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BLOOM OR DOOM

The Green Energy of Hemp Offers a Solution to Our Ecological Crisis

by
Dale R. Gowin

Written in 1991 behind the walls of a US prison



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Fossil fuels burned for energy over the last century have created devastating pollution and the threat of serious disruption of our planet’s ecological balance. Toxic smog smothers our major cities. Acid rain eats away our forests, killing mountain lakes and rivers. And the Greenhouse Effect threatens to trigger catastrophic changes in global climates.

Nuclear power, the most widely used alternative to fossil fuels for energy generation, places our civilization on the perpetual brink of disastrous accidents; routinely doses us with cancer-causing radiation; and litters the Earth with waste that will remain hazardous to all forms of life for thousands of years.

How did we arrive at this perilous junction, poised on the horns of this deadly dilemma — offered a choice between alternatives that equally threaten the health and safety of our world for uncounted future generations? And is there a realistically achievable option that can reverse this ecocidal trend and re-establish our civilization on a sustainable, ecologically harmonious basis? 


Hemp and Human History

In 1937, the American economy was on the verge of a revolutionary transition into a new, agriculturally based energy era as the result of a breakthrough in agricultural technology. This innovation held the promise of reviving the failing national economy and propelling America and the world into a new era of prosperity.

The development that was causing all the excitement was the invention of a mechanical method of processing hemp, a domesticated fibrous plant used as a raw material in numerous branches of industry since ancient times.

Hemp is an essential human resource that has been used since at least 10,000 BC for a vast variety of essential life-support functions.

This unique plant is technically named Cannabis sativa. It was commonly called “Indian hemp” in the 19th century, but is usually called “marijuana” today.

This plant is the most efficient known source for cellulose, which makes up 77% of its mass.

Hemp is the source of the strongest and most durable of vegetable fibers.

Every part of the hemp plant — root, stalk, leaf, flower, seed, pollen, resin — has been used by humans since the dawn of history for industrial, medicinal, religious, and culinary purposes.

A partial list of products that have been made from hemp would include:

 

food

shelter

clothing

medicines

fuel oils

alcohol fuels

paper

plastics

rope

rugs

canvas  (the word “canvas” derives from cannabis, the botanical name for hemp).

 

The shipping industry has used hemp since its earliest beginnings to make the sails, ropes, and sealants that made transportation and travel possible for the ancient world.

As in other lands, the United States depended on hemp since Colonial times. Hemp was the single most essential American economic commodity from the time of the founding of the Jamestown colony through the early 20th century. Early Americans used hemp for lamp oil, paints and varnishes, and hundreds of other products. Colonists made their clothing from homespun hempen cloth produced in community “spinning bees.”

Hemp sails and ropes were used by the U.S. Navy from its inception and up to World War II. The famous U.S.S. Constitution (also known as “Old Ironsides”) used over 60 tons of hemp.

The canvas coverings of the Conestoga wagons, the legendary flag stitched by Betsy Ross, the paper used for the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the pamphlets of Thomas Paine, the newspapers of Benjamin Franklin, and the saddlebags and blankets used by Paul Revere on his famous “midnight ride” — all were products made from the cannabis / hemp (marijuana) plant.

The hemp industry was in decline by the early 20th century. A major factor was competition from cotton fibers, which were produced more cheaply than hemp fibers after the invention of the “cotton gin.” Intensive human labor needed to separate the hemp fibers from the woody stalks of the 12 to 20-foot plants. 

Other hemp-based products faced competition from the developing fossil fuel industry which expanded rapidly after the discovery of the Pennsylvania petroleum deposits in 1859 and the increasing exploitation of Appalachian coal deposits.

This decline ended abruptly in the mid 1930s, when mechanical hemp decortication became widely available. The economic potential of this development was described in the February 1938 Popular Mechanics magazine, which called hemp a “new billion-dollar crop.”

The article states:

American farmers are promised a new cash crop with an annual value of several hundred million dollars [equivalent to hundreds of billions in 1990s dollars – ed.] all because a machine has been invented which solves a problem more than 6,000 years old. It is hemp.... The machine which makes this possible is designed for removing the fiber-bearing cortex from the rest of the stalk, making hemp fiber available for use without a prohibitive amount of human labor. Hemp is the standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength and durability. It is used to produce more than 5,000 textile products, ranging from rope to fine laces; and the woody “hurds” remaining after the fiber has been removed contain more than 77% cellulose, and can be used to produce more than 25,000 products ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.

