Cannabis has "blazed" a trail into the national spotlight thanks to the legalization battle and provocative new studies on its health benefits. Mounds of research and media events like Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN Special Report WEED have shed light on cannabis’s potential to treat cancer, seizures, multiple sclerosis (MS), glaucoma, pain and other ailments. However, the entire conversation still revolves around marijuana, the high-THC strain of cannabis that makes you hungry and "high." Little attention has been paid to hemp, the low-THC, high-cannabidiol (CBD) strain that not only has substantial health benefits, but also has enormous potential to benefit our environment.
Hemp has been used for centuries to make rope, textiles, foods, personal care products, construction materials, paper and, more recently, automotive parts.
Yes, it turns out that some of the best uses of cannabis require no baking supplies or bongs. Hemp has been used for centuries to make rope, textiles, foods, personal care products, construction materials, paper and, more recently, automotive parts. Hemp only became a controversial substance in the U.S. in the 1920s and 30s, and its production was first restricted with the passage of the 1937 “Marihuana Tax Act,” which defined hemp as a narcotic drug and required farmers to obtain federal permits to grow it.
Even still, Popular Mechanics dubbed hemp “the new billion dollar crop” in 1938, claiming that it “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to cellophane.” And when World War II demanded the full industrial might of the U.S., hemp restrictions were temporarily lifted and production reached its peak in 1943 when American farmers grew 150 million pounds of hemp. It was manufactured into shoes, ropes, fire hoses and even parachute webbing for soldiers fighting the war. After 1943, production plummeted and the anti-narcotic regime kicked back into effect.
The good news is that hemp production continued throughout much of the rest the world, including Europe and East Asia. If we substitute hemp for many of the industrial materials we use and take for granted today, the environmental benefits are impressive. Here, I’ll focus on four environmental benefits that are well established in academic and government research.
1. Forest Cover and Biodiversity
Although more than 95 percent of paper is made from wood pulp, hemp can play the same role. It can be recycled twice as many times as wood pulp, it can produce three to four times as much fiber per hectare as typical forests and even twice as much as a pine plantation. These abilities discussed by Dr. Ernest Small, Principal Research Scientist at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa, Canada, suggests that more reliance on industrial hemp could reduce dependence on old growth forests, which host the world’s greatest concentrations of biodiversity and absorb carbon dioxide. Forests can’t keep up with the pace of deforestation, but hemp could keep up with our appetite for paper products.
2. No Pesticides and Herbicides Required
The USDA reports that in 2007, roughly 877 million pounds of pesticides were applied to U.S. cropland at a cost of roughly $7.9 billion. Yet recently, the World Health Organization’s cancer research wing deemed the world’s most popular weed killer, glyphosate, a “probable carcinogen” linked to cancer. Yes, what a surprise that the active ingredient in Monsanto’ Roundup, and other weed killers worth over $6 billion in annual sales actually aren’t good for us. While genetically modified crops (GMOs) typically require pesticides, herbicide and synthetic fertilizers to survive, hemp does not. It can grow organically almost anywhere. By substituting hemp for industrial GMOs (e.g. cotton, corn, soybean, etc.), we can we reduce damage to our health and the ecosystems we depend on.
3. Lower Carbon Emissions
According to the UK Department of Business’s 2010 report on low carbon construction, hemp can play a role in slashing carbon emissions. While producing one metric ton of steel emits 1.46 tons of carbon dioxide, one square meter of timber-framed, hemp-lime wall stores 35.5kg of CO2 and will not be released unless the material is composted or burned. Hemp can also be used to make “hempcrete,” a concrete alternative, as well as plastic-like products that replace fiber glass and other environmentally unfriendly materials.
Using hemp as a biofuel could improve carbon efficiency, too. In testing, Richard Parnas, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Connecticut, found that hemp converts to biodiesel at a 97 percent efficiency rate and can burn at lower temperatures than any other biodiesel on the market. Hemp is a far better alternative to growing GMO cash crops that make less efficient biofuels.
4. Soil Protection
Researchers at Nova Institute, an ecology R&D group based in Germany, found that hemp has a “favorable influence on the soil structure” because it curtails the presence of nematodes and fungi, and it has a high shading capacity that suppresses weed growth. In one study cited by the researchers, a hemp rotation was found to increase wheat yields by 10 to 20 percent. Hemp can also grow in the most inhospitable and otherwise useless soils, such as those polluted by heavy metals. Grown alone, used in rotation or planted on abandoned farmland, hemp is an environmental win.
For Future Generations
The internet is filled with claims about hemp that are suspicious and often impossible to substantiate. These four benefits reflect insights from academia, government and professional research firms. More than a few peer-reviewed studies support these claims.
With policy reform, hemp has the potential to preserve biodiversity, reduce pollution, cut emissions and protect cropland throughout the world. That’s impressive for a crop that has been unfairly branded as a dangerous gateway drug. With hemp plants able to mature for fiber production within 60-90 days and 90-120 days for grain, it’s possible to build a ‘hemp economy’ very quickly. By relying on renewable, clean hemp, we can grow our economies more mindfully and leave our planet in better shape for future generations.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.