Hemp’s long, strong fibers have been spun into clothing for millennia. Today, hemp is a commodity crop around the globe, used to produce paper, textiles, cordage, caulking, carpets, and canvas. Hemp is a global warming solution less because of what it can do than what it can replace: cotton.
Cotton is the dirtiest crop in the world with respect to chemical use and is largely dependent on fossil fuel inputs. Total emissions for a white cotton shirt from field to customer are 80 pounds of carbon dioxide. Hemp cannot compete with cotton on fiber softness, but if cost competitive it could certainly replace half of the cotton in the world for everyday garments, such as jeans, jackets, canvas shoes, caps, and more.
When Hu Jintao, China’s president in 2009, visited his country’s hemp processors, he implored them to increase China’s cultivation to 2 million acres to avert the harmful impacts of cotton. In the United States, on the other hand, cultivation of hemp remains obstructed due to lack of approval from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency—though it has negligible amounts of the cannabinoids associated with recreational or medical marijuana.
Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.