How We Can Make Solarpunk A Reality (ft. @Our Changing Climate)
“Man, it is hot today.” “Wooh! It’s hot out here man, it is hot TODAY.” In light of the recent IPCC report, issuing a code red warning for humanity, climate hopelessness is at an all time high.
As I’ve spoken about many times before, in my videos addressing the climate movement, Gen Z, and the psychology of collapse, there’s no mincing words and no sense in beating around the bush. We are in hell and in many ways, things are going to get worse. And yet, I’m as passionately solarpunk as ever. Recently I released a music video based on solarpunk to lend some encouragement to all those involved in the movement.
But for those who haven’t seen it, and haven’t seen my video on solarpunk either, to summarize, solarpunk is a shining vision of a positive, communal future, grounded in our efforts in the existing world, that emphasizes the need for environmental sustainability, self-governance, and social justice. It’s an aesthetic and hypothetical, sure, but it’s also embedded in a much realer, broader movement dedicated to going beyond the limitations of capitalism and beyond the current rift between humanity and nature. Some people question why solarpunk is even called punk. After all, isn’t it just some 100% on the vibrance slider hopium utopia? I think this misses the point of solarpunk and its role in the present world we live in. There is emphasis on the future among solarpunk spaces, but the punk aspect of solarpunk is derived from its rebellion against the war on hope. In this world, imagining and fighting for a solarpunk future goes contrary to everything those in power want for us.
It’s an uphill battle, one that leans on hope in humanity, to plant the seeds of reimagination in the minds of many. I’ve spoken against blind hope in the past, but the hope I speak of here should, in my view, be closer to balanced realism. One that discards the blinders of pessimism and optimism so that you can adapt to any number of possible outcomes, not only the ideal. I think solarpunk has, in recent years, been adjusting to the reality that climate catastrophe is not something we can just avert. So the practice of solarpunks has been, in a sense, building for the best while preparing for the worst.
I think the best way to convince you, hypothetical Internet stranger, of the merits of solarpunk would be to show you what solarpunk can and does look like in real life. Through the positive synergy of present and future technology, nature, and community, in combination with the traditions of those long immersed in the eco struggle, we can generate a range of solarpunk solutions. Let’s start with the do-it-yourself solutions, which really bring out the punk in solarpunk. DIY was a massive part of the original punk movement, part of rejecting the levels of consumerism that corporations expected of you, but beyond that, DIY is an ethos. And that ethos of resilient, autonomous, anti-authoritarian, and collaborative action can be seen in solarpunk through the practice of guerilla gardening. Guerilla gardening is the practice of planting public spaces without permission.
It’s the art of transforming unused land into flourishing gardens. The term was first coined in New York City in 1973. A group of neighbours in Lower East Side Manhattan, who grew tired of the ugly, abandoned lots that defined the city’s landscape during its fiscal crisis, called themselves the Green Guerillas as they illegally transformed abandoned lots into havens of flora. Their successors around the world cultivated beauty and community in the rubble of capitalism, in between the medians of busy streets. The guerilla gardener’s favourite weapon of choice was and is the seed bomb—packets of compost, clay, seeds, and water. Guerilla gardening practices attempt to restore nature in concrete hell, resist the neglect that marks many city districts, and build a sense of community pride and connection among neighbours.
Part of the guerrilla gardening movement has been motivated by protest against the capitalist notions of private property and statist ideas of urban management. Some guerilla gardeners simply aim to beautify and reintroduce endangered native plants, while others focus more on growing produce to combat rising food prices and provide nourishment to those in need, and especially those living in food deserts. Regardless, such efforts facilitate habitat and food for insects and pollinators and bring strangers together for a common cause. Even those who have yet to be radicalized can get in on the fun, so it’s a great way to introduce subversive ideas to otherwise hesitant people.
The best part is, it’s so easy to get started. You can begin by scoping out some potential targets. Perhaps some already come to mind.
