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Australia is Being Urged to Grow Hemp to Reduce its Carbon Footprint

September 17, 2020 12:37 pm ET
Australia is Being Urged to Grow Hemp to Reduce its Carbon Footprint

An Australian company called GoodEarth Resources Pty (Ltd) has composed a document intended to appeal to their government to use cannabis as a means to reduce the global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).  This comes as a result of scientific proof that cannabis can absorb more CO2 per hectare than any forest or commercial crop. Additionally, cannabis plants can be constantly replanted, which means that it meets the permanence criteria as set out in the Kyoto Protocol. Thus, making cannabis the ideal carbon sink.

What is a Carbon Sink?

Carbon Dioxide often represented at CO2, is a greenhouse gas that is produced by all aerobic organisms (organisms that grow and develop in oxygenated environments). CO2 is released by these organisms, which includes humans, through means of exhalation. CO2 is colorless, odorless and it will not burn. CO2 is also currently the leading reason for climate change, especially with regards to the increase in the core temperature of the earth. 

Carbon sinks are natural, or otherwise, substances that absorb more carbon than it releases, which means that it then reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, of which cannabis absorbs the most. When we look at the earth, the current most important carbon sinks include vegetation and the ocean. Since the population of the current most important carbon sinks are under threat, it is important for people all over the world to consider taking on a new, possibly more effective, carbon sink (cue the cannabis). 

The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that commits state parties to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The treaty was put into place due to two reasons: (1) global warming is happening and (2) man-made CO2 emissions are the predominant cause of global warming. The treaty was first adopted by Japan in 1997 and has since gained 192 supportive parties, of which Canada has chosen to withdraw from the protocol. 

The treaty is based on common but accommodating responsibilities. In other words, it acknowledges each of the supporting parties (the countries) have different capacities to combat climate change, due to each countries’ respective economic development. This means that most of the obligation of the protocol is on the developed countries (such as Australia), which is based on the fact that they are (historically) responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

Cannabis for Fighting Climate Change

When thinking of using cannabis as a carbon sink, it is important to understand that it includes the male and female varieties of the plant, as opposed to the medicinal use of only the female plants for its flower (the bud). According to the Industrial Hemp Association of Queensland Inc.,

Cannabis “has the capacity to accelerate carbon sequestration in the soil, thus forming a natural carbon sink in land that could otherwise be responsible for increased emissions through soil imbalance” 

GoodEarth Resources Pty (Ltd) explains that one hectare of industrial cannabis can absorb 22 tonnes of CO2 per hectare. They also explain that it can be more efficient than agroforestry in the sense that hemp can grow up to 4 meters (13 feet) tall in 100 days making it one of the “fastest CO2-to-biomass conversion tools”. A study published in the ScienceMag explained that planting programs could remove up to two-thirds of the current emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere as a result of human activity. GoodEarth Resources Pty (Ltd) summarizes that cannabis carbon content is examined by the carbon content of the molecules in the stem. This is as follows: 45% of carbon is contained in 0.7 tonnes of cannabis cellulose, 48% of carbon is contained in 0.22 tonnes of hemicellulose and 40% of carbon is contained in 0.06 tonnes of lignin. Industrial cannabis stems consist primarily of the mentioned molecules: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. 

Burning fossil fuels is one of the biggest reasons for such large amounts of emissions in the atmosphere, luckily, cannabis as a carbon sink can assist with reversing the environmental impact and what’s more, is that it can encourage biodiversity in the soil of degenerated farmland due to toxic chemicals. The widespread cultivation of industrial hemp is usually grown for fiber, clothing, oil, and food and could even target environmental pollution by replacing petrochemical-based plastics – which are usually dumped into the ocean at the rate of one garbage truck per minute and it includes straws, grocery bags, toothbrushes, etc. Millions of animal and sea life come to an end each year due to the environmental pollution resulting from plastic. 

Industrial Hemp Association of Queensland Inc also explains that cannabis can be “readily geared to respond to any fast track establishment of low-carbon environmental technologies and industries. The low density and highly crystalline cellulose content of the hemp natural fiber lead to the excellent specific properties ideally suited to bio-fiber composite and bio-polymer technologies”.

GoodEarth Resources Pty (Ltd)’s Argument

  • Cannabis can be grown on a widespread scale. 
  • It can be grown on existing agricultural land (which is unlikely of most forestry projects).
  • It can be part of a farms’ crop rotations.
  • Adding it to a farms’ crop rotation comes with “positive effects on overall yields of follow on crops”.
  • It can support the Australian Government’s plans to increase employment and improve the economy. 

Aerosol Monoterpenes Argument

Author of Cannabis vs Climate, Paul von Hartmann, has examined the extreme urgency of “initiating effective measures for resolving global systemic imbalance”. What I enjoyed about researching this was that Mr. von Hartmann understood that all concerns of cannabis are relatively irrelevant when we consider the incoming future on a solar UV-broiled planet. The Earths’ stratospheric ozone is being eroded due to the loss of aerosol monoterpenes and the increase in UV-B radiation. The following points were made in favor of using cannabis as a strategy for combating global warming and climate change. 

Hemp is the only crop with the ability to produce sufficient quantities of atmosphere aerosol monoterpenes in the left-over time to replace the solar-protective stratospheric aerosols. It is also the only crop that can produce complete nutrition and sustainable biofuels. Hemp can also grow in compacted soils and can be used to increase the carrying capacity of Earth. It can also be used as an agronomic tool to reduce erosion by wind and water. 

All of these arguments are added to the fact that cannabis can be an effective means of reducing carbon footprints since it can take in more CO2 than any forest or crop per hectare, it can be grown in large quantities, it can be grown all over the world and it has fast growth and turn over periods. Additionally, the carbon uptake and biomass yield from cannabis can be accurately calculated. Hemp can even grow without fertilizer and lots of water, but the results are less lush.  

Despite the hope that comes along with the possibility of using cannabis to mitigate climate change, It would be best to avoid seeing cannabis as the one thing to save us and more as just one part of the plan to save us. We should approach our efforts to reduce climate change by protecting the remaining ecosystems, preserving biodiversity, intensifying our proactive strategies such as planting hectares and hectares of cannabis. 

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