Hemp as an Alternative to Fossil Fuels

Hemp’s high cellulose content is the key to the plant’s potential as a replacement for fossil fuels. In the 1930s, one of the most important of the new developments in the hemp industry was being researched by Henry Ford in his prototype biomass plant at Iron Mountain, Michigan. The high cellulose content of hemp makes it the world’s most efficient raw material for the production of methanol fuel through the pyrolysis biomass process. Hemp was found to be up to 50% more productive than alternative biomass crops like sugar cane and corn. Often the fuel of choice for racetrack drivers, methanol is a clean-burning alternative to petroleum-based fuels. Early Ford vehicles were made available with gasoline or methanol fuel options.

Research with hemp showed that it could also replace petroleum in the manufacture of plastics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc., as well as being a replacement for industrial energy sources like coal and natural gas.

Among the products of the hemp pyrolysis biomass process are:

 

charcoal, which can replace coal in industry and can fuel coal burning power plants (it contains no sulfur, a primary cause of acid rain);

tars (creosote, pitch, ethyl acetate, etc.) which are used to make plastics and synthetic fibers; and

methane and other flammable gasses, which can be used for home heating, cooking, and industrial applications, including the generation of electricity.

 

Thus, the humble hemp plant has the potential to replace virtually every present-day use of fossil fuels, and it offers a safe alternative to nuclear power.

The industries that are rapidly eroding the health and safety of Planet Earth can be replaced with an environmentally friendly, ecologically sound, annually renewable agricultural product.

The primary ecological benefit of hemp-based, biomass-produced fuels is the avoidance of the disruption of Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide / oxygen balance.

Hemp, like all photosynthetic organisms, absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen into the atmosphere during its growth cycle. When plant-based fuels are burned, a portion of the carbon dioxide that was absorbed is released back into the atmosphere. Then it is reabsorbed when the next crop is grown — thus maintaining the natural chemical balance of the atmosphere.

Fossil fuels are the result of photosynthesis that occurred millions of years ago. The carbon dioxide that is released during combustion of fossil fuels is not reabsorbed; it accumulates in the air and gradually alters the planet’s atmospheric chemical balance. This alteration is the primary cause of the Greenhouse Effect, one of the most serious ecological threats of the industrial era.

 

Hemp Seed for Food, Fuel, and Manufacturing

In addition to biomass-produced methanol fuels, hemp has the potential to provide fuels from its seeds. Hemp seed contains a high grade vegetable oil that makes up 30% of its weight. This oil is a raw material that can be used to produce diesel fuel, kerosene, and aircraft fuels. It is also used to make lubricating oils and lamp oils.

Hemp seed oil was the basis of the majority of commercial paints and varnishes prior to the “legal” prohibition of the plant in 1937. Congressional testimony during prohibition hearings revealed that the highest quality paints made by the leading U.S. companies were hempseed-based. In 1935, U.S. paint companies used more than 58,000 tons of hemp seed.

Hemp seed oil is also edible, and is the most efficient known plant source of the essential fatty acids called linoleic acid (LA) and linolenic acid (LNA) , which are essential human nutrients and have been shown to boost the immune system. Together, LA and LNA make up 80% of whole hempseed oil.

After the oil is pressed from the seeds, the resulting “seed cake” is a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids; and hempseed protein is more assimilable for human digestion than is soy protein. It can be used to make food products like tofu, tempeh, “veggie burgers,” etc. Hemp seed was one of ancient China’s major grain crops, and it was grown in Northern Europe as a food crop since medieval times. It was often used as survival insurance during times of famine and drought. The “porridge” referred to in folk tales was often made of boiled hemp seed, cooked alone or with other grains (also called “gruel”).

Another traditional use of hemp seed was for animal food, including farm animals, poultry, and domestic pets. Hemp seed was the primary ingredient in commercial “bird seed” before hemp prohibition, and the sterilized seed is still imported for this purpose. Hemp seed provides ideal nutrition for both wild songbirds and imported exotic birds.

 

Hemp Can Replace Trees for Paper and Lumber

Cannabis was used to make paper long before trees were ever sacrificed for the purpose. The famous Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed with movable type, was printed on hemp paper, as were the majority of maps, school books, official documents, and paper money, throughout history around the world. Early hemp paper was made from recycled hempen fabrics (called “rag bond” and “linen” paper). Later, early 20th century paper-making used the “hurds,” the woody pulp that remains when hemp fibers are separated from the stalks of the plant. A U.S. government study (Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin #404, published October 14, 1916) states that one acre of hemp will produce more pulp for paper than four acres of trees.

