Feed ourselves or our cars?

I fully agree with this letter in yesterday’s Toronto Star (March 18, 2008). Ethanol is being touted as the answer to the fuel crisis, yet it is costly and takes up a good percentage of arable land that is still available. Growing corn for fuel literally takes food off our tables to feed our cars. How asinine is that, when there are much better alternatives?

LETTER TO THE EDITOR
TheStar.com | comment | An environmental secret

An environmental secret
Mar 18, 2008 04:30 AM

Re:Harvest dreams
March 16

Whatever you do, don’t let the public know about hemp. If farmers worldwide grew hemp instead of corn, we wouldn’t be in this mess, and if the public ever found out that the looming food/fuel shortage was unnecessary and planned, they might revolt.

You see, hemp produces more ethanol per acre than corn, and does so at a lower cost and with less damage to the soil; one acre of hemp can produce up to 1,000 gallons of methanol in just four months. In warmer climates, than could mean 3,000 gallons per acre, per year. If the U.S. were to sow just 10 per cent of its current farmland as hemp, for example, it wouldn’t need to buy any foreign oil. Think about that.

The hemp tops go to food, and the stalks go for fuel, fibre and building materials, so it is like growing two crops in one field. Hemp will even grow on damaged, exhausted or marginal soil, so we don’t need to use our prime farmland to grow car fuel. We could even reclaim thousands of acres of unused and abandoned land, and create jobs.

Hemp doesn’t need the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that other crops need, which saves fuel and lowers soil runoff pollution. Hemp fuel burns clean, which would lower air pollution and reduce associated health and environmental issues. Hemp also refreshes the soil, so putting it into rotation with other crops will actually heal – not deplete – the soil.

So why do we keep using corn for fuel when hemp is cheaper, better, healthier and cleaner? Because governments don’t want to “send the wrong message to youth” about marijuana.

Russell Barth, Nepean, Ont.

Related letters in the same Star issue:

Ethanol can’t feed the poor

A sweeter way to make fuel

Hemp is not to be confused with marijuana. Read about hemp on Wikipedia:

Hemp (from Old English hænep, see cannabis (etymology)) is the common name for plants of the entire family of Cannabis, although the term is often used to refer only to Cannabis strains cultivated for industrial (non-drug) use. Hemp is cultivated virtually everywhere in the world except for the United States, and its cultivation in western countries is growing steadily. For example, Canadian Hempseed exports surged 300% last year[citation needed]. China, and other eastern countries, never prohibited its cultivation and use it extensively.

Industrial hemp has thousands of potential uses, from paper to textiles to biodegradable plastics to health food to fuel but it has not been the great commercial success that the enthusiast hoped for in countries where it is legal to harvest. It is one of the fastest growing biomasses on the planet, and one of the earliest domesticated plants known. It also runs parallel with the “Green Future” objectives that are becoming increasingly popular. Hemp requires little to no pesticides, replenishes soil with nutrients and nitrogen, controls erosion of the topsoil, and produces lots of oxygen, considering how fast it grows. Furthermore, Hemp could be used to replace many potentially harmful products, such as tree paper (the process of which uses bleaches and other toxic chemicals, apart from contributing to deforestation), cosmetics (which often contain synthetic oils that can clog pores and provide little nutritional content for the skin), plastics (which are petroleum based and cannot decompose), and more.

Licenses for hemp cultivation are issued in the European Union and Canada. In the United Kingdom, these licenses are issued by the Home Office under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. When grown for non-drug purposes hemp is often called industrial hemp, and a common product is fiber for use in a wide variety of products. Feral hemp or ditch weed is usually a naturalized fiber or oilseed strain of Cannabis that have escaped from cultivation and are self-seeding.

Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa var. sativa is the variety grown for industrial use in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere, while C. sativa subsp. indica generally has poor fiber quality and is primarily used for production of recreational and medicinal drugs. A major difference is the amount of Δ9tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) secreted in a resinous mixture by epidermal hairs called glandular trichomes. Strains of Cannabis approved for industrial hemp production in Europe and elsewhere produce only minute amounts of this psychoactive drug. Some botanists use a different taxonomic classification to circumscribe the various taxa within the genus Cannabis.

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4 Responses to Feed ourselves or our cars?

  1. Stephen Karr says:

    Yeah, all the talk about using ethanol from corn has bothered me as well.

  2. verbena19 says:

    Thanks, Stephen. Good to know we’re on the same page! — best, AM

  3. hoovah says:

    i absolutely love this. i hope you don’t mind but i think i might feature a bit of it in a column i’m writing. thanks so much for posting this!

  4. verbena19 says:

    Feel free to post any of it in your column, just please send me a link so that I can see what you’ve written, ok? Not for any other reason but for my own curiosity… v

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