Doug Fine: Hemp Will Be the Next Billion-Dollar Cash Crop
It was while studying about the discarded stalks of the cannabis plant that journalist-author-goat farmer Doug Fine realized that industrial cannabis was likely to be a more valuable crop than even psychoactive cannabis. After researching the hemp industry worldwide for two years, he wrote his fourth book, Hemp Bound, which was published one month after the U.S. Congress re-legalized hemp after 77 years. Hemp, Fine says, is a game changing plant that’s going to feed the world and free us from fossil fuels while putting small farmers back to work. The good news, he says, is that the roadblocks to industrial hemp cultivation are collapsing the way Communism did with the Berlin Wall.
Earth Island Journal: In Hemp Bound you call hemp’s economic potential bigger than psychoactive (smokable) cannabis, which is already one of the world’s most profitable crops. How big is hemp’s economic potential, and how soon can it take root, now that legalization has arrived federally, in Colorado, and in 10 other states, and appears imminent elsewhere?
Doug Fine: Canada’s hemp economy is already worth a billion dollars annually, and it’s growing 30 percent per year. They can't keep up with demand (especially American demand) in the field or the processors that render the profitable seed oil. Hemp is on. North Dakota, Kentucky, Colorado and California and six other states legalized hemp cultivation in anticipation of this year’s incredibly important legalization of hemp in the federal Farm Bill. The founder of Canada’s biggest hemp oil processor told me during his third expansion in ten years that he will parachute processors into places like Kentucky, North Dakota, Colorado and Hawaii the “moment” hemp is fully legalized domestically, putting thousands of farmers back to work on a crop that earns ten times what wheat does. Hemp will start having a real economic impact this year, thanks to its legalization in the Farm Bill. By the way, hemp’s value was no mystery even during the years of its prohibition: in a 1994 executive order, President Bill Clinton included hemp among “the essential agricultural products that should be stocked for defense preparedness purposes.”
EIJ: Hemp is a highly versatile plant that can be used in a wide variety of applications. What is the most important hemp use that you came across in your two years of across-the-globe hemp research?
DF: The use that addresses the two biggest problems: declining fossil fuel supply and climate change. In Hemp Bound I discuss a community-focused, hemp-based food and energy grid that pieces together the food side of hemp the Canadians have perfected with biomass energy from farm waste—a carbon-friendly technique that is making parts of Europe energy independent. Integrated as a soil-enriching rotation crop, hemp can truly help economically struggling communities while liberating all of us from fossil fuels. And on the food side, I researched university nutrition studies and found that hemp really is amazing super food, high in omegas, proteins and key minerals like selenium. Plus it restores soil health when cultivated as a rotational crop. Forget win-win: hemp is win-win-win-win.
EIJ: What is the most fun use that you encountered?
DF: There are two hemp apps that make me smile any time I think about them and make me want to see, do, and use them again as soon as possible. They are the hemp-powered limo ride I took, and the tractor—and the actual tractor body—I saw made entirely from hemp fiber. Already hemp is in commercial models of BMW and Mercedes.
Hemp Bound. Photo credit: Amanda Gorski via Earth Island Journal
EIJ: What are the roadblocks, if any, to the realization of the hemp economy you write about in Hemp Bound? Can people invest in hemp, or any part of the cannabis plant, legally today?
DF: The roadblocks are collapsing the way Communism did with the Berlin Wall. There was very little opposition to hemp’s federal re-legalization this year, with good reason: it’s a vital crop for America to cultivate with great dispatch. China realizes it, as does most of the world. In fact, it’s cultivated in 30 countries. A slight roadblock is that hemp has so far only been legalized for university study in the U.S. This is still a valuable step because during the 77 years that hemp was banned, we lost the best hemp genetics in the world. We need to rediscover which varieties work best in American soil. We also need to pass legislation that permits widespread commercial cultivation of the plant, as they’ve done in Canada. As for investment, what I'd like to see is local entrepreneurs betting on their communities by building the regional hemp food processing and energy producing models I describe in Hemp Bound.
EIJ: You have digerati like Mark Frauenfelder, academics from Rice University, and farmers like Joel Salatin—not to mention the Willie Nelson—praising Hemp Bound. What do you make of the diversity of interest in hemp?
