The Plant That Could Save the Planet
(Or Maybe We Humans Are the Ones Who Need Saving)
If there were a natural resource that could be used in thousands of products ranging from varnish to lace, and this resource could dispel our reliance on trees for paper, wouldn’t that be good?
If this resource were renewable, if it could quench our need for hundreds of imported products and provide jobs for thousands of Americans, then wouldn’t that be good?
This resource exists! It is one of the hardiest and most versatile of all plants, and it has been cultivated for over 6,000 years. It is known as hemp.
Hemp Goes Way Back
In 1492, the sails and rigging on Columbus’s Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria were made from hemp. In 1776, the Continental Congress drafted the Constitution and Declaration of Independence on paper made from hemp. Later, during the 1800s, the covers of wagons carrying intrepid colonists westward ho would be made from hemp.
When Rudolph Diesel invented his famous engine in 1896, he and most engineers back then figured the diesel would run on fuels superior to petroleum, made from vegetable and seed oils; hemp was the most efficient.
In the 1930s the Ford Motor Company operated a successful biomass conversion plant that included hemp. About that time, a machine to strip the outer fibers of the hemp plant appeared on the market, called a decorticator. It could turn hemp into paper and fabrics quickly and cheaply. Hemp paper was recognized as superior to wood paper.
Henry Ford Was On To Something….
In 1941, fulfilling a desire to “grow automobiles from the soil,” Henry Ford unveiled a plastic car. Hemp was a primary ingredient. The car was a thousand pounds lighter than a comparable steel car, and was reputed to withstand a blow ten times as great as steel without denting.
So, what happened? In an effort to discover why Ford had steered away from plastic cars, and what had caused hemp’s fall from grace, I phoned my parents in Michigan. Both of them had been born in Detroit in the 1920’s, so they were right at the epi-center of the auto industry when the plastic car was unveiled and hemp was still a household item.
My mother said that the big industries had coalesced to fight off an innovation that might deal them a death blow in the future. They easily quashed a fledgling industry that posed a threat to their formidable profits.
Well, my mother was right. While surfing the Web, I found the following passage:
“Hemp, once the mainstay of American agriculture, became a threat to a handful of corporate giants. To stifle the commercial threat that hemp posed to timber interests, William Randolph Hearst began referring to hemp in his newspapers, by its Spanish name, “marijuana.” This did two things: it associated the plant with Mexicans and played on racist fears, and it misled the public into thinking that marijuana and hemp were different plants.
“Nobody was afraid of hemp — it had been cultivated and processed into usable goods, and consumed as medicine, and burned in oil lamps, for hundreds of years. But after a campaign to discredit hemp in the Hearst newspapers, Americans became afraid of something called marijuana.”
Today, many people still harbor the fear. We fear what we do not understand.
The Wonders of Hemp
Hemp is a cheap, clean and quickly renewable source for paper, canvas, rope, textiles, clothing, medicine, food, fuel, paint, varnish, building materials and plastic.
A single acre of hemp can produce the same amount of paper as four acres of trees. Trees take 20 years to harvest while hemp takes a single season. In warm climates hemp can be harvested two or even three times a year. It also grows in bad soil and restores the nutrients.
Hemp is softer, warmer and more water-absorbant than cotton, has three times the tensile strength of cotton, and is more durable than cotton. By the way, about 50% of chemicals used in American agriculture today are for growing cotton. Hemp growing requires no chemicals and has few weed or insect enemies.
Hemp seed can be ground up into flour. With its high nutritional value and short growing cycle, it could serve as a food source for the masses in the near future as world food sources diminish.
It is estimated that methane and methanol production alone from hemp grown as biomass could replace 90% of the world’s energy needs. The vegetable source is renewable, cheap and clean, while we all know the petroleum and coal sources are limited, expensive and dirty. By the way, many of today’s race cars run on methanol.
How can a plant with so many beneficial uses to mankind be bad? Because the blossom of the female hemp plant contains a narcotic. The irony is that their fear of that benign drug caused our forebears to trade off a non-toxic resource for a myriad of industries that have polluted our air and water, pillaged our planet and executed crimes on humanity that I believe are far worse than the effects of an herb!
We can keep striding down the path of destruction with those whose voracious greed has devoured so many irreplaceable resources. If a plant could single-handedly heal our world, it is hemp. A gift from Mother Earth. Certainly nothing to fear.