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Hemp Can Still Save the World

CANNABIS CULTURE – How Jack Herer was right – and Ed Rosenthal was wrong – about hemp ethanol. 

So if you watch the news these days – or even the talk show comedian version of the news – you might notice the world is on fire. The forests are burning and the icecaps are melting and the ocean levels are rising and the seas are warming and there’s a massive die off of animal life and nobody seems to know what to do about it. I’ve been thinking about this – and doing research on it – for a long time, and I have a few thoughts. The first thought is that one should familiarize one’s self with the problem of human-caused climate destabilization – I have a link here that will provide you with the basics.

The second thing you should do is to look into solutions. Not the “release a virus and kill half of humanity” type of solution, and not nuclear power, either – that’s a scam. 

The solution to human-caused climate destabilization is hemp ethanol. What is hemp ethanol, you ask? Read on … 

In 1985, Jack Herer published the first version of his epic work, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”. It was a collection of facts about cannabis that had never been assembled before in one package. 

Facts such as how it could provide the best medicine, best food, best fabric, the best construction material and the best fuel on Earth – and how the government has been lying about it’s supposed dangers for decades. He distributed “Emperor” all over the United States – sometimes right outside high schools – which got media attention. 

The most subversive thing about Herer’s book was the part where it talked about climate destabilization and Hemp’s ability to re-stabilize the climate; 

“The book Solar Gas, 1980, Science Digest; OMNI Magazine, The Alliance for Survival, The ‘Green Party’ of West Germany and others, put the TOTAL figure of our energy costs at eighty percent of our TOTAL dollar expense of living for each human being. … eighty-two percent of the TOTAL value of all issues traded on the New York Stock Exchange, other world stock exchanges, etc. are tied directly to 1) energy supply companies (oil, Exxon, Shell, etc.), wells/coal mines, (Con Edison, and so forth); 2) energy transportation, (pipeline, oil shipping and delivery companies) and/or 3) refineries and retail sales (Exxon, Mobil, Shell, So. Calif. Edison, N.Y. Edison, et al.) Eighty-two percent of all your dollars translates roughly into 33 of every of every 40 working hours you work is to pay for, in one way or another, the ultimate energy cost in the goods and services (transportation, heating, cooking, lighting) you purchase. Our current fossil energy sources also supply about 80 percent of the solid and airborne pollution which is slowly poisoning the planet. (See U.S. EPA report 1983 on coming world catastrophe from carbon dioxide imbalance caused by burning fossil fuels and lack of new, compounded by destruction of old, plant life).

The cheapest substitutes for these expensive and wasteful energy methods is not wind or solar panels, nuclear, geo-thermal, and the like, but using the natural spreadout light of the sun to grow cellulose to be converted into methane gas and methanol wood alcohol. In the 1920s and ‘30s, most American cars and farm vehicles were sold with the option to run either on methanol or gasoline or both. During the gas shortages of World War II, methanol was widely used by farmers and even the military. It is still used by most racing cars today. Methanol does not pollute! When burned it emits only carbon dioxide and water vapors; and while growing it takes three times as much carbon dioxide out of the air before eventually putting (when burned) one-third of it back … whereas oil or coal only can pollute – never clean – because its source – vegetation or dinosaur – died millions of years ago. The early Oil Barons … aware in the Twenties of the possibilities of Ford’s methanol scheme (Henry Ford even grew marijuana on his estate after 1937 to prove the cheapness of methanol) and its cheapness, dropped and kept oil prices incredibly low – between $1.00 to $2.00 per barrel (there are 42 gallons in an oil barrel) for almost 50 years until 1970. So low, in fact, that no other energy source could compete with them … and when they were sure of the lack of competition, the price jumped to almost $40.00 per barrel in the next ten years. … In the 1920s-30s it was not cost effective to prepare large amounts of methanol, because of the cheapness of oil and because of the almost equal cost of heating the cellulose. But with modern improvements … this is no longer the case … The fuel – HEMP or other celuloses – for the methanol, while growing, provides oxygen to the air, consumes carbon dioxide for its cell structure, and does not pollute when burned. Science Digest reports that Cornell University in 1981-82 bioengineered an incredible new process which makes the ‘breakdown’ (composting) process by cellulase fifty times quicker and cheaper than the 1920s & 30s.” (1)

Everywhere this book travelled, it created hemp activists, or “Hempsters” as they were called. Some of those copies of his book made it up into Canada, and turned people like myself and Dana Larsen and Chris Bennett and Chris Clay and Marc Emery into Hempsters too. In fact, Marc Emery used to wear a button that said “Hemp can save the EARTH” and shirts that said “HEMP CAN SAVE THE PLANET!”

