Monday, September 1, 2008

Back to my Roots, Sustainable Living.

I took a few minutes to do some introspection last night and realized on a wide variety of fronts that I have stepped away from my personal roots, philosophies, and expertise. I think I’ve become sarcastic and cynical, quick to discount anything that I’d rather not deal with, and honestly, I’m disgusted with myself. Last night, we were talking about politics, and I went off half cocked, and Heidi called me out on it. I admit, I had only woken up a few minutes earlier and was not really in my right mind, however, I believe that it’s the things you do when you aren’t paying attention that shows your true inner content. Anyway, to my friends, I apologize for being a douche, and to my readers, I also apologize, but for ignoring my roots in sustainable living and theological exploration.

So, that being said, I’d like to write about a subject that I have not really explored before and since my trip to Oregon (a medicinal marijuana state) have been thinking about a bit more. I’m gonna write about hemp and cannabis. I’d rather not use the word marijuana, because as you will see later, it was a term used by chemical companies and the media to destroy this a great competitor to the emerging petrochemical industry. The hemp I will refer to is the industrial use of the plant scientifically known as cannabis sativa subspecies sativa. The cannabis I will refer to is the more chemically enhanced variety known as cannabis sativa subspecies indica. The species is highly varied, containing many varieties, ranging on a scale from the industrial used hemp and seed production varieties with virtually no psychoactive THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) to the more druggy ones with more like 25% THC.

A little history. This is interesting, some researchers have found that hemp and cannabis may have been domesticated before the vast majority of the food crops we have today, the reason? Hemp is a widely useful plant, as food, fuel, fiber for cloth, and of course a recreational drug. But more recently, you might be surprised to find that all those old sailing ships we learned about in history class had hemp rigging and sails, each ship totaling up in the many tens of tons worth. The first printed paper was made of hemp, the Declaration of Independence written on hemp, and the first jeans were actually made of hemp canvas like the sails on those ships I mentioned earlier. The first American paper company used hemp exclusively and was started by Benjamin Franklin, and many of our nation’s fathers grew it on their plantations.

I’d like to make something clear here, I’m not campaigning for the legalization of medical cannabis, though I think it has some use and would serve the public much better regarding criminality if it were legal medicinally. What I want to focus on is the use of hemp, the non THC version, for industrial purposes and in minor ways for food. I am campaigning for the completely legalized and broad adoption of hemp for textile and industrial uses as a sustainable replacement for many items currently provided us by petrochemicals. Many products are made of oil and other inefficient resources that would sustainably be made of hemp such as clothing, paper, rope, plastics and fiber reinforced composites.

For example, if you grow a hectare of hemp for paper, and the same of wood, after twenty years, you’ll have 4 times as much fiber for paper and the best part is you don’t have to wait twenty years to harvest, you can harvest every year and do it sustainably. Also, hemp is a much superior medium for making paper because while wood fibers reach about 2 cm in length, hemp fibers can reach 4.6 meters. Long fiber length equals stronger more quality paper, and hemp paper making requires far fewer chemicals only needing to be bleached with hydrogen peroxide, or not bleached at all.

Hemp vs. cotton is an even bigger issue. Hemp produces 4 times as much fiber as cotton while using 50% of the chemicals that cotton does and having three times the tensile strength. Hemp also grows in a way that naturally eliminates weeds because it is so tall and dense at the top. This is especially significant since cotton is one of the biggest contributors to problems caused by crop production. Hemp can be made into many kinds and grades of cloth from heavy duty canvas (the word actually comes from cannabis) to ultra fine fabrics nearly indistinguishable from silk. Many famous paintings were made by artists painting hemp paint onto hemp canvas.

Hemp can be used for fuel, either the seed oil for biodiesel or the whole plant fermented for ethanol. The kicker is that hemp produces more energy per hectare than corn, sugar cane, or any other crop currently grown for fuel.

So why is it mostly illegal today? If hemp is such a wonderful product, why isn’t it used? And if it was used before, why not now? The answer comes back to big money and industry, the sources of so much destruction and draw away from clean technologies. Back in the 1930’s, William Randolph Hearst, who seems to have had ties to the forest and chemical industries published articles in his papers linking hemp to marijuana and attacking marijuana usage with all sorts of wild eyed stories that we today would think were ridiculous. Stoners today are stereotypically seen as lazy, Hearst’s papers painted them as psychotics. Believe it.

So, in 1937 it was all made illegal though the hemp industry had just begun a rebound as new technologies had sprung up making it far more competitive with then emerging markets. But petrochemicals gave us plastics and nylon, and something people could grow in their backyard was not to be tolerated even though a US Department of Agriculture film called “Hemp for Victory” in 1942 tied our utilization of hemp with winning the war because it was such a useful substance. After the war though, hemp went the way of the electric car.

Fortunately today, hemp is still going the way of the electric car, making a comeback. Hemp clothing is extremely popular and its market share is growing and not just because of stoners, it is being driven by environmental awareness. A quick search will net you tons of websites that sell hemp clothing, in all styles, sizes and colors. The unfortunate thing for the American economy is that hemp is not allowed to be freely grown because it is a relative of marijuana. This puts us in a disadvantageous position because hemp is still a popular substance and virtually all of it must be imported.

Now another question. What is my stance on actually using cannabis? As I’ve mentioned to a number of people, if I get cancer and have to have chemotherapy, I’ll most certainly use it. However, I would never be a recreational user, just as I am not a recreational user of alcohol. I value my clear and unenhanced, unmodified consciousness. It is what makes me who I am, and it is one of the things I value most. I believe I agree with the Bible in this aspect because the Bible prohibits drunkenness, which I’d imagine is quite similar in scope (though not effect) to being stoned. I believe God calls us to be in control of our minds. The Bible says that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which I believe accurately refers to the mind as well the physical body. Eating too much food results in a body that is not fit, so too would be the effect of excessive amounts of drugs (alcohol or any other) on the mind. Moreover, we must remember that the Bible never puts any sort of prohibition on the consumption of alcohol, or any other drug, only the over-consumption, of which it is very direct.

In conclusion, for reasons of sustainability and the economy, I believe the use of low THC hemp should be legalized in the United States. And yes, I’m willing to take the abuse and have my friends call me a hippy for what I believe.


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