Vacant corners, concrete pockets filled with litter, or empty sidewalk sidings. It’s best to keep it close to your usual commute, so you can easily access, monitor and tend your target location. In some cases, you can pelt a seed bomb and forget all about it, but in other cases, the orphaned land may need some TLC. Weeding, watering, and maybe a boost of compost can help it out. When you’re guerilla gardening, look for saplings and seeds of indigenous, non-invasive, and preferably low-maintenance plants, from nurseries, wholesalers, or established gardeners. The plants you choose are up to you and your circumstances, but it doesn’t hurt to introduce some pops of colour to the streets.
For some guerilla gardeners, their efforts are best exercised in the cover of darkness, in order to protect them from state harassment. However, daylight work can sometimes carry on undisturbed too. Regardless, look for a low-traffic time of day to work on it. The less attention, the better. Create a plan and get together your guerilla forces, whether friends, neighbours, or sympathetic strangers, to move in with swiftness and coordination.
For lone wolves or small groups, the seed bomb is the quickest option. These “earth dumplings”, popularized by Japanese natural farming pioneer Masanobu Fukuoka, introduce mixed varieties of plants to the earth in one convenient, easy to produce and store package. There are many different guides available online, but here’s just one recipe. As for some final tips: cultivate when you can; throw your seed bombs in the right season of the year; aim for quantity over quality; wear sturdy but comfortable shoes; source plants and materials as cheaply as possible; remember to walk with bags so you can easily collect any garbage, rocks, and weeds that you’re clearing away; give your plants a little water from time to time; and give your plants a boost with compost when you can.
Remember there are other methods of seed distribution you can try out beyond what I’ve presented, so be creative. For example, @sfinbloom on Tik-Tok skateboards around San Francisco with a pepper shaker bottle and spreads native seeds that way. Lastly, check out @octaviachill on Tik-Tok, she’s an anarchist guerilla gardener with some great resources if you’d like to learn more about how you and/or your affinity group can get started. Let’s turn now to community level solutions, cuz solarpunk’s got you covered there too. Part of our aim is for the radical development of communal food autonomy through food forest commons. A food forest, or forest garden, is a diverse planting of edible plants that attempts to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in nature.
They aim to be three dimensional, with life extending up, down, and out in all directions. Food forests are rooted in permaculture principles. Our Changing Climate already has an excellent video on permaculture that you can check out, and you should probably watch my video on permablitzing too, but put simply, permaculture is a design philosophy that integrates land, resources, people, and the environment through mutually beneficial synergies, imitating the diverse, harmonious, stable, resilient, no waste, and closed loop systems seen in nature.
Permaculture seeks to work with, rather than against, nature. Food forests are nothing new. In the tropics, from India to Indonesia to the Americas to Africa, such practices were the standard, and have been at work for thousands of years. The lush Amazon, frequently called the lungs of the Earth, has been carefully cultivated by Indigenous peoples for millenia. Gatherer-hunters knew which areas produced which desirable foods and medicines, and it informed their movements and actions, encouraging certain flora to thrive and reproduce.
With just a little bit of effort, they sustained themselves for generations. In one case, a food forest in Morocco has persisted for 2,000 years, providing date palms, bananas, olives, figs, pomegranate, guava, citrus, and mulberry to the community. Geoff Lawton, the prominent permaculture consultant who wrote about this place, also found a 300 year old food forest in Vietnam that had been cultivated by the exact same family for 28 generations.
However, when colonizers made landfall during the primary age of colonial conquest, they saw wilderness to be exploited, rather than managed systems to care for and leave behind as a legacy for future generations. So what does a food forest look like? Well, it’s not a plot of land with rows of trees, or rows of trees and some plants underneath, or rows of trees with rows of other plants alternating between them. Those are all just types of orchards. A food forest is a multilayer, virtually self-sustaining, living ecosystem that lets nature do the work. The most popular food forest model carefully copies a successful natural forest, and consists of seven layers: tall trees, low trees, shrubs, herbs, ground covers, vines, and root crops. Before you even begin putting down the layers, you need to get together with your community, catalyst group, gardening club, or whatever to choose a location and create a plan.
According to startafoodforest.com, once fully established, which takes about five years, it can take only 1/30th of an acre, or about 1450 square feet of food forest to sustain one person for a year. See how you can share land with neighbours if you don’t have enough space. You plant the tall trees, or overstory first, keeping their mature size in mind as you space them out. The tall trees build up the soil and provide some shade while letting light through to the other plants in the forest. They can be fruit trees, nut trees, or, with some pruning, just sources of wood.