DF: There will come a time when history looks at the 77 years that hemp was illegal in the U.S.—essentially because of a typo—as more ridiculous than legal DDT. We will scratch our heads wondering how, after 12,000 years of widespread human use of this plant, we mistakenly stopped for three quarters of a century.
Today, 80 percent of Americans support hemp, and it has Republicans like Mitch McConnell of Kentucky teaming up with Democrats like Pat Leahy of Vermont. It is an across-the-aisle issue that is bringing Americans closer together in a very patriotic way.
The reason is that legalizing hemp will have a direct impact on America’s struggling heartland farmers. First off, we’re down to one percent of Americans who are farming, and one of the big reasons for that is monoculture has damaged soil and reduced farm profits. Hemp solves this immediately and we will see a major agricultural and entrepreneurial resurgence stateside as we’ve seen happening in recent years in Canada.
EIJ: Why do you say in Hemp Bound that “your roommate with the lava lamp was right about hemp?”
DF: After 22 years in journalism, I'm supposed to be cynical. Yet after studying what’s coming with the hemp economy, I'm suddenly very optimistic about our food, energy and climate future. Because of my experience reporting on hard issues like Rwanda’s war and Burma’s democracy movement, I know when I'm opening myself up to Pollyanna accusations. Really? This one plant is going to revitalize the economy, farming and wean us from fossil fuels? Um, yes. It can, which is different from "it will." I can only report what I saw from several continents' research into the plant on which the Declaration of Independence was written—from a plan to localize energy production from farm waste biomass to an actual tractor made of hemp fiber, it is being done somewhere today. In other words, the lava lamp-sporting roommate’s view on hemp was right: it represents a food, farming and energy revolution.
Hemp for Victory was a 1942 film made by the U.S. government during World War II, explaining the uses of hemp and encouraging farmers to grow the crop.
EIJ: You refer to yourself as a “Neo-Rugged Individualist” and on your Funky Butte Ranch in New Mexico you milk goats, live on solar power, drive on vegetable oil, homeschool your kids and your sweetheart makes many of your clothes, usually out of hemp. How will the legalization of hemp directly affect your life?
DF: The day hemp becomes legal is the day I begin cultivating ten acres of the plant so that my sweetheart no longer has to import from China the material she uses to make the shirts I wear. In a cynical age, we can use one less irony. Also, we as a family already use about $4,000 in hemp products annually, including hemp seed oil in our morning shake and hemp diapers for our kids that hold up best to brutal New Mexico line drying. I want to see those purchases become domestic and local, for price and environmental reasons.
In 1942, the US Department of Agriculture made a wartime propaganda film called Hemp For Victory—hemp for victory, indeed. The promise of this plant and its industrial offshoots are revitalizing my patriotism as well as my optimism about my own kids' future. Both my human and my goat kids, by the way: hemp seed makes superlatively excellent animal feed. In fact, I'm off to milk my goats now.
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Sharks elicit outsized fear, even though the risk of a shark bite is infinitesimally small. As a marine biologist and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, I oversee the International Shark Attack File – a global record of reported shark bites that has been maintained continuously since 1958.
