As The World Burns: What It’s Like Growing Cannabis During The Climate Crisis

It’s early August 2018, and a startlingly unprecedented percentage of our world is on fire, baking in record-breaking heat, or suffering through drought.

Hundreds of thousands of California acres are on fire, with thousands of structures burned to the ground in the past four weeks alone. Officially, there are 15 major fires tearing through the Golden State, burning vast portions of the land and displacing tens of thousands of residents.

California temperatures in some regions (not just the deserts) have been in the triple digits, with humidity as low as 17 percent. Fire tornadoes swept through suburbs in Northern California, leaving a barren apocalyptic wasteland in their wake.

There are also major fires in parts of Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Arizona and Colorado. And in July, extreme heat hit Montreal, Canada killed at least 93 people.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the United Kingdom, once known poetically as a “green and pleasant land,” is now brown from weeks of drought and temperatures hovering just under 100°F. In Greece, wildfires killed at least 91 people near Athens. Portions of Northern Europe above the Arctic Circle are on fire, with temperatures there hitting an unparalleled 86°F and dangerously close to melting the glaciers and ice caps.

European farmers are seeing catastrophic crop losses as wheat and other food staples are scorched by sweltering heat and no rain.

And within our own community, indoor and outdoor cannabis growers are increasingly affected by wildfires, extreme heat and drought. In 2017, fires in western states burned many grow houses and outdoor grow ops, while the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office blamed the 2016 wildfires in the Santa Cruz Mountains on a portable generator being used by a cannabis grower, according to The Mercury News.

What the hell is going on?

Welcome To The Holocene Epoch

The hard truth is, we’re living in a geologic era unlike any other. Scientists call it the Holocene, the current period that began about 11,700 years ago and is characterized by a warm period between ice ages. The Holocene denotes that the planet’s biosphere and biodiversity are being massively impacted by one species: human beings.

Since the dawn of the industrial age, humans have poured hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide and poisons into our environment and accelerated the greenhouse effect that traps heat in the atmosphere.

We’ve cut down more than half the world’s forests, dammed almost all the major rivers, eradicated a significant portion of ocean life, used the oceans as a waste dump for plastics, acidified ocean pH, killed trillions of innocent animals, caused the extinction of thousands of plant and animal species, interfered with evolutionary natural selection by manufacturing genetically modified organisms that would never have existed naturally, created a whacked-out climate system, and turned vast areas of formerly verdant, ecologically healthy biosphere into paved-over, polluted, concreted, traffic-jammed urban grids.

The mass eradication of life on earth is known as the anthropogenic mass extinction. In the history of the world there have been five previous mass extinctions, caused by astronomic or geologic events such as meteors or comets and volcanic eruptions, resulting in nearly all life on earth being wiped out. Now, we’re on track to become the only species to ever cause a mass extinction event. Extinction number six is ours. And we’re living in it right now.

Man-Made Climate Change Is Not A Hoax

Many political groups and industrial organizations who deny climate change don’t want people to know that humans are the cause for this wild climate crisis we’re currently experiencing, instead claiming that droughts, fires, floods, super storms and extreme heat are no worse than before.

Propaganda networks that deny climate change and environmental problems brought about by humankind are sponsored by industries whose manufacturing and output are directly responsible for this climate crisis. Foremost among these is the fossil fuels industry, which is responsible for mining and energy production.

A recent study published by IOPscience on behalf of the Institute of Physics and supported by Harvard University demonstrates that oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil knew that its products would cause climate change at least three decades ago. What did Exxon choose to do with that knowledge? Privately, it changed its business model and practices so it could ensure its profitability and the safety of its oil rigs and refineries. But it never warned the general public of IOP’s dire findings. Instead, according to Drexel University, Exxon joined with other fossil fuel companies, profiteers, and allied corporations including Koch Industries to create denialist front groups that sought to convince the public that climate change is a hoax.

President Donald Trump, members of his Cabinet, and most GOP members of Congress deny that climate change exists or that if it does exist, that it poses no real threat to the world.

Trump has doubled down on climate change denialism by attempting to significantly cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency, rolling back vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and kill regulations that restrict coal companies from dumping waste into waterways. Trump is also trying to stop California from enforcing its decades-old vehicle emissions standards that would slash greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.

Indeed, Trump blames California’s environmental and water laws for the fires presently decimating the state, with the president posting the following tweet on August 5:

 trump tweet CA wildfires

Growing Cannabis As The World Burns

Cannabis cultivators in Northern Europe, the UK, Spain, Portugal and the US are justifiably concerned about the unpredictable reality of environmental impacts and global warming on their marijuana growing.

