(This is the first of three posts about the Industrial Hemp Farming Act Bill sponsored by Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.)
For nearly four decades, industrial hemp advocates have extolled the virtues of hemp (cannabis sativa, variety sativa), a plant whose cultivation is still banned in the US, thanks to its scandalous distant cousin, cannabis sativa, variety indica. The latter is the source of the illicit drug marijuana. The former produces good quality fiber and has a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC – the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) concentration of 1% or less. The latter produces negligible usable fiber and has a THC concentration of 4-20%.
Hemp happens to be one of the most versatile plants known to man. Hemp fiber is used in the production of paper, textiles, rope, sails, clothing, plastics, insulation, dry wall, fiber board and other construction materials; while hempseed oil is used as a lubricant and base for paints and varnishes, as well as in cooking and beauty products. The hemp plant, a “bioaccumulator,” is also used in phytoremediation. This is a process that uses living plants to remove nuclear contaminants and toxic chemicals from soil. Massive hemp fields were planted in the Ukraine following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, to soak up radionucleotides (http://www.hemp.net/news/9901/06/hemp_eats_chernobyl_waste.html).
I recently became interested in the importance of hemp in green technology following the relocation from Ashville North Carolina to New Plymouth (New Zealand) of Hemp Technologies (www.hemp-technologies.com), a construction company that produces low cost, energy efficient hemp homes and construction materials. Up until the 1990s, interest in industrial hemp was limited to the movement seeking to legalize marijuana. However growing public concern about the need to urgently reduce fossil fuel use (both to reduce carbon emissions and to conserve dwindling reserves) has given industrial hemp a major shot in the arm. Because hemp cultivation is still illegal in the US (except for the Pine Ridge Reservation and small “research” plots), the US is the world’s largest importer of hemp (http://www.naihc.org/hemp_information/content/hemp.mj.html). Ironically they import most of it from the their main economic rival, China, which is also the world’s largest producer. This is yet another example of how communities, small businesses and states are leaving behind a short sighted, corporate controlled federal government and forging ahead to save their communities and the planet from economic and ecological collapse.
The Fiber Modern Synthetics Replaced
The use of hemp dates back to 10,000 BC in Taiwan (http://www.hemphasis.net/History/history.htm). In fact hemp-based paper, textiles, rope, construction materials and even plastics are the tried and true low tech alternative to modern synthetics that consume large quantities of fossil fuel during manufacture. Prior to the industrial revolution, the vast majority of textiles, clothing, canvas (the Dutch word for cannabis), rope and paper was made of hemp. It was only with the industrial revolution and the proliferation of machinery run on cheap fossil fuels that more sophisticated alternatives, such as cotton, wood-based paper, and eventually petroleum based plastics became cheaper alternatives. Prior to the invention of the cotton gin in the 1820s, 80% of the world’s textiles, fabrics, and clothing were made of hemp. By 1883, hemp was still the primary source of 75% of the world’s paper. Prior to the crippling hemp tax the US government passed in 1937, most bank notes and archival papers were made of hemp (owing to its greater durability) and most paints and varnishes were made from hempseed oil.
Hemp has always been such a vital community resource that a long series of laws, dating back to Henry VIII (1535) required farmers to grow hemp or be fined. In 1619 Jamestown Virginia enacted a law requiring residents to plant hemp. Massachusetts and Connecticut passed similar laws in 1631 and 1632. Betsy Ross’s flag was made of hemp. The Declaration and Independence and Emancipation Proclamation are printed on it.
Using Hemp to Control and Reduce CO2
A hemp crop takes approximately four months to reach maturity. This contrasts with twenty years for the fastest growing trees. Hemp absorbs four times as much carbon dioxide and produces four times as much raw fiber (per unit weight) as trees (http://www.hempforus.com/hemp_carbon_footprint.htm). In addition to its low carbon footprint, hemp has a number of other advantages over the synthetic and highly processed products that have replaced it. Paper manufactured from hemp is finer, stronger and lasts longer (http://www.hemphasis.net/Paper/paper.htm). Likewise hemp-based products used in home construction are unparalleled thermal insulators, as well as being non-toxic, waterproof, fireproof and insect and mold resistant (http://www.hemp-guide.com/hemp-building-materials.html).
Prior to visiting the Hemp Technologies website (www.hemp-technologies.com), I was under the mistaken impression that hemp was mainly used for home insulation. I was very surprised to learn that hemp (in the form of HemPcrete) can be used in the construction of the outer walls, as well as a non-toxic replacement for dry wall (Magnum Board). In addition Hempboard (100% hemp) is an inexpensive, non-toxic replacement for fiberboard in interior paneling, countertops, shelving, sheathing and furniture.
To be continued.Share and Enjoy: