1,802 words THE MIRACLE PAPER PLANT
by Emily J. Horswill
Dropped into a hemp field today, an American farmer wouldn't recognize the paper plant even though it will grow in every state in the Union.
He would be in a thicket, each plant growing to a height of 10 to 20 feet-like a young tree, except the stem is sappy, and he would be looking at the only known renewable that can meet the world's energy needs and, simultaneously, cleanse the atmosphere.
The plant's ability to fertilize the soil and produce a crop after an earlier one such as corn or wheat is harvested was the characteristic for which my grandfather most cherished hemp on his Wisconsin farm. Until two hundred years ago, this fall hemp crop paid the taxes-with enough hemp seed left to keep the family in breakfast cereal.
But important as hemp's ability to rejuvenate soil is, the fact that grandfather's hemp crop matured in the fall, Wisconsin's shortest growing season, and after he had harvested his corn crop, and that a field can produce three hemp crops a year in temperate zones, more in the tropics, is of equal importance in today's needy world.5
Until the Twentieth Century, hemp provided eighty per cent of human needs. It made the toughest canvas, the finest linen, excellent rope, and protein rich food. Eighty-five per cent of the world's marketable goods has been supplied by hemp-seventy-five to ninety per cent of its paper.5,13
Today, especially to the college crowd, hemp is marijuana. Marijuanne, one of the many hemp plents, can produce a mild drug. I abhor the use of any addictive substance (I hate having my mind scrambled), still with the world teetering between survival and the inability to host life it seems unimportant. But it is this trait that set hemp up as our indusrial scapegoat.
Long before that, hemp earned its royal reputation producing paper. According to USDA Bulletin No. 404 published in 1916, it takes 4 acres of forest to produce the quantity of paper produced by one acre of hemp.1
Yet 40 per cent of our forests are harvested for paper! America grinds up over a million trees a week for paper pulp.12
Forests are our siamese twins. A growing forest provides us four cubic feet of oxygen per minute per tree.8
The world ought to be demanding standing forests and hemp paper. Where is the United Nations?
Also paper made from wood disintegrates in fifty years costing libraries millions, while paper made from hemp is virtually indestructible. What entrepreneur would consider marketing an inferior product that takes sixty years instead of one-third of a year to grow and requires four times the land?
Ever since a handful of tribespeople exchanged wandering with their herds for tilling the fertile soils on the Nile and the Mesopotamian plateau, hemp has been the "pot of gold" in a variety of forms. In the Crown Colonies it was the old classic, "hemp, the export crop." 7,11,5
Connecticut, Massachusetts and the Chesapeake Colonies, among others, passed laws making it illegal NOT to grow hemp.11
But hemp had to be hand stripped - "decorted" - a tedious job. Colonial women processed it in the duck pond, a system that produced a welcome by-product, fat, tasty duck,9 but did little to satisfy even the domestic appetite for hemp much less load ships for overseas. Worn- out rope and rags made excellent paper: "rag paper." But the nation continued to import hemp.
George Washington touted hemp as "our farmers' future." 11,5,1 Jefferson 1,11 , the good farmer, considered it unthinkable to depend on cotton: it had a "nasty habit of stripping the soil of fertility." Thomas Jefferson also predicted that "The ladies will not give up stronger, finer, wrinkle-free hemp goods: and, indeed, in 1812 United States went to war with England over access to Russian hemp. Otherwise, Jefferson's prediction proved inaccurate. The cotton gin rendered cotton cheap, and by 1900, cotton, the land gobbler, was "King."
In 1901 Henry Ford was absorbed in his horseless carriage when he heard an item of news: America's timber industries were gearing up to supply the world's ballooning paper needs from wood pulp. "We are already cutting our forests three times as fast as they can grow," Ford protested in alarm. "We must meet our needs with recyclable biomass, not fossil fuel."
Ford had been involved in the search for an alternative to petroleum to roll his contraption. Now he focused on energy for the nation. Shortly, his laboratories re-discovered hemp. "At least four times richer in renewal than any other source," Ford scientists reiterated. "Hemp planted on six per cent of our land will provide all of America's energy year after year."
When fires raged through the West devastating billions of acres of timber, Ford reacted succinctly: "If we were using hemp, we'd harvest another crop in a couple months."
The federal government assessed the charred forests and assigned a botanist and a paper chemist to study alternative sources for paper. In 1916 their report, USDA Bulletin #404, conluded that "hemp paper pulp is both more economical AND more ecological than wood pulp."1 Ford, whose mind focused on solutions, urged immediate attention on building a hemp decorting machine.
No doubt, plans for it were instituted, but a war intervened: at last, in the 1930s excited farmers gathered on village street corners discussing their new hemp harvester.
