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Could Hemp Be A Part Of The Solution To Climate Change?

The growing concern of climate change

The current state of our Earth is one of hopelessness and desperation when it comes to the increasingly concerning problem of climate change. The actions of corporations under Capitalism have led to deforestation, air pollution, fishery decline, melting ice-caps, wildfires, extreme weather, loss of biodiversity, and many other disastrous symptoms.

The creation of the Climate Clock illustrates just how dangerously close we are to permanently damaging our Earth, with a countdown currently around the 7 year mark counting down how much time we have left to prevent irreversible damage to the Earth’s climate. With this feat only possible if we apply maximum investment and action, our generation has taken to searching for hope through Climate Campaigners like Greta Thunberg, movements like Extinction Rebellion, and expressing concern and fear through media such as Bo Burnham’s Inside.

Well, what if I told you that one hopeful method of managing climate change actually lies in none other than good old Mary Jane. I’m talking about Hemp.

What is hemp?

While Hemp is a Cannabis plant, it contains much less THC than most strains, with Hemp being legally classed as any Cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC. Marijuana is the legal name for any Cannabis plant that has more than 0.3% THC, with Marijuana being illegal in the UK and used as a recreational drug. Hemp, however, is strictly botanical and is often referred to as Industrial Hemp because of its cultivation for use within products.

In the UK, it is legal to grow Hemp (with a few legal obstacles before you can grow), however, only the stems and seeds are legal to be harvested, leaving the flowers and leaves that we extract CBD oil from as illegal.

Hemp as a plant continues to be villainized in most settings, due to Cannabis’ classification as a Class B drug in the UK since 2009 (the classification of Cannabis has changed twice, being downgraded to a Class C drug in 2004 but then changed back to Class B 5 years later). While the legality of Cannabis as a whole is a separate conversation to be had, it's important that we acknowledge that Hemp itself actually has no use as a drug at all, and that the restrictions placed upon this plant may well be preventing the production of much more sustainable products to aid climate action.

What does hemp have to do with climate action?

As one of the fastest and tallest growing plants, reaching a maximum height of 5 metres (16 feet), Hemp is an incredibly effective natural purifier. Its high leaves absorb CO2 from our atmosphere, sequestering 15kg of Co2 per hectare of crop, the same amount of CO2 produced in a year by two cars. The CO2 is stored in the plant's soil, while the Hemp plant also extracts polluting metals from the soil using its long and deep roots, leaving the soil it is rooted in healthier and stronger. Hemp is also naturally repellent to weeds, meaning less pollution and contamination from herbicides.

Not only is Hemp a sustainable crop to cultivate, the leaves, seeds, flowers, and stems all contribute to the plants over 25,000 uses. This includes hemp fibre created from the plant's stalk, an exceptionally strong fibre that can then be turned into rope, clothing, shoes, paper, and insulation. The hurds (the coarse parts of hemp that adhere to the fibre after it is separated) can even be used to create a form of hemp concrete, referred to as Hempcrete, a non-toxic building material that is ten times stronger than concrete and a sixth of the weight, while also consistently removing carbon from the air.

Hemp seeds can be used in food production, with the seeds themselves a snack that tastes similar to sunflower seeds and nuts. The seeds can be used to produce Hemp milk, oil, protein powder, and flour. CBD oil from Hemp also has many medicinal and therapeutic benefits, including benefiting chronic pain, mental health disorders, sleep disorders, and symptoms of cancer. CBD is also incredibly popular in beauty products, with its anti-inflammatory properties advertised to help prevent signs of ageing, and reduce redness and blemishes.

So why aren’t we using more hemp?

Hemp was a staple of British History more than we realise, with Henry VIII creating a law where for every 60 acres owned by a farmer, they were legally required to cultivate a quarter of an acre of hemp. Queen Victoria even reportedly used Cannabis recreationally to soothe her menstrual cramps.

It wasn’t until the 1910s in America, when America's fear of Mexican immigrants and their association with Cannabis (Marijuana was a term created to cause people to associate Cannabis with immigrants by sounding like a foreign language), that the US started to criminalise Cannabis in several states. In the 1920’s UK, the government became pressured to treat Cannabis as an illegal drug due to growing concern from other countries, mainly the US. That's right, the criminalisation of Cannabis is largely due to racism.

Since the passing of the 1971 Misuse Of Drugs Act, Hemp has been difficult to cultivate and produce products within the UK, even since the legalisation of growing Hemp in 1993. The use of plastics, cottons, polyesters, and other unsustainable materials make it increasingly harder to produce enough Hemp products to make an environmental impact, as these other materials are cheaper and easier to access and use within mass-production demanded by capitalism.

How can we personally use hemp to aid climate action?

While blame for climate change lies largely in the hands of corporations, there are still small acts that we can do ourselves to aid Climate Action. Some examples of such are:

  • Where financially and physically possible, invest in sustainable Hemp products.

  • Sign petitions and talk to MP’s regarding supporting further legalisation of the growth of Hemp.

  • Take part in demonstrations, protests, and rallies in support of Hemp, as well as other issues involving climate change that need awareness.

  • Spread the word about the ongoing disaster of climate change, as well as the use of Hemp, either online or in person.

While it's easy to lose hope in the face of climate change, it is important that we remember there are alternatives available and that any small difference we manage to make will still have a more positive effect for the Earth than the current path we are on.


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