How hemp might be able to help with climate change

Climate change protestWorried about the future of our planet? Regularly left scratching your head in search of the answer to humanity’s biggest problem? As the world's carbon footprint increases at an exponentially alarming rate, could hemp be an unlikely hero in the help to combat climate change? Let's find out more.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of decades, climate change is somewhat of a hot topic. The catastrophic consequences predicted by the scientific community frequent our news feeds and TV screens on an almost daily, sometimes hourly, basis. From global temperatures rising and the polar ice caps melting to the subsequent increase in sea levels leading to the displacement of coastal communities and their populations - a further issue lying in wait and currently capitulating is the deterioration and degradation of our soil.

Climate Change Fuelled by Soil Damage

A recent article published by the BBC cites a report published by IPBES, (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) which tells of the devastating impact soil degradation plays in climate change. While we live and exist in communities and countries, it is the responsibility of one and all to take action for the future of our planet. Indeed, the intention and purpose of the report published by IPBES are for the international community to take the required action to protect our natural systems.

While there may be a handful of contributing factors to climate change that spring to mind, it’s more than likely that soil degradation wasn’t necessarily at the forefront of your mind. Soil is affected and harmed by things like erosion, overwatering, pesticides, chemicals, metals as well as being built on and compacted by heavy machinery. These factors impact our future and climate in two fundamentally important ways. Poor soil endangers the potential plant growth needed to absorb all that extra carbon we keep pumping into the atmosphere. Furthermore, soil erosion releases carbon that has previously been stored by worms transporting leaf and plant matter beneath the ground.

With an estimated three times more carbon in the soil than there is in the atmosphere, poor farming practices, erosion from overwatering and deforestation means that that carbon is then being released into the atmosphere. Not good news. Only adding to the woes of our beleaguered atmosphere and increasing climate change, poor soil also means that the chances of feeding an ever-increasing population will only decrease. But it’s not just food that we need to worry about. Natural resources have played a pivotal role in our evolution as well as our day-to-day lives, and without them, there will simply be no ‘us’.

The facts

  • 3 times more carbon in the soil than in the atmosphere
  • 2 billion people worldwide suffer from degraded soil
  • Soil forms at a rate of 1cm in 300 years
  • 2 billion people rely on wood fuel to meet their energy needs
  • 4 billion people rely on natural medicines for their healthcare
  • 70% of drugs used for cancer are natural or synthetic products inspired by nature
  • 75% of global food crops rely on animal pollination

It makes sense when you think about it - without a healthy earth, there is no planet earth, as we know it. What is civilization going to do when faced with impending extinction? Working in tandem with nature, and replacing rather than reaping what we sow is ultimately the logical step to take. With the clock ticking on such a multi-faceted conundrum, it's clear that the subject of the health of our soil warrants immediate attention and remedy. How can hemp help?

Growing Hemp to Clean Decontaminated Soil

You may be aware of the many medical studies currently being conducted about the hemp plant’s close relative cannabis and the cannabinoid molecule found within the plant. Yet it seems that the versatile crop industrial hemp may potentially be a significant aid to the health of our planet too. Industrial Hemp is essentially the soft fibre that derives from the cannabis sativa plant, though importantly hemp won't bear the same kind of psychoactive qualities as cannabis does, with a legal THC level lower than 0.02%.

Hemp is quite the wonder plant. In addition to its rich CBD content and fibrous properties ideal for industrial purposes, such as textiles, rope and paper, the rate and way in which hemp grows means that it is ideal for cleaning up contaminated and unhealthy soil. In fact, hemp fields have been grown near to Chernobyl in an effort to clean up radioactive soil in the area, as well as in Italy to help clean the soil from metals left by now-extinct steel mills. Hemp’s roots absorb carbon and further materials from the soil, which then strengthen the fibres. This extra strength is what makes hemp so ideal for producing textiles and building materials.

Able to grow in low nutrient soil and pretty much anywhere, the long roots bind the soil together and improve the structure of the earth, which subsequently prevents soil erosion and the release of carbon into the atmosphere. To further aid the reduction in soil erosion, hemp is an incredibly low maintenance crop, which requires little water to grow. As mentioned earlier, it's the overwatering of soil to grow crops such as cotton used for textiles that play a large part in the reduction of soil mass available to grow further crops. Did you know that fashion has the second largest carbon emission second only to oil? Fast-fashion means more demand for textiles and more crops to be grown, which only impedes the soil regeneration process. Should using hemp fibres for our textiles become a priority?

Hemp Can Help Reduce Carbon Monoxide Levels

Absorbing carbon from all angles, industrial hemp is able to take more CO2 from the atmosphere per hectare than forests and crops. Just one hectare of hemp can absorb around 22 tonnes of CO2 and with the potential to grow 2 crops a year, that figure is of course doubled. And with hemp able to grow at an amazing 4 metres in just 100 days, it makes this crop more efficient at absorbing carbon than a forest of trees would.

As the world seeks a viable solution to combat the great question of how to tackle climate change, will hemp prove to be the answer we’re looking for? Only time will tell.