A Big, Diverse Family<p>Not all sharks are the same. Only a dozen or so of the roughly 520 shark species pose any risk to people. Even the three species that account for almost all shark bite fatalities – the <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharodon-carcharias/" target="_blank">white shark</a> (<em>Carcharodon carcharias</em>), <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/galeocerdo-cuvier/" target="_blank">tiger shark</a> (<em>Galeocerdo cuvier</em>) and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-leucas/" target="_blank">bull shark</a> (<em>Carcharhinus leucas</em>) – are behaviorally and evolutionarily very different from one another.</p><p>The tiger shark and bull shark are genetically as different from each other as a dog is from a rabbit. And both of these species are about as different from a white shark as a dog is from a kangaroo. The evolutionary lineages leading to the two groups split 170 million years ago, during the age of dinosaurs and before the origin of birds, and <a href="https://www.ck12.org/book/CK-12-Human-Biology/section/7.2/" target="_blank">110 million years before the origin of primates</a>.</p>
White, tiger and bull sharks are distinct species that diverged genetically tens of millions of years ago. Gavin Naylor / CC BY-ND<p>Yet many people assume all sharks are alike and equally likely to bite humans. Consider the term "shark attack," which is scientifically equivalent to "mammal attack." Nobody would equate dog bites with hamster bites, but this is exactly what we do when it comes to sharks.</p><p>So, when a reporter calls me about a fatality caused by a white shark off Cape Cod and asks my advice for beachgoers in North Carolina, it's essentially like asking, "A man was killed by a dog on Cape Cod. What precautions should people take when dealing with kangaroos in North Carolina?"</p>
Know Your Species<p>Understanding local species' behavior and life habits is one of the best ways to stay safe. For example, almost all shark bites that occur off Cape Cod are by white sharks, which are a large, primarily cold-water species that spend most of their time in isolation feeding on fishes. But they also aggregate near seal colonies that provide a reliable food source at certain times of the year.</p><p>Shark bites in the Carolinas are by warm-water species like bull sharks, tiger sharks and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-limbatus/" target="_blank">blacktips</a> (<em>Carcharhinus limbatus</em>). Each species is associated with particular habitats and dietary preferences.</p><p>Blacktips, which we suspect are responsible for most relatively minor bites on humans in the southeastern United States, feed on schooling bait fishes like menhaden. In contrast, bull sharks are equally at home in fresh water and salt water, and are often found near estuaries. Their bites are more severe than those of blacktips, as they are larger, more powerful, bolder and more tenacious. Several fatalities have been ascribed to bull sharks.</p><p>Tiger sharks are also large, and are responsible for a significant fraction of fatalities, particularly off the coast of volcanic islands like Hawaii and Reunion. They are tropical animals that often venture into shallow water frequented by swimmers and surfers.</p>
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Humans Are Not Targets<p>Sharks do not "hunt" humans. Data from the International Shark Attack File compiled over the past 60 years show a tight association between shark bites and the number of people in the water. In other words, shark bites are a simple function of the probability of encountering a shark.</p><p>This underscores the fact that shark bites are almost always cases of mistaken identity. If sharks actively hunted people, there would be many more bites, since humans make very easy targets when they swim in sharks' natural habitats.</p><p>Local conditions can also affect the risk of an attack. Encounters are more likely when sharks venture closer to shore, into areas where people are swimming. They may do this because they are following bait fishes or seals upon which they prey.</p><p>This means we can use environmental variables such as temperature, tide or weather conditions to better predict movement of bait fish toward the shoreline, which in turn will predict the presence of sharks. Over the next few years, the Florida Program for Shark Research will work with colleagues at other universities to monitor onshore and offshore movements of tagged sharks and their association with environmental variables so that we can improve our understanding of what conditions bring sharks close to shore.</p>
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Known and anticipated changes in species distribution due to climate change around the world have implications for culture, society ecosystems, governance and climate change. Figure used with permission from Gretta T. Pecl, originally published on 31 Mar 2017 in Science 355(6332).<p>How we define species is critical, because these definitions influence perceptions, policy and management. The U.S. National Invasive Species Council (NISC) defines a biological invasion as "the process by which non-native species breach biogeographical barriers and extend their range" and states that "preventing the introduction of potentially harmful organisms is … the first line of defense." But some say excluding newcomers is myopic.</p><p>"If you were trying to maintain the status quo, so every time a new species comes in, you chuck it out," says Camille Parmesan, director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, you could gradually "lose so many that that ecosystem will lose its coherence." If climate change is driving native species extinct, she says, "you need to allow new ones coming in to take over those same functions."</p><p>As University of Florida conservation ecologist Brett Scheffers and Pecl warned in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0526-5" target="_blank">2019 paper in <em>Nature Climate Change</em></a>, "past management of redistributed species … has yielded mixed actions and results." They concluded that "we cannot leave the fate of biodiversity critical to human survival to be randomly persecuted, protected or ignored."</p>
