The environment is a crucial component to human and animal life on earth. Since the rise of pollution and increased use of nonrenewable resources, the health of our environment has quickly deteriorated. Unrelated as they may seem, the hemp plant might just be a valuable resource to aid in the fight against climate change.
Trees, atmosphere, plants and much more make up the environment. Humans monetizing and harvesting resources to further industries has taken a negative toll on the health of the environment. Whether the topic of discussion is deforestation, the amount of harmful gases in the atmosphere or the number of factory farm animals in existence, there is no positive way to spin what humans have done to harm the earth.
According to Goal 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals, “Climate change is affected every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives. Weather patterns are changing, sea levels are rising, and weather events are becoming more extreme.”
While the fight against climate change may seem like a losing battle, there are still action steps humans can take to make positive and lasting changes. For example, choosing reusable products over single-use plastics is a great starting point, but what if everyone took that idea on step further and committed to living a low- or zero-waste lifestyle? Rather than supporting deforestation and the negative environmental impact that has, why not make the switch to a paper product made with a sustainable resource?
The hemp plant is easy to grow and is generally low-maintenance. As the plant grows, the roots pull toxins from the dirt, cleansing the ground as it grows; the leaves draw carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it.
Once grown, every part of the plant can be used. The hemp plant can be harvested for hemp seeds – a great plant-based protein source; hemp seed oil – a multi-faceted product that can offer wonderful nutritional benefits along with skin benefits; protein – a product of the hemp seed that can easily be added to smoothies or other foods; fiber – products that range from woven textiles like clothes and ropes, and non-woven textiles like plastics and paper.
The ease with which the hemp plant provides all these resources while being an easy-to-grow crop lends itself to being a go-to plant to produce sustainable product alternatives.
Plastics and other non-woven materials made from the hemp plant are sustainable and biodegradable, meaning these products will not be more to add to the landfill but rather products that decompose over time, and faster than other products do.
Not only does the hemp plant offer so many benefits in terms of health and sustainable products, but it can also be used in the building industry. Hemp can be mixed with lime to create a concrete-like product known as hempcrete. The fibers from the hemp plant can be used as insulation.
According to the article titled “Sustainable Management of Construction and Demolition Materials” published in the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “600 million tons of [construction and demolition] debris were generated in the United States in 2018, which is more than twice the amount of generated municipal solid waste.” Using hemp, a sustainable alternative, for building products can substantially lower this number while giving back to the environment.
Hemp has even been used to plug old oil wells. The adage “out of sight out of mind” is especially true when it comes to abandoned oil wells. The episode “Orphan Wells, Carbon Credits, Climate Change & Industrial Hemp” on the Lancaster Farming Industrial Hemp Podcast talks about “the intersection of the gas and oil industries with the hemp industry and how hemp can provide an opportunity for Big Oil to take responsibility for the over 3 million abandoned oil and gas wells that dot the American landscape.”
Still open to the air and releasing gases into the environment, these oil wells are contributing to climate change in a substantial way. Because hemp sequesters harmful gases from the atmosphere, hemp has been used to plug these wells and absorb the harmful gases. Possibilities such as this make hemp a viable option to aid in the fight against climate change in creative ways.
As far as energy goes, hemp also provides a sustainable option for creating energy. A much more environmentally friendly option than counterparts such as coal, hemp and hemp products as an energy source prove themselves to be a strong contender in the energy realm.
According to an article published in Science Direct titled “Potential of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) for bioenergy production in Canada: Status, challenges and outlook,” industrial hemp “can be used for bioenergy production as an alternative to fossil fuels to capture and utilize carbon, with applications in various markets at high values.” Bioenergy is yet another use of industrial hemp and another way in which hemp allows the transition to sustainable alternatives.
The state of the environment is not a particularly happy picture. However, the hemp plant offers several reasons as to why it may be a valuable piece to fighting climate change. From cleansing the air and soil where it grows to providing sustainable food options or product alternatives, the hemp plant has countless uses and benefits the environment in innumerable ways.