We can solve the greenhouse gasses problem by simply doing two things:
- Stop cutting down trees.
- Stop burning fossil fuels.
Sure, you say, and by simply pulling the plug on the economy. Au contraire, we could also strengthen our economy by finding the proper replacements.
Stop Cutting Down Trees
We use trees for building, making paper and burning as fuel.
The largest percentage of trees chopped down in any given year goes to the pulp mills. Other plant fiber can produce paper of equal or higher quality. Hemp, if legalized, could provide such fiber at a competitive price. (Indeed some people believe that William Randolph Hearst's large holdings in forests for wood pulp may have helped determine the anti-marijuana editorial policy of his papers.)
Manufacturers can also turn hemp fiber into synthetic lumber that builders can use the same as they currently use lumber, but without having to worry about termites. Since hemp grows much faster than trees, the lower growing cost plus the manufacturing costs could compete with the higher growing costs plus the milling costs of lumber (once again, assuming the legalization of hemp).
Burning trees as fuel makes zero impact on greenhouse gasses as long as the burning happens at a sustainable rate. As long as we burn no more than we grow, we simply recycle the carbon and oxygen; the trees we grow to replace the wood we burned consumes the CO2 created by burning the wood, keeping the cycle in balance.
Stop Burning Fossil Fuels
We can shift from fossil fuels to biomass. CO2 created by burning biomass, or biomass based fuels, gets consumed by the plants we use as the biomass. These plants in turn release oxygen into the atmosphere. The one problem with this solution is finding a plant to produce sufficient biomass. Actually, we know the answer. So the real problem is legalizing the hemp plant.
We currently have the technology to convert hemp into feedstock for refineries. The refineries could continue producing gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, but we would not be adding to the greenhouse gasses by using these fuels based on renewable rather than fossil resources. This same process would provide us with feedstock for the plastics manufacturers.
Hemp could grow in (and help replenish the soil of) fallow fields; indeed just the fallow fields in the US could produce more than enough hemp to completely replace all petroleum usage. Growing fuel here instead of importing it from half way around the world has some obvious advantages both economic and strategic.
In addition to helping solve the greenhouse gasses problem, we also realize other benefits from legalizing hemp and shifting to biomass:
- We would not need to import it or send troops overseas to defend it.
- The Coast Guard would have a much easier job of cleaning up if the Exxon Valdez carried bales of hemp.
- By using plastics created from our biomass, we could eliminate the "need" to cut down rainforests to provide stock for making Styrofoam containers for our fast food.
- We would not need the hemp seed as part of the biomass. We could use it as a food source, and for its oil. Hemp seed compares favorably to the soybean for nutritional value, and a study at UCLA showed that hemp oil in the diet helped clear the arteries. Of course, the seeds could bring in as much cash for the farmer as the biomass, if not more.