As we enter a new millennium, we find ourselves reevaluating the paths we’ve chosen and the decisions we’ve made. Have we made the best with what we’ve got or are we stumbling in the dark? How many gaps riddle the blanket of our knowledge? The problem lies in how we make sense of where we’re heading. Do we choose the path of economics and progress or do we choose the path of environmentalism and sustainability? Is there a median available for us to take where the greens of economy and environment are balanced or are we doomed to blindly continue the path of short-term gain and comfort . . . living out a flawed paradigm? Canada is a prime example of a country that is continually weighing its power and influence on the natural and manmade worlds.
We’ve found ourselves sitting on the global fence between our magliomaniacal brother to the south and our staunch traditionalist motherland to the east. From this division of powers and alliances we find ourselves locked into a self-induced ignorance and stifling conservatism. It’s ironic that we have the opportunity to solve most of Canada’s critical environmental issues in one fell swoop .
A plant exists that is so strong that it can be grown without requiring chemicals in almost every part of the world. Many have touted this plant as a possible way in which to wean society from its dependence on fossil fuels for energy and the need to log forests for pulp, paper and wood. It is even said that this plant could adequately clothe and feed the world more efficiently and cheaply than we can do now! Why is this miracle plant not used if all evidence points to its versatility? The answer is bogged down in a century of law, sociology, the corporate agenda and conspiracy theories. Since the early part of the century, hemp has been considered a drug, though it has no euphoric attributes. Hemp: the wonder plant and possible solution to the bulk of our problems is illegal only because it is seen as guilty by it’s association with marijuana. Hemp is a herbaceous plant called “cannabis sativa”, which means `useful (sativa) hemp (cannabis)’.
Fiber is the best known product, and the word `hemp’ can also mean the rope or twine which is made from the plant, as well as just the stalk of the plant which produced it. History has proven its acceptance of hemp: both the U.S. Constitution and the first draft of the Declaration of Independence were drafted on hemp paper; Ben Franklin started the first American newspaper with hemp hurds, while Thomas Jefferson said, “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country”. Canvass, a hemp product, was widely used as sails in the early shipping industry, as it was the only cloth which would not rot on contact with saline sea spray. Archaeological digs in China have determined that hemp was being used as far back as 4,000 B.C. as a civilization’s answer for food and the best fiber for clothes and ropes. Only because we relate it to a natural drug have we justified the banishment of a plant that’s been in almost continual use for thousands of years.
HEMP AS AN AGRICULTURAL CASH COW
Hemp is an annual herbaceous plant that can be harvested within four months of planting after growing to heights of 5 meters (20 feet) tall. If rotated with other crops, hemp can be grown without pesticides or herbicides, naturally repels weed growth and, unlike most commercial grains and fibres has very few insect enemies. Hemp requires little fertilizer, and grows well almost everywhere, including most of Canada and even some areas of the Canadian Shield, like North Bay and Sudbury. Hemp puts down deep roots, which is good for stabilizing the soil from erosional forces, and when the leaves drop off the plant, minerals and nitrogen are returned to the environment. Hemp has been grown on the same soil for twenty years in a row without any noticeable depletion of the quality and stability of the soil. Using less fertilizer and agricultural chemicals is good for two reasons. First, it costs less and requires less effort. Second, many agricultural chemicals are dangerous and contaminate the environment — the less we have to use, the better.
HEMP AS A PAPER ALTERNATIVE
According to the US Department of Agriculture, one acre of hemp can produce four times more paper than one acre of trees. Trees must grow for twenty to fifty years after planting before they can be harvested for commercial use. This lag time between cuttings result in fewer jobs on an annual and total basis, whereas hemp is a continual crop that can provide close to year-round employment for farmers, workers and processors, not to mention peripheral employment for transportation employees, distributors and the manufacturing community. Both the fiber (bast) and pulp (hurd) of the hemp plant can be used to make with the process originating in ancient China. The world’s first paper is thought to have been made from hemp. Fiber paper is thin, tough, and a bit rough. Pulp paper is not as strong as fiber paper, but is easier to make, softer, thicker, and preferable for most everyday purposes. The paper we use most today is a `chemical pulp’ paper made from trees. Hemp pulp paper can be made without chemicals from the hemp hurd.
Most hemp paper made today uses the entire hemp stalk, baste and hurd. High-strength fiber paper can be made from the hemp baste, also without chemicals. Hemp offers us an opportunity to make affordable and environmentally safe paper for all of our needs, since it does not need much chemical treatment. Today’s paper is manufactured with an excess of chemicals, and will turn yellow and fall apart as acids eat away at the pulp. This takes several decades, but because of this publishers, libraries and archives have to purchase specially processed acid free paper or coating sprays to protect literature. This is a very expensive endeavour. Paper made naturally from hemp is acid free and will last for centuries.