After the tall trees have had a bit of time to establish themselves, you can plant the understory, or low trees. They can be the dwarf versions of the overstory trees, or they can introduce new fruits and nuts entirely. If you don’t have much space for a full seven layer forest garden, the understory can work as the tallest layer of the forest. Next, plant the shrub layer, which may be one of the more populous of the food forest layers. Some shrubs love sunlight, while others love shade, so you can find them all over the garden.
Whether hazelnuts, bamboos, roses, or blueberries, this is where preferences can really shine. It’s up to the community to determine what y’all tryna incorporate, whether food, crafts, ornamentals, birds, insects, native plants, exotics, or just raw biodiversity. Once your overstory, understory and shrub layers are established, you can move on to the herb layer. Herbs are generally defined as any nonwoody vegetation, whether flowers, veggies, or culinary plants like thyme. Herbs like it sunny in most cases, so plant them where there’s space and sun to grow.
Some herbs are superspreaders, like mint, so consider containing them somewhat in raised beds or pots. Meanwhile, other herbs, like cannabis, can just grow straight up. I’d recommend selecting self seeders and perennials, but if there are some annuals you want to include, that’s fine too. Start the herbs in pots though, and give them some time to properly build up before putting them into the ground. Next, you plant your ground covers. They provide even more food and habitat, snuggled between your shrubs and herbs.
These ground huggers include leafy greens like lettuce and sweet treats like strawberries. They protect your food forest from invasive weeds, giving them no space to take root. And speaking of taking root, you can also bring in the last two layers of the food forest: the root layer and vine layer. One goes up and the other goes down into the ground.
For the root layer, stick to shallow rooted crops, like sweet potatoes, garlic, and onions. If you don’t harvest them all, the rot of roots adds some healthy humus to the soil. For the vines, like pumpkin, cucumber, and grapes, sure you can add trellises and fences to guide their growth, but having them climb up your trees and spread across the forest floor is more legit in my opinion. Be careful about adding too many though, you don’t want them to strangle your plants.
And, I mean, that’s it. Don’t forget paths of course. And I mean, maybe you can introduce some chickens? But it’s not a requirement. The benefits of food forests, once they’ve been established, are innumerable.
They sequester carbon; cool the climate; provide habitat for wildlife; develop resilience through biodiversity; enrich the soil; provide beauty and tranquility; provide great yields; attract beneficial insects and pollinators; and produce their own mulch, compost, and fertilizer; all for very little maintenance and zero damaging herbicides and pesticides, weeding, crop rotation, mowing or excessive digging. Be patient, observe your environment, and work well with your community to make cities, suburbs, and country bloom. Solarpunk borrows from anarchic and socialist ideas, including the notion that we should control our own labour. Syndicates and worker co-operatives, while limited under capitalism, can help facilitate the cooperation of farmers, scientists, and the broader community to develop technologies and techniques that can benefit the whole population, instead of the wealthy few. Here’s where I tip-toe into some controversial territory.
I think there’s a lot of benefit to be enjoyed from GMOs. For the unaware, GMOs stands for genetically modified organisms. Put simply, they’re organisms whose DNA has been modified using genetic engineering technology.
While the selective breeding of the past has helped humanity give certain crops certain desirable traits, it takes many generations to see any kind of success. Meanwhile, through genetic engineering technology, we’ve been able to accelerate this process to improve the growth, pest resistance, nutritional content, and ease of farming for many staple crops. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There has been some legitimate concern about the impact of GMOs on the environment, as well as some less scientifically grounded concern about the impact of GMOs on human health. The scientific consensus is that GM crops are just as safe for human and animal consumption as conventional food.
They don’t cause cancer or allergies. But it is important to be rigorous in our testing of these crops before introducing them to the public. As for GMOs impact on the environment, a lot of it can be boiled down to the practices of capitalist industrial agriculture. Besides the patents and monopolies that manipulate and foster debilitating dependency on multinational agricultural corporations, the way that GMOs are currently used in monoculture farming contributes to the current decrease in biodiversity and ongoing evolution of resilient pests and diseases that can easily wipe out large populations of flora.
