area that suffers from certain pollutants, most commonly heavy metals. The accumulators uptake these substances from the ground and store them. Plants particularly good at this are called hyper-accumulators.
Depending on the plants you are using and the toxins you are cleaning, the plant may even break them down and render them non-toxic. In most cases the accumulators are slashed and disposed of, to avoid leeching into water sources. However, concentrations left in plant matter tend to be lower than the levels that were previously in the soil.
We must, again, be very careful of invasive species. Water Hyacinth can concentrate some compounds at a rate of 10,000 times that of the surrounding water, making it a great accumulator. It is however, insanely invasive outside of it’s native ecosystems.
A comprehensive table of hyper-acummulators can be found here.
Mycoremediation (fungi based remediation) however shows a lot more promise as fungi appear to be much more effective at actually breaking down these compounds, often to the point where the fungi is still edible (this does not apply to heavy metals). Even more impressive, it seems that over time fungi learns to better consume these compounds generationally.
As you can see, we have many tools at our disposal, and they can be implemented at very little cost.
We must begin to look at ourselves as the micro-organisms of the Earth we are. Humanity will continue as an infectious disease, to be destroyed by a global fever, or we will become the mitochondria of the Earth.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary actions. There are inherent risks in such a proposal. They are not lost on me. However, we have reached a point where the costs of inaction are far too high. The powers that be have proven themselves more than capable of sacrificing all life on this planet in the worship of frivolous idols. We must take it upon ourselves to do what needs to be done, or all will be lost.
From the ashes of a dying world, Eden will rise again.
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