Existing Tools<p>One approach to managing these climate-driven habitat shifts, suggested by University of California, Irvine marine ecologist Piper Wallingford and colleagues in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0768-2" target="_blank">a recent issue of Nature Climate Change</a>, is for scientists to adapt existing tools like the <a href="https://www.iucn.org/theme/species/our-work/invasive-species/eicat" target="_blank">Environmental Impact Classification of Alien Taxa (EICAT)</a> to assess potential risks associated with moving species. Because range-shifting species pose impacts to communities similar to those of species introduced by humans, the authors argue, new management strategies are unnecessary, and each new arrival can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.</p><p>Karen Lips, a professor of biology at University of Maryland who was not associated with the study, echoes the idea that each case is so varied and nuanced that trying to fit climate shifting species into a single category with broad management goals may be impractical. "Things may be fine today, but add a new mosquito vector or add a new tick or a new disease, and all of a sudden things spiral out of control," she says. "The nuance means that the answer to any particular problem might be pretty different."</p>
In recent years, northern flying squirrels in Canada have found themselves in the company of new neighbors — southern flying squirrels expanding their range as the climate warms. Public Domain / USFW<p>Laura Meyerson, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources Science at the University of Rhode Island says scientists should use existing tools to identify and address invasive species to deal with climate-shifting species. "I would like to operate under the precautionary principle and then reevaluate as things shift. You're sort of shifting one piece in this machinery; as you insert a new species into a system, everything is going to respond," she says. "Will some of the species that are expanding their ranges because of climate change become problematic? Perhaps they might."</p><p>The reality is that some climate-shifting species may be harmful to some conservation or economic goals while being helpful to others. While sport fisherman are excited about red snapper moving down the East Coast of Australia, for example, if they eat juvenile lobsters in Tasmania they could harm this environmentally and economically important crustacean. "At the end of the day … you're going to have to look at whether that range expansion has some sort of impact and presumably be more concerned about the negative impacts," says NISC executive director Stas Burgiel. "Many of the [risk assessment] tools we have are set up to look at negative impact." As a result, positive effects may be deemphasized or overlooked. "So that notion of cost versus benefit … I don't think it has played out in this particular context."</p>
Location, Location, Location<p>In a <a href="https://www-nature-com.ezp3.lib.umn.edu/articles/s41558-020-0770-8" target="_blank">companion paper</a> to Wallingford's, University of Connecticut ecology and evolutionary biology associate professor Mark Urban stressed key differences between invasive species, which are both non-native and harmful, and what he calls "climate tracking species." Whereas invasive species originate from places very unlike the communities they overtake, he says, climate tracking species expand from largely similar environments, seeking to follow preferred conditions as these environments move. For example, an American pika may relocate to a higher mountain elevation, or a marbled salamander might expand its New England range northward to seek cooler temperatures, but these new locations are not drastically different than the places they had called home before.</p><p>Climate tracking species may move faster than their competitors at first, Urban says, but competing species will likely catch up. "Applying perspectives from invasion biology to climate-tracking species … arbitrarily chooses local winners over colonizing losers," he writes.</p>
The marbled salamander, a native of the eastern U.S., is among species whose range could expand northward to accommodate rising temperatures. Seánín Óg / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>Urban stresses that if people prevent range shifts, some climate-tracking species may have nowhere to go. He suggests that humans should even <a href="https://ensia.com/features/time-for-trees-to-pack-their-trunks/" target="_blank">facilitate movement</a> as the planet warms. "The goal in this crazy warming world is to keep everything alive. But it may not be in the same place," Urban says.</p><p>Parmesan echoes Urban, emphasizing it's the distance that makes the difference. "[Invasives] come from a different continent or a different ocean. You're having these enormous trans-global movements and that's what ends up causing the species that's exotic to be invasive," she says. "Things moving around with climate change is a few hundred miles. Invasive species are moving a few thousand miles."</p><p>In 2019 University of Vienna conservation biology associate professor Franz Essl published a similar argument for species classification beyond the native/non-native dichotomy. Essl uses "neonatives" to refer to species that have expanded outside their native areas and established populations because of climate change but not direct human agency. He argues that these species should be considered as native in their new range.</p>