Considering that hemp is annually renewable — compared with the decade or more that it takes to replace an acre of trees — it’s clear that hemp is vastly more efficient than trees as a source of pulp for paper. Hemp paper is much more durable than wood pulp paper; it lasts for hundreds of years without yellowing or becoming brittle, as wood-based paper does after only a few years. Hemp paper production requires considerably less of the toxic chemicals that are used in wood-pulp paper-making, including 80% less of the sulfuric acid that is used to remove the lignin from wood pulp. Hemp paper can be made without the use of dioxin, a deadly toxin which is used to bleach wood-pulp paper and is a major contributor to the pollution of our rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

Hemp hurds can also be pressed into fiberboard or particle board panels, which can be used in place of wooden lumber for housing construction. In a process called “Envirocor” developed by Mansion Industries of California, agricultural waste is formed into panels that are described as “primary load-bearing materials.” The resulting product is described as more fire-resistant and a better insulating material than wood; it is resistant to termite infestation, mold and mildew; and it is free of chemical fumes. The high cellulose content of hemp makes it the material of choice for this process.

Thus, annually renewable hemp could eliminate our need to sacrifice the last of our old growth forests, which today are being slaughtered at a rapid rate. A revival of the hemp industry could be a major factor in reversing the deforestation which is one of the most serious global environmental threats. 

 

Medicine and Marijuana

The leaves, flowers, and resins of the Cannabis / hemp plant have been an important source of human and veterinary medicine since ancient times. Prior to prohibition, Cannabis was listed in the U.S. pharmacopoeia with over 100 recommended uses. It was also a popular ingredient in over the counter medications, marketed by existing companies including Squibb, Lilly, Parke-Davis, Smith Brothers, and many others. For a century it was America’s leading medicinal ingredient, used without ill effects by millions, children as well as adults. 

Recent research has added to our knowledge of the medicinal values of hemp. For instance, it has been found to reduce the intra-ocular pressure that causes blindness in glaucoma victims, more safely and effectively than any other known remedy. It provides relief from asthma, emphysema, anorexia, migraine, rheumatism, arthritis, and insomnia. It is the most effective remedy for the nausea that accompanies cancer chemotherapy, as well as the “wasting syndrome” of AIDS.  It relieves stress, a primary cause of ailments ranging from ulcers to heart disease. It has been found useful in the treatment of sexual dysfunction and in marital therapy. Cannabis extracts have even been found to reduce the size of cancerous tumors.

Yet, despite these positive, life-giving research findings, the U.S. government has not only prohibited most additional research, but has actually suppressed and destroyed records of favorable cannabis research — while promulgating false and deceptive anti-cannabis propaganda. The government, in concert with corporate interests having hidden economic and political agendas, continues to circulate false claims: that cannabis use causes brain damage, that marijuana smoke contains more toxins than tobacco smoke, etc. — even though there is no factual basis for any of these claims.

The flowering tops of the female hemp plant are also the source of marijuana, which is by far the least harmful of the commonly used recreational substances. Marijuana has been respected as a spiritual sacrament since ancient times by established religions in all parts of the world. It is used as an aid to meditation and prayer in Hindu and Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques and Christian churches.

Unbiased research has supported many of the beliefs of advocates of marijuana’s spiritual values: it has been shown to

 

heighten human awareness,

increase sense perception,

stimulate creativity and imagination, and 

deepen intellectual comprehension.

 

A 1981 study of ten members of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, who use marijuana daily as a religious sacrament, showed that they were all “superior to very superior” in intelligence, with an average I.Q. of 128.4, equivalent to the top 2% to 7% of the population.

None of the allegations made by the “reefer madness” prohibitionist lobby have borne up under legitimate scientific scrutiny.

The Economics of Hemp Agriculture

It is estimated that we could grow enough hemp to replace our current use of both fossil fuels and trees on a portion of the “soil bank,” the 90 million acres of farmland that the U.S. government pays farmers not to grow crops on. Thus, the new hemp industry need not displace other agricultural crops.

