Karhlyle Fletcher   |   December 02, 2021

The Path to a Healthier Planet - How Hemp Can Help Fight Climate Change

Properly integrating hemp into less-sustainable agricultural regions and efficiently using the biomass could be the first steps to a brighter future.
Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.

The typical modern farm is a monocrop farm or a ranch, meaning it relies either on a sea of soybeans or a herd of unsustainable animals. Meanwhile, the hemp movement has many ideas on how to shake this structure up, and it doesn't stop at production. Not only can the cannabis plant help encourage biodiversity and soil remediation, but it can also provide alternatives to ecologically damaging practices.

Hemp Takes Care of Its Friends

The dominant strategy among many agriculturalists is to plant the most valuable crop on their entire property. This technique means they're using the same pesticides, the same methods, and the same seeds continuously. While it reduces the amount of intellectual labor needed, no one on earth has ever done this in an ecologically sustainable manner. At the very least, crop rotation can be an excellent way to reduce strain on the soil. Otherwise, the ground will have all the nutrients needed for that crop depleted, and the farm will have to rely on chemical fertilizer. Additionally, this practice has led to 75 percent of the world's crop varieties dying off.

Hemp, on the other hand, is different from soy, corn, or wheat, however. While it has become one of America's most profitable plants, competing with these traditional crops, cannabis is a phytoremediator. Using it as the dominant crop can improve the soil and help clean the environment. As a phytoremediator, cannabis can absorb pesticides, heavy metals, and even radioactive material. This capability allows the plant to clean toxins from the area around it. Several farms have already been saved through this process, allowing livestock to thrive in places previously too toxic.

So, cannabis can absorb all the toxic elements humans have dumped into the earth. Best practices suggest that hemp in rotation with other cover crops, such as legumes, clover, oats, and peas prevents the monocrop environment. In addition to enriching the soil with necessary nitrogen and carbon, these cover crops can also attract beneficial insects. Thus, through proper integration, cannabis can remediate the soil, work with other crops, and naturally encourage ecological balance in the environment. Naturally, plants used to remediate toxins from the soil, should not be used for human or animal consumables.

Replacing Environmentally Dangerous Practices

Two of the biggest reasons America relies on monocrops are livestock feed and fuel. Research from years ago found that cows and poultry fed hempseed not only didn't affect the cognition of the animals but improved the nutrient density in the animal products. With the current cannabis genetics, 2 million more acres of hemp would allow American hemp to outproduce American cotton as a livestock feed source. After proving itself against that great titan, cannabis could dethrone other typical cash crops this decade.

As for biofuel, just fuel is created from corn or soybeans, biodiesel is a legitimate option with hemp production. While having ethanol stores is a good strategy, in case the petroleum supply chain is disrupted, but biodiesels from hemp could also fill the gap. The Model T was able to run on gas or hemp-based fuels, so there's no reason modern vehicles couldn't be adapted to do the same. 

Paper, textiles, food, building materials, all of these were made with hemp for millennia before production ceased. The founding fathers of America grew hemp for a reason - because it works. Unfortunately, today, our infrastructure is built on wood and fossil fuels, so there is much to be done for hemp to become a viable alternative.

Replacing Fast Fashion and Buildings Meant to Crumble

One of the first complaints about hemp clothing is that it's too expensive, yet options are available for under $50. While it may take time for hemp clothing to compete with discount store clothing, it is still relatively affordable, and a viable material option already on the market. From L.L. Bean to Madewell, many well-known brands already offer hemp-based clothing.

Hempcrete is also making a difference in Southern Italy. The locally sourced material shows a superior ecological footprint compared to other materials. Pedone Working is a 60-year-old architectural firm currently engaged in using this material, but the world of hempcrete is only beginning to show its true potential.

Other obvious targets for hemp to tackle include bioplastics from straws to bags, consumer packaging, reusable cups, and anything else. What limits hemp isn't the scientific possibility but the entrepreneurial application of one of the most diverse plants on earth. With government backing, consumer interest, and a little ingenuity, the entire world could be changed in a dramatic and healthy way through a focus on cannabis and hemp manufacturing.

 

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