The first step for surviving the apocalyptic environment of this Anthropocene era is to analyze the immediate and potential long-term environmental impacts where you live.

I love California, but if I were a resident there, living under the threat of catastrophic fires, drought, extreme heat and low humidity, I’d seriously consider moving.

I’d do the same thing if I lived where there were persistent floods, power outages and extreme temperatures. If I were living on the Big Island of Hawaii where the Kīlauea volcano has been erupting for much of 2018, I’d get the hell out, too. If I lived in Tornado Alley, where hurricanes and tornadoes are a frequent occurrence, I’d find a safer place to live.

But wherever you end up living, you must change your assumptions and way of growing cannabis. If I lived in a state that was prone to wildfires, flooding or hurricanes, I’d modify an RV or panel van to make it into a mobile grow op. If a disaster heads my way, I want to be ready to hit the highway with my plants safe beside me.

Living And Growing During A Climate Crisis

Savvy, disaster-conscious growers are frequently turning to prefabricated super structures, like this GigaHouse from GigaCrete, to use as detached grow rooms. Some of these structures are designed to be 100 percent fireproof and include superior insulation and design that decreases air conditioning costs, noise, infrared detection, while increasing security and vector control.

Growers are also using mobile-capable structures like this one from FlexMOD, Growtainers for indoor growing, and tiny house kits placed on flatbed trailers, ready to be hitched up to a vehicle and pulled to safety whenever disaster threatens.

One of my associates saw bad times coming and purchased several acres of inexpensive rural land in a flyover state. He conducted geo testing to locate the water table and ascertain the structural integrity of soil and rock. He excavated a ramp, then created a man-made grow cave outfitted with grow lights, air exchange, water supply and external power.

Because the grow op is underground, it’s temperature is way cooler than any aboveground structure could ever be, and it’s likely to survive a catastrophic fire, windstorm or flood. Plus, it’s virtually undetectable — kind of like a bomb shelter.

Indoor growers whose homes are exposed to direct sunlight will often plant fast-growing trees and shrubs in a thick, dense perimeter around their homes to block the sun and reduce the risk of overheating grow rooms that cause air conditioning bills to skyrocket.

Another associate decided to go solar. His electricity costs for grow lights, heating and cooling were costing him at least $400 a month. Plus, whenever there were storms and weather emergencies, the power grid failed. He grew tired of relying on the electricity company, so he installed solar panels on the roof, a solar water heater, and a battery storage system. This alternative energy set-up cost him $21,000 up front, but will have paid for itself in three years or less. Not only that, the battery storage system reduces reliance on generators when the power goes out.

This grower also has a high-end liquid propane/natural gas generator — like this Briggs & Stratton model from Lowe’s — augmented by a solar generator. These high-tech generators are quieter and less polluting than the gasoline or diesel-powered generators cannabis growers have traditionally relied on during emergencies.

Other growers in our community have opted to go completely off the grid, with one cultivator I know digging a well that went deep into the water table and equipped with a pump and a bucket so he could get water, even if the pump failed. Water is a necessity for cannabis growers, and its supply can be interrupted during fires and cataclysms. Shrewd growers opt for stainless steel water cisterns, like this one from Tank and Barrel, to store water to use in times of trouble.

Changing Your Cannabis Growing Tactics When Natural Disaster Strikes

Indoor cannabis growers in areas prone to climate disasters should have learned by now not to use modular systems such as deep water culture and aeroponics. They should also avoid trellises and using the screen of green and sea of green grow methods.

Instead, it’s best to grow in soil, coco and soilless mix placed in individual grow buckets. It’s much easier to move plants quickly when they’re in individual containers instead of grow systems such as deep water culture or screen of green.

Aeroponics, deep water culture and the nutrient film technique are pure hydroponic grow systems that rely 100 percent on electricity. If the energy service is interrupted and pumps fail, then the plants in most of these systems will die within a few hours. Some outdoor growers have adopted this strategy, grading the ground at their outdoor grow space so they can put plants on plant rollers and easily move them around for trimming, spacing, watering and quick escape.

Instead of cages and the complex, multi-level trellising often used to support cannabis crops grown outdoors, climate-aware growers use stakes and ties that can be removed rapidly when plants need to be evacuated from a grow site under threat.

Growers in fire-prone areas should also use fire sprinklers not just inside structures but in outdoor gardens. These fire sprinkler systems can double as misting and foliar spraying systems to keep plants cooler and moist during hot, dry weather.