We need to liberate the innovations and benefits of GMOs from their current, environmentally damaging uses. We need to seize them from the clutches of these corporations and venture into the currently uncharted territory of their immense potential. Our climate is changing, and we need our food sources to change with it to minimize the casualties of collapse. Developing hardy, drought resistant, and vitamin dense crops, like the famed golden rice, can go a long way in supporting our communities through crises. And even beyond plants, GMOs can work to reduce the spread of mosquito borne diseases.
I think there are some important ethical considerations to be had about things like genetically modified pigs that grow organs for humans, but still, to take a step into speculative territory, maybe in the near future we can look forward to bamboos as strong as steel; medicines in the form of fruits and veggies; bioluminescent trees to light our streets; soaps made from leaves and tree sap; mushrooms that can absorb toxic radiation; microorganisms that can breakdown plastic waste; shall I go on? What I want to emphasize is the need for community control and accountability throughout the GMO development process. These cooperatives need to be transparent and accessible, dispersing knowledge and resources for the benefit of all. GMOs can only be solarpunk if they work to empower people, not corporations.
To bring things to a close, I’ve asked Our Changing Climate to present just one more simple, solarpunk solution. Guerilla gardening, food forests, and reclaiming GMOs are powerful tools of transformation, but they are just one part of a Solarpunk vision. Solarpunk also imagines what it means to live well inside the home in an environmentally ethical and resilient way. As the climate continues to rage, and the forces of capitalism drive us deeper into collapse, extreme heat will only get worse. And the fossil fuel driven air conditioning we currently use is a false solution to the coming heat waves.
These machines, which we use to bring cool air indoors, are driving temperatures outdoors ever higher. Solarpunk, once again, could offer a solution. Terracotta air-conditioning. A beautiful solution that combines the biomimicry of beehives with the cooling properties of wet terracotta. Terracotta cooling systems have already been tried and tested by a team of scientists in New Delhi, and work through a very simple mechanism.
First, pipes pour water on top of a structure of hundreds of tubes, completely soaking them and as air flows through this wet terracotta it cools significantly. This process is similar to how your body cools you down with sweat droplets. Finally, as the water makes its way to the bottom of the structure, it's collected in a basin and recycled up to the top to complete a closed loop system.
When working properly, the structure can cool the air by as much as 20° F, or 6° C. The team of New Delhi scientists have automated the process to provide optimal water flow so it doesn’t require any work, but if creating an automatic water release system at the top is too complex, you can simply pour water onto the terracotta structure every so often. The promise of this system lies in the terracotta’s simplicity and beauty. It can be built and implemented quickly as long as you have a bit of water and some friends or community to help make terracotta cylinders. Cylinders that are not beholden to any chemical coolants or fossil fuels, yet are extremely effective.
In this way, the terracotta air conditioner reflects the core of a Solarpunk vision, it combines the aesthetics of a naturally made beehive with the DIY attitudes of punk. It uses technology in a way that expands access to a comfortable life and brings the workings of the natural world in harmony with the human one. In short, it builds resilience to the climate crisis in a decentralized, accessible, and beautiful way. Conclusion Thanks for the help! All in all, whether through guerilla gardening, food forest commons, GMO coops, or terracotta climate control, we can be empowered by solarpunk to take action in our communities to build resilience in the face of climate crisis. Through a positive synergy of power to the people, lessons from Mother Nature, and our technological potential, we can build a better world, here and now. I hope you’ll join me on the ground.
Peace. Outro Check out Our Changing Climate’s companion to this video for even more solarpunk solutions! If this video gets 50,000 views, I’ll do a part 2. Ambitious, I know, but let’s shoot for the stars.
Thanks for watching. Please like, comment, subscribe, and share with your fellow peoples. Thanks once again of course to the Famalay. If you can, join these beautiful humans and support me too on Patreon.com/saintdrew. Check out all my other videos for a range of radical topics.
You can follow me on Twitter @_saintdrew. Thanks again, peace!