Hemp is a remarkably hardy plant that will flourish in almost any climate, in all of the 50 states, and on many of the “marginal” lands that will not support other crops. In many parts of North America, two or more crops of hemp can be harvested in one year, or a crop of hemp can be raised after another crop has been harvested.

Hemp does not deplete the soil of essential nutrients as many food crops do if grown repeatedly on the same lands. Leaves fall to the ground during the plant’s entire growth cycle, fertilizing the soil. The deep shade of the tall plants chokes out weeds, and the deep root systems connect with water sources and loosen hard packed ground. Thus, hemp is a perfect tool for the reclamation of damaged, depleted, or marginal farmlands. It can be used in the restoration of drought-stricken zones and to prevent erosion in mudslide and forest fire areas. Hemp may prove to be our most important ally in reversing the desertification of stripped rainforest areas.

An average acre of farmland can provide ten tons of hemp in four months, making it the most efficient source of biomass on the planet — as well as the highest quality source of biomass for fuel and chemical applications.

Recent research has indicated that hemp is particularly resistant to ultraviolet radiation, making it the most likely crop to survive a worsening of the depletion of Earth’s ozone layer.

A revival of the U.S. hemp industry could reverse the failure of our family farms, a trend of the 1990s that continues to cause some of the worst poverty seen in America since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In Appalachia and throughout the Midwest, formerly prosperous segments of the population have been reduced to Third World standards of living in the wake of the collapse of American family agriculture. In 1990 alone, an estimated 100,000 U.S. farmers were forced out of business. The green energy of hemp could provide an alternative to poverty and homelessness for America’s family farmers, and it could usher in a new era of rural, family based industrial progress. 

 

The Anti-Cannabis Conspiracy

Since the hemp industry has so many potential benefits for our nation and our planet, both ecological and economic — isn’t it strange that the entire subject of hemp has disappeared from public awareness over the last 60 years?

In fact, the history of hemp has been largely blacklisted from our history books, excised from our school curricula, and banned from our mass media. This is no accident: it is a deliberate Orwellian manipulation of public consciousness, planned and perpetrated by a corporate cartel that successfully subverted the American political system in the dark days of the Great Depression.

The “legal” prohibition of cannabis was engineered by corporate interests whose monopoly profits were threatened by the newly mechanized hemp industry that was emerging in the mid 1930s. Hemp products were in the public domain and could not be patented — unlike their synthetic substitutes, which were made from petrochemicals under exclusive patents. Thus, hemp eluded the control of the monopoly based corporations.

In an open market — a true “free enterprise system” — hemp would have allowed family farms and small, independent businesses to compete for a share of the energy and manufacturing profits during the post-Depression expansion of the American economy. But this was not allowed. The new hemp industry was “nipped in the bud” by a corporate cartel with vested interests in the fossil fuel, lumber, paper, and pharmaceutical industries. A group of ultra-rich corporate barons with paid-for politicians in key government positions successfully manipulated the U.S. political system in a blatant power-play that made a mockery of democracy and shaped the character of corporate-monopoly capitalism for the balance of the 20thcentury.

Major participants in the conspiracy included:

 

the DuPont Chemical Company, owner of U.S. patents for petroleum based synthetic fibers (Nylon) and the sulfuric acid wood pulp paper-making process;

Hearst and other major paper companies, who had been buying up millions of acres of forest lands and who owned and controlled the major part of the nation’s mass media; and

Andrew Mellon, the multimillionaire banker who handled the DuPont accounts (and arranged for a DuPont buyout of General Motors stock). Mellon served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover.

 

Backing for the conspiracy came from the Rockefeller petroleum empire, and from the major drug companies whose patented, petrochemical-based pharmaceuticals competed with traditional public domain herbal medicines — of which cannabis was an important part.

Andrew Mellon appointed his nephew-in-law, Harry J. Anslinger, to head the first Bureau of Narcotics, a division of his Treasury Department. Anslinger, a former administrator of the alcohol prohibition enforcement effort, pursued his “marihuana menace” propaganda campaign with fanatical zeal. He produced reams of blatantly falsified and often contradictory scare stories that were designed to trigger a state of public hysteria. These stories were given prominent coverage in the Hearst newspapers, which constituted the major part of the nation’s “mass media.”

Political support from cronies like J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph McCarthy, and Richard Nixon added an air of authenticity to the propaganda campaign, which relied heavily on racist prejudices, utilizing stereotypes of “drug-crazed Negroes” and Mexican immigrants who competed with U.S. workers for scarce depression-era jobs.