It is estimated that one acre of hemp would replace an entire four acres of forest while, at the same time, this acre would be producing textiles and rope. Substituting hemp for trees, especially if planted on marginal lands that are no longer able to support food crops, would save forest and wildlife habitats and would reduce the tree pulp pollution of lakes, rivers, and streams. Some estimates predict that the production of every ton of hemp pulp saves twelve mature trees from being used for the same purpose. The prohibition of hemp has led to the unnecessary destruction of forests in Canada and the world over, not to mention the loss of revenue from an easily managed crop that can be grown relatively close to the urban centres where the products will be used.
HEMP AS A SOURCE OF FUEL
To stop and reverse the greenhouse effect, world energy production must return to using fresh biomass as the raw material for all fuel currently made from fossil biomass. The only way to stop the CO 2 build-up in the atmosphere is to cease burning fossil fuels. As the most efficient biomass which can be grown in soil, hemp is a prime candidate as a source of alcohol fuel. The pulp (hurd) of the hemp plant can be burned as is or processed into charcoal, methanol, methane, or gasoline. Plant “biomass” is simply dead organic material, and it’s the fuel for the future. Cleaner than fossil fuels, it can provide gasoline, methane, and charcoal to meet all of our home and industrial energy needs. Hemp has more potential as a clean and renewable energy source than any crop on earth. Burning anything produces carbon dioxide, but year after year, the hemp crop photosynthesis would convert that carbon dioxide back into oxygen.
This biomass can be converted to fuel in the form of clean-burning alcohol. Unlike fossil fuels, hemp does not contain sulfur, a major cause of acid rain. We could save our oil reserves and reduce our trade deficit without offshore drilling, strip mining, oil spills or nuclear radiation. By developing hemp, the most productive energy crop for Canada’s climate, we can end our dependence both on foreign oil and on nuclear power. Is hemp used for fuel today? One acre of hemp will produce one thousands gallons of methanol. Methanol makes a good automobile fuel and is often used in professional automobile races. It has the potential to replace gasoline as a regularly-used automobile fuel.
It would not be in the best interest of Canada to continue in the direction we’re heading. The cost to clean up waste from fossil fuel production and use with large tax breaks going to these archaic forms of energy, leaves the taxpayer in jeopardy of bearing the cost. While Canadian politicians continue to support these companies, global pollution worsens all in the name of profit. As taxpayers learn more about the corporate welfare being doled out to multinational energy companies, they will begin to demand that government eliminate these handouts and invest in alternative fuels and crops like hemp.
HEMP AS A FOOD SOURCE
“Behold, I have given you every plant yeilding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food”. Genesis 1: 29 Hemp provides us with a source of nutritious high protein, and essestial fatty acids that can be used for human and animal consumption. 30% of the seed is oil by volume, which can be used for cooking, and can be ground into flour, or a type of peanut butter, with qualities as good as whale and jojoba oil. The seeds are as nutritious as soya, but more digestible, gives higher yields and is easier to harvest. In an era of ozone depletion it’s important to note that soy crops can be damaged if they get too much ultraviolet sunlight. The chemicals in the hemp plant helps it to resist untraviolet light. Hemp protein can be processed and flavored in any way that soybean can.
Hemp oil can be used to make nutritious tofu, butter, cheese, salad oils, as well as other foods. Hemp seeds are a complete source of vegetable protein, and contains eight essential amino acids. Two thirds of the protein is in a ready to digest form called ‘globulin edestine’. These proteins are the source of ‘immunoglobulin’ which are part of our immune system. Hemp seed is one third oil by weight, which is low in saturated fats and contains many oils which our bodies can’t make itself, but needs them to survive. What these esssential fatty acids provide our immune system has been use to help those suffering from cancer, cardiovascular disease, glandular atrophy, gall stones, kidney degeneration, dry skin, immune deficiency, acne, menstrual problems as well as AIDS.
HEMP AS A SOURCE OF FIBRE
The hemp plant produces some of the strongest natural fiber known to man. Hemp fiber is ten times stronger than cotton and can be used to make all types of clothing. Hemp has been worn as clothing for thousands of years to make all types of textiles and fabrics for diapers, flags, bedsheets, towels, quilts, rugs, draperies tents, linens, and of course canvas. Hemp is softer, warmer, and more water absorbent than cotton. Natural organic hemp fiber holds its shape like polyester, but Hemp “breathes” and is biodegradable. Hemp can be spun and woven to be as smooth as silk, or as coarse as burlap, with designs as intricate as lace.
THE CONCLUSION….AS MUCH AS THERE IS ONE
Hemp is the most valuable, renewable resource we have available in Canada, producing over 25,000 different products yet it is illegal to grow. Most of these products are currently derived from labour and cost intensive non- renewable or unsustainable resources. A select group of research farms are currently permitted to grow the plant, but licenses are difficult to find and the plant can only be used for research. Until we begin to find ways of shifting the paradigm, of convincing government and society that hemp is the best, if not only alternative to the flawed paths we’re blindly stumbling upn, we will be doomed to drudge on in apathy, conservatism and ignorance….attributes noone wishes to have! Canada should discard it’s past traditionalism and take the initiative in re-establishing a thriving hemp industry. With Canada as an example to the global community, an international hemp industry could flourish. We just need to realize that only hemp can save us now.