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.
yield of bast…per acre: Toensmeier, Eric. The Carbon Farming Solution. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016.
Cotton…insecticide use: Environmental Justice Foundation. The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton. London: Environmental Justice Foundation and Pesticide Action Network UK, 2007.
[deaths] from pesticide poisoning: Rustin, Susanna. “Cotton Trade: Where Does Your T-Shirt Grow?” The Guardian. August 9, 2014.
emissions…from cotton: Ton, Peter. Cotton and Climate Change: Impacts and Options to Mitigate and Adapt. Geneva: International Trade Centre, 2011.
revenue…compared to wheat: Fine, Doug. “A Tip for American Farmers: Grow Hemp, Make Money.” Los Angeles Times. June 25, 2014.
cost of hemp fiber…[vs.] wood pulp: Mitchell, Dan. “Why Legalized Hemp Will Not Be a Miracle Crop.” Modern Farmer. October 17, 2013. http://modernfarmer.com/2013/10/legal-industrial-hemp-wont-matter/.
Hu Jintao…increase China’s cultivation: Fine, “Tip.”
Correction: The United States effectively banned the cultivation of all types of hemp in 1937.