They Never Come Alone<p>Meyerson calls for caution. "I don't think we should be introducing species" into ecosystems, she says. "I mean, they never come alone. They bring all their friends, their microflora, and maybe parasites and things clinging to their roots or their leaves. … It's like bringing some mattress off the street into your house."</p><p>Burgiel warns that labeling can have unintended consequences. We in the invasive species field … focus on non-native species that cause harm," he says. "Some people think that anything that's not native is invasive, which isn't necessarily the case." Because resources are limited and land management and conservation are publicly funded, Burgiel says, it is critical that the public understands how the decisions are being made.</p><p>Piero Genovesi, chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Invasive Species Specialist Group, sees the debate about classification — and therefore about management — as a potential distraction from more pressing conservation issues.</p><p>"The real bulk of conservation is that we want to focus on the narrow proportion of alien species that are really harmful," he says. In Hawaii "we don't discuss species that are there [but aren't] causing any problem because we don't even have the energy for dealing with them all. And I can tell you, no one wants to remove [non-native] cypresses from Tuscany. So, I think that some of the discussions are probably not so real in the work that we do in conservation."</p><p>Indigenous frameworks offer another way to look at species searching for a new home in the face of climate change. According to <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11625-018-0571-4" target="_blank">a study</a> published in Sustainability Science in 2018 by Dartmouth Native American studies and environmental studies associate professor Nicholas Reo, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and Dartmouth anthropology associate professor Laura Ogden, some Anishnaabe people view plants as persons and the arrival of new plants as a natural form of migration, which is not inherently good or bad. They may seek to discover the purpose of new species, at times with animals as their teachers. In their paper Reo and Ogden quote Anishnaabe tribal chairman Aaron Payment as saying, "We are an extension of our natural environment; we're not separate from it."</p>
The Need for Collaboration<p>The successful conservation of Earth's species in a way that keeps biodiversity functional and healthy will likely depend on collaboration. Without global agreements, one can envision scenarios in which countries try to impede high-value species from moving beyond their borders, or newly arriving species are quickly overharvested.</p><p>In Nature Climate Change, Sheffers and Pecl call for a Climate Change Redistribution Treaty that would recognize species redistribution beyond political boundaries and establish governance to deal with it. Treaties already in place, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which regulates trade in wild plants and animals; the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and the Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora, can help guide these new agreements.</p><p>"We are living through the greatest redistribution of life on Earth for … potentially hundreds of thousands of years, so we definitely need to think about how we want to manage that," Pecl says.</p><p>Genovesi agrees that conservationists need a vision for the future. "What we do is more to be reactive [to known threats]. … It's so simple to say that destroying the Amazon is probably not a good idea that you don't need to think of a step ahead of that." But, he adds, "I don't think we have a real answer in terms of okay, this is a threshold of species, or this is the temporal line where we should aim to." Defining a vision for what success would look like, Genovesi says, "is a question that hasn't been addressed enough by science and by decision makers."</p><p>At the heart of these questions are values. "All of these perceptions around what's good and what's bad, all [are based on] some kind of value system," Pecl says. "As a whole society, we haven't talked about what we value and who gets to say what's of value and what isn't."</p><p>This is especially important when it comes to marginalized voices, and Pecl says she is concerned because she doesn't "think we have enough consideration or representation of Indigenous worldviews." Reo and colleagues <a href="https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/sites.dartmouth.edu/dist/9/52/files/2012/10/Reo_etal_AIQ_invasive_species_2017.pdf" target="_blank">wrote in American Indian Quarterly in 2017</a> that climate change literature and media coverage tend to portray native people as vulnerable and without agency. Yet, says Pecl, "The regions of the world where [biodiversity and ecosystems] are either not declining or are declining at a much slower rate are Indigenous controlled" — suggesting that Indigenous people have potentially managed species more effectively in the past, and may be able to manage changing species distributions in a way that could be informative to others working on these issues.</p><p>Meanwhile, researchers such as Lips see species classification as native or other as stemming from a perspective that there is a better environmental time and place to return to. "There is no pristine, there's no way to go back," says Lips. "The entire world is always very dynamic and changing. And I think it's a better idea to consider just simply what is it that we do want, and let's work on that."</p>
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