Could Industrial Hemp Save us from the Effects of Climate Change?
On August 26th, 2019, West Virginia’s Department of Agriculture announced that applications for the state’s Industrial Hemp Program would begin on September 1st, permitting farmers to receive legal certification to grow industrial hemp.
But West Virginia isn’t the only state to tap into industrial hemp’s various benefits. In North Carolina, Warren Wilson College has initiated an Industrial Hemp Program, whose main goal is to share land management knowledge with Western North Carolina farmers seeking to enter the industrial hemp market.
According to Morgan Leach, president of the West Virginia Hemp Industries Association and executive director of the West Virginia Farmers Cooperative, educating the public on the differences between hemp and marijuana is crucial in terminating the negative stigma surrounding the plant.
Every part of the Cannabis plant can be utilized: the seeds can be used in food products, the flowers can be used to produce oil, and the rest of the plant can be used to create fiber.
Due to the strength and elasticity of its fibers, hemp can be used to produce sponges, canvas, burlap, clothing, rope, and yarn. Its oils can be used for medicinal purposes as well as the production of paint and soap.
In addition, hemp seeds—which are sold in grocery stores nationwide—provide innumerable health benefits, including lowering blood pressure; boosting the immune system with omega fatty acids; providing a plant-based protein (11 grams of protein per serving); aiding in digestion by providing fiber; and reducing inflammation.
The most exciting use for the plant, however, is one that has been overlooked for years: the ability to battle climate change.
Carbon dioxide accounts for 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel use is the leading producer of CO2. According to a 2015 study conducted by University College London and published in Nature, to keep the global temperature under 2C, nations must leave 82 percent of global coal reserves and 50 percent of global gas reserves untouched.
The burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere, contributing heavily to climate change. One way to reduce or eliminate this contribution to climate change is to transition to lower-carbon energy sources, such as hemp.
Hemp produces an oil from which ethanol can be extracted, thus creating biofuel. Other crops have been investigated for the cultivation of biofuel, such as corn and switchgrass; however, these crops emit CO2. Hemp, on the other hand, releases no CO2. If West Virginians switched from mining coal to cultivating hemp, it could boost the economy and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Another leading cause of climate change is deforestation, as trees sequester CO2, cool the earth, and prevent soil erosion—and 10 percent of deforestation is due to paper production.
An alternative to cutting down trees in order to manufacture paper is growing hemp for paper production.
An acre of hemp produces four times more paper than an acre of trees, and unlike conventional paper, hemp paper doesn’t require toxic bleaching, which pollutes waterways.
According to the Library of Congress, hemp paper can last at least 400 years while tree paper lasts only 50 years, decomposing with age. In addition, hemp paper can be recycled more than twice the amount of times tree paper can be.
Industrial Hemp for Carbon Bio-sequestration
One reason trees are so valuable is because they sequester the carbon from the air, keeping the planet from becoming even warmer. Hemp, too, sequesters carbon from the air—but its usefulness doesn’t end here.
Many plants that sequester CO2 are then burned into biochar, which is used to replenish the soil with essential nutrients. Hemp is one of the highest yielding biomass crops on earth, and by growing hemp to sequester carbon, we would replenish the soil and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
But if hemp is so useful, why aren’t more people growing it?
The Struggle to Legalize Industrial Hemp
Hemp’s reputation has been tarnished by its association with marijuana, which has recently been legalized in various states across the country. Yet, what many do not know is that hemp and marijuana are not one in the same.
Hemp and marijuana are both parts of the Cannabis plant. Hemp refers to the sterilized seeds, stems, stalks, and roots of the plant while marijuana refers to the viable seeds, leaves, and flowers of the plant.
Unlike marijuana, which contains anywhere from one to 20 percent of THC—the portion of the plant responsible for psychoactive effects—hemp contains less than 0.3 percent of THC, which means it does not elicit any psychoactive responses in the body.
In addition to this, legalizing hemp has caused a few problems for authorities, as it is impossible for humans—and even police canines—to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.
According to South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, legalizing hemp would legalize marijuana by default. Not only are police canines unable to differentiate between hemp and marijuana, but testing laboratories without appropriate, costly equipment are unable to test the level of THC in a plant, rendering scientific evidence inadmissible.
Yet, the benefits of growing and using industrial hemp seem to outweigh the risks. The only adverse health effects from marijuana use are short-term and mild, including altered senses, changes in mood, difficulty thinking, and impaired body movement. Long-term effects are seen in those whose marijuana use began at a young age, before the brain is fully developed, and include impaired thinking and memory.
By growing industrial hemp, farmers can finally reverse the impact they have had on the earth’s climate. Like any plant, hemp requires fertilization.
Rather than investing in conventional fertilizer, which is laden with chemicals and salts that are bad for the environment, farmers should look into xVital, xVirity’s chemical-free, salt-free liquid fertilizer. The only thing the soil and plants will soak up is essential nutrients, as we combine nitrogen with ionized water to create a nutritional, environmentally friendly fertilizer.
Growing hemp isn’t enough to reverse the effects of climate change. Farmers must practice sustainable, regenerative agriculture, which includes transitioning from conventional fertilizer to environmentally friendly fertilizer. Check out xVital today to complement your sustainable growing practices!
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Gov. Kristi Noem: ‘Legalizing Industrial Hemp Legalizes Marijuana by Default’