Obama Wants More Green Jobs? Let's Start with Hemp
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So, how does hemp stack up when compared to corn or sugar cane? Writing in Salon, Steven Wishnia remarks that hemp oil for bio-fuel “is unlikely to be practical.” At 50 gallons per acre, he explains, “even if every acre of U.S. cropland were used for hemp, it would supply current U.S. demand for oil for less than three weeks.” Nevertheless, hemp biomass can be converted into many diverse fuels such as methane, methanol and gasoline. Moreover, planting hemp arguably represents a more efficient use of land and resources than corn or sugarcane. That is so because hemp can be used for fuel but also for food and its seeds contain roughly four times the cellulose biomass potential of corn. Best of all, hemp grows very fast and leaves the soil in good shape.
In addition to bio-fuel, could hemp also lead to other benefits --- like helping restore the earth’s climate equilibrium? The short answer seems to be, yes. As hemp grows, it “sequesters” or captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Hemp is able to sequester such large amounts of carbon because it grows very tall --- between 9 and 12 feet to be exact --- within a very short span of time. Furthermore, when hemp is manufactured into masonry this acts as a carbon sink: the carbon is literally locked into the building material.
A Silver Bullet?
With so many benefits, hemp advocates believe that the plant may represent a silver bullet when it comes to solving the earth’s many environmental problems. Take for example widespread deforestation which has exacerbated climate change. Though deforestation is linked to many diverse and complex causes, the timber industry has no doubt played a nefarious role. Hemp and marijuana boosters --- which often overlap --- claim that hemp might offer a way out of our deforestation dilemma. Hemp has a higher cellulose level than wood, advocates argue, and therefore the plant could be used for paper to avoid cutting down trees.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol argues that hemp paper manufacturing may reduce wastewater contamination and the plant’s low lignin content reduces the need for acids utilized in the process of pulping. Hemp can be used for every quality of paper, though it would most likely be mixed with recycled paper. Moreover, advocates say that high quality hemp paper can be recycled more times than wood-based paper. “Hemp produces more pulp per acre than timber on a sustainable basis,” the group states. Not everyone, however, agrees with such rosy prognostications. According to the Instituto Superior Técnico in Portugal, hemp is nowhere near as environmentally-friendly as eucalyptus and researchers say that hemp is an “annual” plant that needs to be grown from scratch year in and year out.
Whatever the case, hemp’s overall environmental potential should not be underestimated. In an era of ever worsening global warming and job scarcity, this unlikely plant may represent an ecological and social boon to wider society. If the Obama administration is serious about job creation and the next wave of green employment, it would do well to investigate hemp more seriously. To be sure, the humble crop still carries a social stigma, though such outmoded attitudes seem to be changing. Indeed, if recent political and cultural change associated with marijuana legalization is any indication, hemp production may be coming to America sooner rather than later.