Outdoor growers have been the most victimized by climate change disasters, because their crops are often in remote locations, making it impossible to act quickly when wildfires threaten. However, these same growers are learning about geography, soil science, topography and climate science as they search for remote grow sites that aren’t as likely to be flooded, burned or buried in lava flow.

They’ve also adapted to the present climate crisis by planting several small outdoor gardens in locations far apart, rather than one larger grow op.

Cannabis Plants Rising From The Ashes

Climate change is a disastrous situation for life on earth, but in the short term, it has led to unexpected benefits for growers in some regions.

My friend Trevor, who lives in Yorkshire in the north of England, says this year’s ridiculously hot, dry weather provided sunshine and low humidity he’s never experienced before in the UK, allowing him to grow cannabis strains that would not have survived outdoors in his usually wet, gray, rainy climate.

The atypical brilliant sunshine, baking temperatures and relatively low humidity are favorable to fat-bud strains and sativas that normally would grow poorly in England.

Growers in fire-prone regions note that wildfires produce an aftermath including wood ash and soil conditions that can be very beneficial for cannabis plants, in that they act as a natural fertilizer that also raises soil pH levels.

Pests and diseases such as spider mites, aphids, thrips, gray mold and powdery mildew are often completely eradicated by raging fires, making a burned-over forest a sterile place to grow — almost as sterile as an indoor grow op.

The one problem is that a burn zone has no foliage and is the color of ash, making cannabis plants starkly visible and easy prey for police and rippers.

Survivalism In The Cannabis Grower Community

As anthropogenic mass extinction threatens the planet and climate change worsens, we will undoubtedly experience the inevitable disruption of food supplies, water, gasoline and electricity.

For those reasons, one of my grower friends has become a survivalist who frequently attends secret survivalist seminars that are held in national forests. He admits that survivalists tend to be right-wing, government-hating gun fetishists who listen to conspiracy talk radio, yet describes himself as a “formerly peaceful hippie-type pot grower” who says he’s now into survivalism because it prepares him for whatever is coming. He’s learned killer martial arts techniques, how to use firearms and knives, find food and water in the wilderness, build shelter by hand from found objects, use hand tools, navigate by stars and the position of the sun, interpret clouds, winds and humidity to know weather patterns ahead of time, form an affinity posse, and how to perform ambushes, sabotage and concealment.

This friend of mine feels that his clandestine life as a black-market grower and seller prepared him for life in the Holocene, which “could be a time of predatory gangs and siege.”

And his survivalist training has paid off already, because he’s already put its lessons to work at his outdoor guerrilla grow op, where he’s sabotaged logging roads and equipment, removed survey stakes and tree tags, and shut down a timber harvesting operation miles from his grow site that was generating traffic near his garden.

Instead of planting an outdoor garden and only visiting it a couple of times before harvest, he now sleeps in tree platforms near his outdoor cannabis grow op and says he’ll live on-site full time starting in September when peak bloom begins.

When I said it appears he’s left behind the typical American suburban way of life he had before, he replied, “Pretty soon, everyone will have to, whether they want to or not. The capitalist system will collapse. A lot of people aren’t going to make it.”

I doubt that I have the physical and emotional strength to be a survivalist, but I do know that life in the Anthropocene epoch has changed growing for many of us.

So, when it comes to ensuring your grow op survives the Anthropocene epoch and climate crisis, the main principles to keep in mind are:

  • Analyze where you choose to live to make sure it’s in a place least likely to be hit by disasters like floods, hurricanes and fires.
  • Be mobile. Change your grow methods, locations and materials so you can move your plants quickly.
  • Think outside the box when it comes to what type of structures you live and grow in.
  • Cut down your energy consumption and save money by investing in solar power, wind power and micro hydro.
  • Learn new skills so you can defend yourself and become self-sufficient.
  • Change the kinds of cannabis strains you grow and how you grow to match changing climate and weather conditions.
  • Don’t expect the way things have been in the past will be a predictor for the way they will be in the future.

As I was putting the finishing touches on this story, I happened upon a TV report in which California Governor Jerry Brown admitted that the fires, heat and drought occurring right now weren’t supposed to happen for several more decades.

“The more serious predictions of warming and fires to occur later in the century, 2040 or 2050, they’re now occurring in real time,” he said at a news conference near Sacramento. “It’s going to get expensive, it’s going to get dangerous and we have to apply all of our creativity to make the best of what’s going to be an increasingly bad situation.”

If you want a more comprehensive look at the climate crisis, check out this heartbreaking book by journalist Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. And grow as much cannabis as you can right now. You never know if you’ll be able to in the future.

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