But United States Goliath, Hearst Tember Industries would lose billions: nor had they been asleep. They, too, had a new invention. Or rather Hearst's friend and co-worker, Dupont did - a sulphate solution which would reduce wood to pulp with unheard of efficiency. It would also reduce bones, hide and hair to pulp, pit marble, pock iron, and burn holes in stomachs, animal and human, while hemp, turns to pulp in water - to bleach paper, threw in hydrogen proxide which quickly breaks down into hydrogen and oxygen with a double dose of the latter. Released into the atmosphere it becomes ozone. Sulphuric acid clings stubbornly to its compoumd form. 10,5,11 With this "improvement" a Dupont attorney hastened to a friend in Congress: via a committee chaired by a nephew of the Chief of the USDA, who had close connections with the Dupont Family. He soon had their witch's potion cleared for use. Now the Hearst conglomerate had only to dispose of the competition.
They discovered that marijuana was a product of one of the hemp plants, and "hemp" became "marijauna " and marijuana a great danger "to our children." Inevitably, their closed door machinations reached the Oval Office aand the ears of the President.
One wonders whether FDR's first impulse was to laugh or scream. Here was a scheme to dispose of a plant the profits from which he surely had been hailing as a godsend, to help pay for his programs designed to yank the nation out of The Great Depression. The purpose must have been transparent - a zany scheme that would make the plant the criminal rather than its misuse - tantamount to declaring it a crime to grow corn, barley, wheat, rye, potatoes and rice, because they can be used to produce whisky, vodka and wine!
FDR lost no time in lining up his support group of opponents, among them, Fiorelli LaGuardia, the fieisty little Mayor of New York with a reputation as a mean fighter; Ralph Laziers, of the National Oil Seed Institute: Doctur James Woodward, of the A.M.A; and a prosecutor for the Bureau of Narcotics. Hearst pulled out their trump card, the power of press: and they set into motion the world's most shameful era of "Yellow" Journalism.
A key scene in Hearst tabloids was the image of Huge, Black, Negroes, insane with marijuana, raping white women: while these tablois whipped citizens to a frenzy, the farners exhibited little serious interest in this marijuana squabble.5
Hemp has an enormous family with members that have little in common. For instance, in drug potential, they range from the psychologically addictive hashish, to the paper plant, with a THC drug factor too low to mention, and some benign weeds, such as nettles.14,1,6
The farm attitude is best depicted by the following exchange between my grandfather and his neighbor:
"Heard you had the Feds crawling around your back forty during the night, Bob."
"Yup. Penned the dog in the barn. Figured they might get a pair of handcuffs on that patch of nettles!"
The farmers were producing paper, not marijuana.
Rational people that they were, they were confident that whatever legalese the attorneys bleated, it would leave space to exempt the paper plant. What country would emdanger a billion dollar export crop? Theirs was not a lone opinion.
Popular Mechanics 3 published an article eulogizing the new crop four months after the passage of The Marijuana Act.
Shortly Henry Ford unveiled a biomass cracking system producing electricity, heating oil, kerosene, a protein stock food, and an auto powered by hemp fuel. But, with the pasage of The Marijuana Act, the timber industry disposed of their competitor. Horever, The Roosevelt Administration made one more comment.
In 1942, FDR ignored the law and distributed 400,000 pounds of hemp seed to farmers for the war effort. Further seed for the plant "so dangerous to our children" would be grown by 4H Clubs! 14,5 No one challenged him. The war would be temporary: the timber industry was already at work devastating our fish runs and poisoning tthe planet.
That has taken only 50 years-but Henry Ford's statement in his later days, that when we run out of forests we'll still have the paper plant, is both comforting and true.
The grumblings of the timber companies, that their production suffers because they have run into a solid wall of environmentalists, is not true: what they have run into is The Pacific Ocean-which sooner or later they will be forced to concede. When they do, they too, will be interested in the paper plant and possibly of use in our drive toward sustainability. We will need strict guidelines and a new enforcement squad: The Forest Service and The Bureau of Land Management have proved incompetent.
On a public radio talk show a couple weeks ago, one of our leading lights from The Forest Service, backed into a corner, admitted that The Department of Forestry sells our public timber at a loss, his justification being that "our mandate is to provide wood products." It seems that we need a new enforcement squad, new guidelines and a new mandate.
But the paper plant can allow us to rebuild our forests.
And perhaps we have all learned that the best use for these trees is standing up. well rooted, poufing out oxygen.13,8,5
2. Hydrogen Proxide: The Medical Miracle, by William Campbell Douglas, M. D. pub.,Second Opinion, '92.
3. Popular Mechanics, v,69:239 -9; Feb.'38, "Hemp, the New Billion-Dollar Crop," and a followup December, '41.
5. Hemp & The Marijuana Conspiracy: the Emperor Wore no Clothes; Jack Herer;pub.Van Nuys, '90. (Recommended reading per "Acres, USA).
6. The Care of the Earth: the History of Husbandry, Russell Lord;pub. Nelson, New York, '62.
7. Farming in Prehistory: from Hunter/gather to Food Producer, by Barbara Bender, St. Martin's Press, '75.
8. The End of Nature: by Bill McKibbin; Random House, '89.
9. Oxford English Dectionary.
11. " " Britannica (Micropaidia); v.9:126 1A, v.21:3731A, v.16:81 lA,.12: V 10 1B