Hemp and Climate Change

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Hemp is believed to be the oldest agricultural crop in history. Evidence and historical documentation of its uses abounds in multiple countries, over many thousands of years. While related to cannabis, the hemp plant contains less than 0.3% THC, meaning it has no psychoactive properties. In the past, it has even been mandatory to grow hemp across Europe for medicines, food, rope, paper, textiles, animal feed, and lamp fuel. In England, hemp was an essential part of the economy, to the extent that in 1533, King Henry VIII decreed that all landholders set aside part of their farmed land for hemp to satisfy the increased demand for rope and sailcloth for his new navy. Every ship that went out to discover new colonies carried hemp seed, and it was the first crop that they laid down. Today, the world is far removed from these historical practices. The creation of hemp-alternatives for things like building, packaging, and paper have a common shared trait of being highly pollutant compared to hemp. The re-emergence of hemp as a possible means to save the planet makes sense when looking at its historical use and future potential.

The unfortunate downfall of cannabis in the eyes of legislators across the world in the past century, such as the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, effectively dragged hemp down along with it. Many industries benefitted from this new law by taking the place of hemp and revealing new and alternative products. The pharmaceutical industry benefited by creating and patenting synthetic compounds to replace over 2000 cannabis based medicines previously available. The oil industry benefited as hemp was no longer an alternative option in the fuel and plastics industries. Previously, many plastic products were made from hemp cellulose, such as cellophane. In the early 1930’s, Henry Ford came out with a Model-T car that was made in part from a hemp bio-composite. The car was light, was 10 times stronger than steel, and Henry Ford himself demonstrated that it couldn’t even be dented with an axe during an infamous promotional photoshoot. The car ran on hemp ethanol fuel which was derived from the stalk of hemp. Ford wrote an article about his invention and the vast potential for hemp which was published in Popular Mechanics called “The Billion Dollar Crop”. Today, 46% of oil is used for fuel and 54% in manufacturing products like plastics, rubber, cosmetics and construction materials.

In 1939, DuPont revealed its newest creation, Nylon, a synthetic fabric made from plastic, and the cotton industry was booming. Previously, hemp cloth had been a dominant competitor in the fabric and textiles industries. Until the late 1800’s, 90% of paper was made from hemp. Today, approximately 15 billion trees are cut down per year, which is faster than new trees are able to grow. The US alone uses approximately 68 million trees per year just for paper, and with the current trajectory, society will run out of trees in about 60 years. A return to the use of hemp for paper and other products can help modern society reduce the reliance on trees. Many people see hemp’s illegal status as an unfortunate byproduct of its relation to cannabis, but the hemp industry was also the main monopoly working against massive corporations fighting for dominance in multiple sectors.

The re-emergence of hemp has the potential to help  address some of the biggest challenges in the climate crisis. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the most common greenhouse gases driving climate change. Fossil fuels, livestock, and many industrial processes emit carbon dioxide. Planting trees is one of the most popular ways to offset carbon emissions since plants absorb CO2. Hemp, however, is much more efficient at absorbing carbon than trees. It can take decades for newly planted trees to reach maturity, but hemp can grow as much as 13 feet in 100 days and in ideal climates can yield as many as two or three crops per season. The potential land used for sequestering carbon can be increased dramatically due to hemp’s ability to grow virtually anywhere, and because of its fast-growing nature, it can be utilized to reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources and everyday products, such as trees for paper, or oil for plastics.

The current agricultural system of growing monocrops, massive swaths of one crop such as corn, wheat or soybeans has led to the need for chemicals and pesticides to successfully cultivate the plants. Over-tilling the soil and a lack of plant variety leads to soil erosion, where the soil loses nutrients and organic matter over time. In 2014 Scientific American published an article about the state of the farming industry, warning that at the current rates of soil degradation, about 60 years of farming remain possible. If one was to grow large fields of hemp crops, what is created is called a carbon sink, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil where it is needed. Hemp offers the opportunity for regenerative agriculture by using it as a rotational crop, where hemp’s natural abilities to enrich the soil it grows in can save the plot of land from too much erosion, while at the same time creating fast-growing and renewable materials for environmentally friendlier products, construction materials and even batteries.

Carbonated hemp can produce an alternative to graphene, which has been touted as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries. Graphene is prohibitively expensive to mine and finite in nature. To produce a gram of graphene costs approximately $2,000, with the hemp alternative, a ton can be produced for $500, making it 4million times cheaper. The waste fibers from hemp crops are “cooked” into carbon nanosheets and built into supercapacitors “on a par with or better than graphene” – the industry gold standard. The transportation industry has begun re-introducing hemp bio-composite into its manufacturing processes, even seen in high-end sports cars such as the Lotus Elise. Further, hemp seed oil produces bio-diesel for fuel, and hemp ethanol which is derived from the cellulose in the stalk. This provides us with the opportunity to adapt already existing cars to run on renewable fuels as opposed to the complete replacement of all cars with electric vehicles, producing massive amounts of carbon in their manufacturing. Furthermore, emissions from bio-diesel and hemp ethanol amount to only 10% of what petrol or diesel produces.

Petrochemical plastics can be replaced with bio-plastics made from hemp. Hemp seeds for human consumption provide us with the safest, most digestible, balanced, natural and complete source of protein, amino acids and essential fats found anywhere in nature. 1 acre of hemp can produce 300 gallons of oil and 3 tons of protein powder. The technology and knowledge is present and available, but on a worldwide scale, a lot more hemp is needed in order to take advantage of the possibilities to reduce waste and negative environmental impacts on an industrial scale.

As it has been known and appreciated historically, the hemp plant is very versatile and has many unique and effective uses. Although humans have known this for a longtime, it is now resurfacing after a long period of prohibition, to be appreciated as a resourceful and effective solution to modern problems.

© Kanab Inc. – Kanab Inc. is a Toronto based cannabis retail company that honors the historical significance and uses of the cannabis plant across cultures and civilizations. Kanab has now opened its first cannabis dispensary at the intersection of Don Mills Road and York Mills Road in North York region of Toronto, Ontario (South of 401, West of 404 / Don Valley Parkway, and East of Leslie). For more info, please visit: kanab.ca

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