Why are people saying that hemp can save our planet. It seems implausible or at least over exaggerated to me. I need facts or at least a better understanding so I can draw my own conclusions.
In the beginning
This is just a plain fact: Hemp is plant and all plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and release oxygen (O2). In fact, all the oxygen on our planet comes from plants. When our planet was in its early stages of creation there was almost no oxygen in our atmosphere. Geological records show that oxygen appeared after plants started inhabiting the earth. During those early prehistoric epochs there was an abundance of CO2 in our atmosphere. High temperatures and lots of moisture created conditions encouraged abundant plant growth. After millions of years our atmosphere gradually changed and CO2 levels were drastically reduced while oxygen levels increased to the point that animal life was able to evolve.
So why is there a buzz about hemp and CO2. It’s just a plant like any other isn’t it?
The Internet is full of articles about hemp saving the earth from CO2 build up.
Well, it turns out that all plants re not created equal. Some plants are simply better at absorbing CO2 than others and hemp is one of them. Combine that with the usefulness of hemp in is ability to produce a food and oil source, plus hemp fibre many industrial uses from textiles, to paper, and building products makes hemp an excellent candidate for CO2 reduction.
Industrial hemp has been scientifically proven to absorb more CO2 per acre than any other forest or commercial crop. To make it even better, the CO2 is permanently bonded within the fiber which can be used from anything from textiles to paper and building material and can even produce plastics.
Here’s what Hemp has going for it
Hemp can be grown in just about any temperate climate. So just about anywhere plants grow in abundance, so will hemp. Hemp will grow in nutrient poor soils, with just a little water and no fertilizers. It can be grown on existing agricultural land and unlike trees it can be included in crop rotation.
Hemp will grow in hot and arid Australia where soils are poor. It will thrive in the northern latitudes of Canada and throughout North and South America and Europe, Africa and Asia.
One acre of industrial hemp can absorb 120,000 pounds of CO2. In many climates it is possible to grow two crops per year so that figure can be doubled. Hemp is more efficient than forestry in creating carbon absorbing biomass because of its rapid growth of about 12 feet in 100 days.
Since hemp grows in diverse soil types and conditions without the need for fertilizer it is sustainable. It’s roots help bind soil together where erosion is an issue and due to its robustness, it blocks light so it is a natural weed suppressant.
Hemp’s long roots tap deep into sub soils and add these nutrients to the upper layers of the soil. These benefits along with others allow hemp to improve the yields of other crops in a rotation.
Sustainable hemp can replace many unsustainable raw materials such as oil based products and building materials. Hemp can be used to replace tree based products and that will allow tress to grow unharvested and continue to absorb CO2.
Hemp can also replace high maintenance and water absorbing fibre plants like cotton. Hemp fibre is more versatile than cotton.
How we all can help
Industrial hemp has so many uses for all parts of the plant that it produces almost no waste. No wonder there are so many advocates for hemp production. If they are only half right it is still a strong contender. One thing we can all do is to continue to fight for greater use of industrial hemp. Anyone can help by voting with their dollars. Simply choose to buy more hemp products and buy hemp products over similar non-hemp items.
Eventually as attitudes change industrial hemp will be put to better and more extensive use and we will all be better of because of it.
Still not convinced? You can dig deeper and here are some reference files to review.
Hon, D.N.S. (1996) A new dimensional creativity in lignocellulosic chemistry. Chemical modification of lignocellulosic materials. Marcel Dekker. Inc. New York.(5)
Puls,J., J. Schuseil (1993). Chemistry of hemicelluloses: Relationship between hemicellulose structure and enzymes required for hydrolysis. In: Coughlan M.P., Hazlewood G.P. editors. Hemicellulose and Hemicellulases. Portland Press Research Monograph, 1993. (5)
Bjerre, A.B., A.S. Schmidt (1997). Development of chemical and biological processes for production of bioethanol: Optimization of the wet oxidation process and characterization of products, Riso-R-967(EN), Riso National Laboratory, Roskilde, Denmark.
Anne Belinda Thomsen, Soren Rasmussen, Vibeke Bohn, Kristina Vad Nielsen and Anders Thygese (2005) Hemp raw materials: The effect of cultivar, growth conditions and pretreatment on the chemical composition of the fibres. Riso National Laboratory Roskilde Denmark March 2005. ISBN 87-550-3419-5.
Roger M Gifford (2000) Carbon Content of Woody Roots, Technical Report N.7, Australian Greenhouse Office