By far the greatest alternative energy source I’ve learned of to date is industrial hemp, which has the potential to spark an energy revolution--if only a fear-filled public can consider the benefits of a plant that, in recent decades, has only had its drawbacks magnified in the spotlight. The Reason [Foundation’s] study says the Drug Enforcement Administration's inability to distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana is irrational and ignores scientific fact. The report states, ‘Marijuana cultivated for drug value contains between 3 and 10 percent of the active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Industrial hemp typically contains 0.3 percent or less of this active ingredient-as a result, it has no value as a drug.’ (taken from U.S. Hemp Ban Hurts Environment, Economy). While it cannot become the sole substitute for our energy needs, combined with intelligent use of efficient technologies (i.e. hybrid cars, solar/wind/hydroelectric energy), if our stubborn government can humble itself enough to at least give back industrial hemp, then I believe Mr. Wood's sense of optimism (detailed in the previous post) would have an excellent chance of becoming an oil reality. I am certain as never before with alternative resources that industrial hemp could make a HUGE impact, for all nations (including the poor ones we don't pay attention to).
In the previous post, I quote Peter McWilliams as follows regarding unrecognized addiction to everyday things: Most addictions are only troublesome when the addictive substance is taken away. As a culture today, we are addicted to—among many other things—electricity, packaged foods, television, and automobiles. As long as these are readily available, we don’t notice our addiction. If one—or all—were taken away, we would immediately exhibit the classic symptoms of addictive withdrawal. It is from McWilliams's book that I received most of my education on industrial hemp: Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country, by Peter McWilliams. If you’re interested, the entire text is available online. The book quotes part of an ABC radio presentation by Hugh Downs: The reasons the pro-marijuana lobby wants marijuana legal have little to do with getting high, and a great deal to do with fighting oil giants like Saddam Hussein, Exxon, and Iran. The pro-marijuana groups claim that hemp is such a versatile raw material that its products not only compete with petroleum, but with coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, pharmaceutical, timber, and textile companies. It is estimated that methane and methanol production alone from hemp grown as bio-mass could replace 90% of the world’s energy needs. If they’re right, this is not good news for oil interests, and could account for the continuation of marijuana prohibition. The broadcast was recorded early in the 1990s, so the 90% statistic may no longer be accurate (considering the exponential consumption increase since then), but shit, even if it’s down to 70%, or 60%, that’s huge.
There’s a reason I post this entry today, America’s Independence Day. Not only were early drafts of the Declaration of Independence written on hemp paper, but our nation has a long history of hemp that, curiously enough, we seem to have forgotten. I remember learning in fifth grade about tobacco trade in the early colonies, but I don't remember hearing any of this before:
- Marijuana was one of the primary agricultural products in this country for more than 250 years;
- George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew cannabis on their plantations;
- Marijuana was one of the few painkillers in colonial America. George Washington, who had dental problems his entire life, writes of its medicinal use in his journal;
- Benjamin Franklin started one of America’s first paper mills with cannabis. This allows America to have a free colonial press without having to beg or justify paper and books from England;
- Cannabis hemp was legal tender in most of the Americas from 1631 until the early 1800s;
- You could pay your taxes with cannabis hemp throughout America for over 200 years;
- You could even be jailed in America for not growing cannabis during several periods of shortage, e.g. in Virginia between 1763 and 1767.
Lately, W. and others have been going on and on about establishing independence from foreign oil. I ask you, what supports more independence than plants? If a nation has soil and the right climate, industrial hemp would establish some sense of energy independence for that country. Industrial hemp would also establish some sense of energy independence for any persons that have the climate to grow it on their own land. For this reason, the fight to reverse hemp prohibition will be very difficult. Big business will want a piece of the pie. They've played middle man for citizens’ energy needs for a long time. Why would they stop for the sake of reason? As two major players did in the 1930s, today's mega-corps will jump in to ensure continued hemp prohibition. More on the shameful origins of hemp prohibition in a future blog entry. I've gone on too long as is, and I haven't even mentioned the amazing benefits of industrial hemp.
Some of my favorite reasons for making a switch:
Highly renewable – Whereas trees take decades to renew, hemp renews itself each growing season. In warmer climates, hemp can even see three harvests per year. And in addition to growing quickly, it grows almost anywhere. There’s a reason they call it weed, you know.
Clean – As a plant, hemp would help offset the greenhouse gases released by its use, unlike fossil fuels, which already did their share of respiration millions and millions of years ago.
Versatile – In addition to making paper, clothing, and medicines, we could also use industrial hemp to make some pretty surprising things: plastics, paint, varnish, even dynamite. We could even run our cars on hemp.
Our fucking cars! From the Hugh Downs broadcast: When Rudolph Diesel produced his famous engine in 1896, he assumed that the diesel engine would be powered by a variety of fuels, especially vegetable and seed oils. Rudolph Diesel, like most engineers then, believed vegetable fuels were superior to petroleum. Hemp is the most efficient vegetable. [...] By volume, 30% of the hemp seed contains oil suitable for high-grade diesel fuel, as well as aircraft engine and precision machine oil. Henry Ford’s experiments with methanol promised cheap, readily-renewable fuel. And, if you think methanol means compromise, you should know that many modern race cars run on methanol. An efficient vegetable indeed....
After hearing every non-oil energy source slammed in the media, this proclamation of industrial hemp probably sounds too good to be true. I know every other alternative energy source I’ve learned about has fizzled out in one way or another. They all reach a point where “too good to be true” becomes “there’s just one thing.” But what if industrial hemp really is a viable possibility? I say, why not enter “better safe than sorry” mode and just think deeply for a moment about the simplicity of it all: a versatile plant that grows wild to abate some of its own greenhouse emissions, all while replacing so many of our everyday needs. It sounds like the beauty of Nature to me. If you still don’t believe the benefits of industrial hemp, at least check in for my next blog entry, when I unravel the drug tangle and follow money trail that led to the prohibition of industrial hemp. That ought to feed your cynicism.
I for one really believe in the possibility of industrial hemp, more than I’ve believed in any other cause for quite some time. Knowing what I’ve learned in just a few days, I plan to make awareness of industrial hemp a common priority in my life. I’ll be doing as much research as my spare time allows, so that I can know the drawbacks and dispel the myths. Ladies and gents, I tell you I’m extracted, revved up, and ready to go in circles on methanol power. And this time, I won’t mind if the resource leads me.