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History Will Look at US’ 77-year Hemp Ban as More Ridiculous Than Legal DDT

A conversation with author Doug Fine

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 Bout, which was published one month after the US 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.

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?

photo of a smiling young man, he is holding a baby goatphoto by Amanda Gorski

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.”

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 …more

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Hemp: The Next Billion-Dollar Cash Crop?

The US market is already well ahead of the politics of legalizing cannabis farming

From the perspective of a patriotic American who’s just researched hemp’s potential from Canada to Hawaii, Germany to Colorado, things are moving from fantasy to reality so quickly that it’s kind of making me believe in a societal version of The Secret – ask for what you think’s best for your nation’s economy, the planet at large, and your children’s future, and you will get it.

Hempphoto by arbyreed, on FlickrHumans, after a seventy-seven-year break, are returning to one of the most useful plants ever bestowed on them.

My excitement is perhaps best described this way: Ten months ago, I was shocked that Congress was even discussing hemp seriously. Suddenly I’m confident that future editions of my book Hemp Bound will be printed on US-grown hemp paper. In fact, my book you’ll meet two of the farmers who will be making it happen. It’s been a dream since my I wrote my first book that not a tree would have to perish in order for me to publish – particularly since the idea of a sustainability author printing on shredded forests for some reason felt a little ticklish to me. Smarty-pants audience members were always asking me about that at live events, especially at those dang college talks. Now it looks like the paper itself will soon be soil-fixing.

Humans, after a seventy-seven-year break, are returning to one of the most useful plants ever bestowed on them. And it happened while I was in the middle of writing about said plant, so I had to stick this note in here to hammer home the point that by the time this book hits shelves and e-readers, we might have hemp drapes in the White House Situation Room.

I mean for practical reasons. Hemp fabric is less flammable and longer lasting at a lower cost than the leading brand. So when you see farmers, energy companies, and policy makers from places like North Dakota and Kentucky expressing outrage in these pages about their inability to capitalize on the production side of the exploding worldwide hemp phenomenon, you can bet they’re rubbing their palms together now, just a few months later.

That’s because the US market’s well ahead of the politics. It is expensive to have to import hemp. The plant is popular enough to do it, …more

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“The Road to Ambler” Would Scar Alaska’s Brooks Range

Proposed route through wilderness area would pave way for new mines

If Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell gets his way, an industrial road through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is in our future.

Parnell has called for “Roads to Resources” in his efforts to subsidize development in Alaska – in this case, the development of new mines. As The Wilderness Society details in its report, Easy to Start: Impossible to Finish by Lois Epstein, these mega-projects are fiscally irresponsible and rarely achieve even their basic objectives. And, in the process, they do serious harm to intact ecosystems. 

Brooks Range, Alaskaphoto by Terry Feuerborn, on FlickrBrooks Range, Alaska

No wonder many Alaskans – including Native communities – are opposed to the proposed Road to Ambler. Rural villages in the region have spoken out against the road, with six individual communities and the Tanana Chief’s Conference passing resolutions opposing the project during the past year.

The Road to Ambler is not a new, innovative idea. The State of Alaska tried once already to push it through, in the mid-1980s. The project died because it was financially unfeasible and rural communities didn’t want the road.

The road being proposed now would slice 220 miles through the Brooks Mountain Range that anchors the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. The National Park Service touts this park and preserve as “premiere wilderness,” a vast landscape of intact ecosystems that do not contain any roads or trails.

The Road to Ambler would grievously harm the area. It would:

  • Cross nearly 200 streams and rivers;
  • Require the construction of 14 major bridges, some over federally designated Wild and Scenic rivers;
  • Disrupt Native Alaskan traditional lands and hunting grounds; and
  • Threaten human health if gravel containing the region’s naturally occurring asbestos is used.

But it would do much more, and probably much worse, harm than just its construction.  The road is intended to allow mining companies to access massive sulfide deposits in the area.  If these mines are developed, it is highly likely they will produce acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage destroys critical fish habitat and can be an ongoing problem for hundreds or thousands of years after mining is completed.