But then something happened in November 1994 that sucked all the energy out of the hemp movement. Ed Rosenthal produced a book called “Hemp

In it, he and his fellow hemp fuel skeptic Dr. David Walker published two chapters claiming economically viable hemp ethanol fuel was unrealistic. Rosenthal’s chapter was called “Hemp Realities”, and Walker’s chapter was called “Can Hemp Save Our Planet?” Their arguments against Jack Herer’s and Lynn Osburn’s evaluation of hemp ethanol, summarized, are;

1) “… there are many plants which can produce a higher biomass on an annual

basis.” (p. 76)

2) “Hemp producers cannot match the low prices of waste paper.” (p. 77)

3) “Hemp cannot be grown on the same field continuously without fertilizer.” (p. 79)

4) Hemp needs too much water and too much land to meet modern fuel needs (pp. 77-80).

5) “Energy production would yield a low profit to farmers.” (p. 81)

6) “It would be dangerous to rely on one species or even one method for virtually all energy needs.” (Ibid)

If one assumes we humans are able to transform society into a sustainable one, in which subsidies are switched from non-renewable energy to renewable energy, in which the health and environmental costs are factored into the cost of each product, and in which the red tape around industrial hemp is removed, then hemp ethanol will immediately become economically viable. None of these things are impossible, or even technically difficult – they could all be done quite easily, so long as there is enough public pressure to have them done. Obscenely rich people may need to be convinced that their control over the economy must be relinquished and their wealth spread out to millions of farmers so that humans can survive, but this difficult task is also not impossible. A sustainable society is just a matter of educating all of society about what the necessary steps must be taken. 

The evidence against Rosenthal’s assertions – if we lived under those “sustainable society” conditions – can be summarized as follows;

“… there are many plants which can produce a higher biomass on an annual basis.”

There are two problems with this assertion that come up upon close inspection of the details. 1) Most authors who discuss hemp yield – including both Rosenthal and Osburn – are guilty of not being specific when they are talking about biomass yields – is it “green weight” or “dry weight” being discussed? Is it the entire plant, or just the stems? One must specify each time, or the numbers are meaningless. 2) High biomass by itself does not necessarily translate into a good fuel source – the evidence suggests that one must also factor in the cost per acre, the energy efficiency ratio (just how easily that biomass is turned into fuel), and the potential of that crop to be used as a carbon sink – so that the greenhouse effect can be reversed. 

The truth is that few sources identify green/dry weight or whole plant/stems weight, which makes accurate estimates difficult. However, there is evidence from multiple sources to suggest that Rosenthal’s estimate for hemp biomass production of 3 to 5 tons per acre (p. 71) is low (3)

At the moment corn is the number one energy crop in the United States (4) – but only because corn is so heavily subsidized, (5) and hemp is so heavily over-regulated. For the last 20 years, the Canadian hemp economy has been under “tight controls”. (6) A minimum of 10 acres must be grown. (7) The hemp must test below 0.3% in THC. (8) The strain must be “approved”. (9) Hundreds of potentially profitable industrial strains are denied to farmers. (10) Hemp seed must be rendered non-viable and tested for viability. (11) In the US, those with criminal records for cannabis farming are not allowed to grow hemp. (12) This restriction was recently lifted in Canada – after unfairly excluding some farmers from industrial hemp jobs for 20 years. (13)

Breeders licenses – permitting access to the most economically rewarding element of industrial hemp farming and allowing farmers self-sufficiency and independence – are difficult to obtain. One needs the equivalent of a science degree and 10 years experience working under an accredited breeder. (14) US seed breeder licensing rules are different, but still onerous. (15) Hemp is so over-regulated, hemp seeds for human food is the only reliable market for it, because hemp seed and hemp seed oil is so valuable as a source of essential fatty acids that consumers will pay a premium price for it in spite of the added costs from the over-regulation. (16)

Hemp is a superior energy crop to corn for many reasons. Hemp: A) doesn’t need as much fertilizer or water as corn, switchgrass or other energy crops, (17) B) doesn’t require the expensive drying required of corn and sugar cane, (18) C) can be grown where other energy crops can’t, (19) D) has long been known to be the lowest-moisture highest-cellulose crop – ideal for fuel production. The hemp stalks are “over 75% cellulose” according to a 1929 paper from Schafer and Simmonds with more conservative estimates indicating the hurds being between 32% and 38% percent cellulose, while the bark is between 53% and 74%, (20) E) is much more energy efficient than corn. One estimate states that corn has a 34 percent energy gain, while hemp has a 540 percent energy gain. (21) This means hemp is nearly 16 times as efficient an energy crop as corn! 

On top of all this, hemp is F) possibly the best carbon sink fuel crop in the world. What is a carbon sink? It’s a way to “reverse” the greenhouse effect and save the world, as hemp activist Chris Conrad explains;

“Each crop produces as much oxygen as it will later produce of CO2 if every bit of it is burned as fuel, creating a balanced cycle. Furthermore, hemp deposits 10 percent of its mass in the soil as roots and up to 30 percent as leaves which drop during the growing season. This means that some 20 to 40 percent more oxygen can be produced each season than will later be consumed as fuel – a net gain in clean air. Call it a ‘reverse greenhouse effect’.” (22) 

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