Under the smokescreen of this media war, the deceptive “Marihuana Tax Act” was slipped rapidly through Congress with a minimum of debate in 1937. Thus, the machinery of repression was set into motion that eventually resulted in the “War on Drugs” police state of the 1990s.

Despite its vast potential for the nation’s economy and the world’s ecology, the hemp industry was crushed (except for a brief reprieve during World War II, when U.S. farmers were urged to grow hemp for the war effort). As a result, the petroleum industry was cemented into its present place of economic hegemony as a worldwide energy monopoly, and America became addicted to foreign oil as domestic supplies decreased.

Today we reap the bitter harvest of hemp prohibition in the forms of urban smog, acid rain, the Greenhouse Effect, and pristine coasts fouled by oil spills. We face the prospect of increased offshore drilling and the ravaging of our last protected wilderness areas for fossil fuel and timber extraction. Our national petroleum addiction has already forced us into a brutal war in the Middle East in support of governments that share none of the American values of freedom and democracy. As world petroleum supplies decrease, the pressure that led to the international violence can only increase. 

 

Benefits of Prohibition Repeal

As we plunge toward the “omega point” of irreversible ecological destruction, the promise of hemp is more relevant than ever. Repeal of prohibition will open the way for a new era of “green economics” that will have the potential to radically transform American and worldwide industry. From the present worldwide hegemony of multinational monopoly-based corporate hierarchies, the economic impetus will shift to a new wave of small, independent, family-based firms, due to the public domain status of all hemp products. Family farms and rural agricultural communities will be revitalized, their place of prominence in the economy restored. The resurrected hemp industry will provide thousands, perhaps millions of new jobs. Thousands of new spin-off technologies will be developed with profitable commercial applications. The new independent hemp-farm homesteads (“hempsteads”) will have a single crop that can be marketed in multiple profitable ways:

 

Fiber for textiles

Pulp for paper and plastic

Seeds for food products and oils

Biomass for methanol fuels

Fiberboard for housing construction

Leaves and flowers for medicines and recreational products....

 

No other crop on Earth can come close to such abundant return per acre of farmland.

Hemp-based fuels will be cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient than fossil fuels, easily competitive in a deregulated market.

New biodegradable hemp-based plastics will appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.

Paper from hemp will be stronger, will last longer, and will pollute our rivers less.

A hemp paper and lumber industry will allow our last old-growth forests to remain standing to be enjoyed by future generations.

None of these developments will be subject to the monopoly control of exclusive patents; hemp remains in the public domain, the common heritage of the human family.

Shifting to hemp as a basic raw material for energy and manufacturing will enable us to halt and reverse the deadly trend of environmental degradation that has plagued us for the last half century. Acid rain, global warming, water and air pollution, and deforestation, all will substantially decrease. The annually renewable hemp crop will be the centerpiece of an ecologically sound 21st century industrial system.

Despite the concerted efforts of the world’s most powerful empire to eradicate it from the face of the Earth, the cannabis plant is still with us. Relegated to the “underground economy,” it is still one of our top cash crops. When the existing recreational marijuana market is legalized — regulated with labeling requirements like alcohol and tobacco are today — it will quickly become one of the nation’s most prosperous businesses. Combined with the industrial hemp industry, it will provide the potential for a new era of unprecedented prosperity — not for monopoly-based corporations alone, but for all who choose to participate. Adding moderate taxation to the billions that will be saved by ending the futile prohibition effort, vast new revenues will become available to the public sector from the new marijuana / hemp industry, enough to level the federal deficits and fund a new era of humane social programs. Highway accidents, domestic violence, and deaths due to cancer and heart disease will decline as a portion of existing alcohol and tobacco use is replaced by use of the healthier, less debilitating herb. Prisoners of prohibition will be freed to return to their families and become productive citizens. The illegal drug trade and the hypocritical “War on Drugs” will no longer provide revenue for organized crime or covert “secret government” operations. Official recognition of the American tradition of individual liberty and freedom of choice will pave the way for a new era of national reconciliation and domestic peace.

A “pipe dream”? Perhaps... but the potential of hemp as an annually renewable, ecologically sound energy crop deserves the serious consideration of every Earth citizen. It offers an organic alternative to our present path of global destruction.

The dark and deceptive era of prohibition must be curtailed so that future generations will be able to enjoy a clean environment and a society based on liberty and peace.
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