So …more

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Earth Day: Now about as Green as St. Patrick’s Day?

From epic day of citizen action to marketing gimmick in just 40-odd years

It probably has something to do with the fact that I’m one of the last sentimentalists standing in this ironic age, but I’ll admit that I get a little misty eyed when I think about the first Earth Day.

Do you remember it? Can you imagine it? On April 22, 1970 some 20 million Americans in cities and towns across the country turned out for a coordinated day of action to express their desire for a society that would live more conscientiously with this one and only planet. People picked up trash on beaches and in streams, they planted gardens, they organized and attended environmental teach-ins, they marched and chanted and sang. The whole thing was thought up a US Senator, Gaylord Nelson, and organized by a scrappy group of twenty-somethings. Elected officials had no choice but to stand up and get involved. At the Earth Day demonstration in Manhattan, New York Mayor John Lindsey told the crowd: “Beyond words like ecology, environment, and pollution there is a simple question: Do we want to live or die?”

black and white photo of a crowd scene in a broad avenue in a cityphoto by tommy japan on FlickrFifth Avenue in New York on Earth Day in 1970

I myself don’t remember (I wasn’t born yet), and can only imagine such a thing. Which is probably why I think of that first epic day of environmental activism in sepia-hued tones. To me it all seems sort of incredible – the scale (20 million people!), the involvement from the political establishment, the fact that it led, relatively quickly, to achievements like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Endangered Species Act.

There are a lot of things that compete with Earth Day for the claim to have sparked the environmental movement: the fight over Hetch-Hetchy reservoir 100 years ago, the campaign to protect the Grand Canyon from dams, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the oil spill off Santa Barbara (which did, indeed, inspire Senator Nelson). Still, there’s no question that the organic outpouring of citizen energy that was Earth Day helped to mold an emerging worldview into a real political force.

I might have come late to the party, but Earth Day also molded me. I remember clearly the very large, and very hopeful, Earth Day celebrations in 1990 marking the twentieth …more

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Oyster Beds Still Empty Four Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Gulf communities and wildlife still reeling from the damage, but BP ends cleanup efforts

Four years ago, on April 20, 2010, the United States suffered the greatest oil spill in American history. With the explosion of a British Petroleum (BP) offshore oil rig, five million barrels (roughly 206 million gallons) of oil were released from the Deepwater Horizon oil well into the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven rig workers lost their lives, and immeasurable damage was wrought on coastal communities and wildlife.

photo of oyster shells in a huge stackphoto by faungg on Flickr

Four years later, many Gulf communities are still coping with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and scientists are still struggling to understand the long-term impacts of the spill on birds, marine mammals, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. At least one long-term impact is as clear as day: the ongoing devastation to the Louisiana oyster industry.

“Every day is touch and go,” says Al Sunseri, president of New Orleans-based P & J Oyster Company. “I never would have thought that four years later things would be as challenged as they are right now. I’ve seen hurricanes, and other challenging times [like] fresh water from very high rivers, and a number of different things, and this is like no other disaster that we’ve had affect our business. This is an unnatural disaster.”

Historically, Louisiana has led the country in oyster production; in an average year the state supplies roughly one-third of all oysters throughout the United States. In 2009, the year before the spill, Louisiana produced 14 million pounds of oyster meat. Since the spill, things have changed dramatically. Although Louisiana continues to be a leading oyster producer, oyster production dropped by half in 2010, to 6.8 million pounds. And according to a recent study by the National Wildlife Federation, when compared to other Gulf states, Louisiana’s oysters have experienced especially high mortality and low spat recruitment since the spill.   

Aside from overall ecosystem harm, the spilled oil directly affected oysters in at least two ways. According to a recently released federal report, Gulf oysters – as well as oyster eggs, sperm and larvae – were exposed to oil and oil dispersants following the spill, which can cause death and impair reproduction. Oysters, which require brackish water to survive, also took a huge blow from the immediate post-spill responses. Following the spill, large volumes of water were released from …more

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Film Review: A Fierce Green Fire

Rousing PBS documentary covering 50 years of environmentalism to honor Earth Day

Mark Kitchell’s 1990 Oscar nominated documentary Berkeley in the Sixties covered the campus activism that disrupted the House Un-American Activities Committee’s hearings, launched the Free Speech Movement, fought the police at People’s Park, and inspired student spokesman Mario Savio to declare: “There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part … You’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.” Now Kitchell is back with another stand up and cheer nonfiction film about a different movement: Environmentalism and its eco-warriors who, as Savio put it, “indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

black and white photo of a crowd watching smoke and flames consuming a burning riverphoto courtesy A Fierce Green FireFrom the film: the Cuyahoga River on fire.

Like a classical Greek drama, Kitchell’s well-crafted and briskly paced A Fierce Green Fire has a five-act structure, as each segment focuses on different aspects and leaders of the environmental movement over the past half a century, with narration by a prominent artist or activist. The title is derived from a section in environmental philosopher Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac in which he describes his ecological awakening after shooting a wolf while working as a US Forest Service Ranger: “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.”

The documentary – which will air Tuesday, Earth Day, on PBS stations nationwide – opens with a stirring montage of idyllic nature, followed by ecosystem despoliation and devastation, such as mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. Scenes of global activism appear, including NASA scientist Jim Hansen getting busted at the White House for protesting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai declaring: “We will shed blood for land!” This riveting, rapidly cut sequence is set to the pulsating beat of the Chamber Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today.”

Oscar-winning actor and activist Robert Redford – who is also a Natural Resources Defense Council trustee and honorary board member of the Mikhail Gorbachev-founded Green Cross – …more

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Oregon’s Klamath River Basin One Step Closer to Historic Dam Removal

Deal among Native Americans, farmers, ranchers and fishermen marks a triumph for cooperation.

Oregon’s Klamath River Basin has nearly completed an improbable, 15-year journey from community-wide hostility to a hesitant but tangible reconciliation. A decade ago, the river basin was known for being the epicenter of the nation’s most contentious fight over water rights, a place where farmers and ranchers faced off against Native Americans in a long-running, violence-tinged stand-off. Now the region is on the brink of winning approval for a three-part settlement that takes into account the water needs of all its constituencies– farmers, ranchers, Native Americans, commercial fishermen, and the severely damaged Klamath River itself.

Klamath Riverphoto by Joyce cory, on FlickrThe Klamath River

Representatives of all those groups – including environmental organizations professing to protect the river – support the package, whose final component was announced on March 5. That’s particularly stunning since south central Oregon, home to most of the basin’s farmers and ranchers, is Tea Party country, where many people think taking down a working dam is blasphemous. The settlement would set in motion the dismantling of four functioning, though obsolescent, hydroelectric dams that block the passage of salmon through the river. The dams’ demolition would constitute the world’s biggest dam removal project.

The settlement’s last remaining hurdle is formidable. The deal must get legislative approval – and new authorizations of roughly $250 million for river restoration and economic development – from a divided Congress. If that happens, the Klamath, instead of symbolizing enmity, could end up standing for the triumph of inclusiveness and cooperation, and the recognition that a river’s health can be something to unite around.

In the meantime, the river is a mess. Thanks to mining, logging, irrigation, and above all, the dams, some salmon species have disappeared, and all others are a fraction of their pre-European numbers. Each summer algae blooms turn water in the four reservoirs a fluorescent green, so toxic that human contact is forbidden, sometimes from the dams all the way downstream 190 miles to the river’s mouth.

The March 5 agreement reels in the last holdouts to a basin-wide pact, 400 or so upper basin ranchers whose 100,000 cattle feed largely on pasture irrigated by Klamath tributaries. The cattle damage the Klamath’s tributaries in numerous ways, from trampling the river banks where water-cooling, erosion-dampening vegetation would otherwise grow to promoting chemical-laden agricultural runoff …more

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