Working With Nature: The sustainable benefits of hemp and its position within society

Chapter One

When many people hear the term “Hemp” the first thing that usually springs to mind is Marijuana. It’s easy to associate the two together as they are both members of the plant genus, Cannabis. Though they aren’t as similar as you might think, it is true that all Marijuana varieties are cannabis plants, but not all cannabis plants are marijuana.

Hemp cannot be used like a drug as it has no psychoactive properties unlike its cousin Marijuana. Hemp is genetically dissimilar and is distinguished by its uses and chemical makeup.  Industrial Hemp contains only about 0.3-1.5% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive component found in Marijuana that makes you “high”), whereas in marijuana the content is 5%-10% or even more depending on how it’s cultivated.

To date Hemp is still the strongest and most durable natural fibre we have come across and it’s completely sustainable. It requires no pesticides; which contaminate water sources or herbicides; which is toxic and used to kill unwanted vegetation, so the growing of it doesn’t harm the environment around it; in fact the opposite occurs it depollutes the soil and restores its nutrients. As well as this, Hemp has many applications; its stalks can be stripped down to fibre and used to make fabric, paper, animal bedding, insulation, carpeting and building materials. Hemp seeds can be used to make oil (both mechanical and edible), cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, plastics, paint and food rich in vital nutrients such as amino acids and essential fatty acids. If you took the whole plant, you’d be able to make ethanol, which can be used as a biofuel to power motor vehicles.
In recent years a new movement has been sweeping across the globe. With our climate changing and species of plants and animals depleting, it is the realisation that we are coming up to the limits of our current resources and we need to find a sustainable alternative for these.

“Arithmetic shows that the western goal of urbanised, industrialised life and the promise of limitless wealth for everyone cannot be realised. It would require the resources of at least 3 earths to raise everyone in the world to the material standard of the present day average Brit) or less than average American).” (Tudge, Page 367, 2006)


No doubt it’s going to take a number of different things to help us find a balance with nature. No single resource alone will provide the answer for us and the cure to fixing the world from the damaging disease that we are, as not only do we need to replenish what we’ve already destroyed in order to compensate for our own overshoot of consumption but we need to ensure that we don’t keep overshooting.
More recently this has begun a trend of people asking why we don’t use hemp when it could answer so many of our problems and why Hemp isn’t legal everywhere? Canada, the majority of Asia, Europe and now many states in America have decriminalised/legalised marijuana, and I think as it would be too difficult to differentiate hemp plants from marijuana plants, this shows clear evidence that the need for this resource is now being recognized and with the rest of the world acknowledging their acceptance, more countries are under pressure to follow suit and embrace this natural miracle plant because its benefits can no longer be ignored and we can no longer be blinded by bad propaganda of it.


The Hemp Revolution is approaching, regardless of the campaigns that politicians and law enforcement agencies have developed for prevention, because now we are a world awakening to the truths of this little green wonder.
There are still many people who don’t really understand what hemp is, and how it differs from the narcotic psychoactive cannabis. But this will be addressed within this study by investigating into how much education people have really received about Hemp compared to that of Marijuana and how that has impacted what people really know and understand about Industrial Hemp. This study will also look into the current position of hemp within society such as what people’s opinions are of this plant, and its cousin cannabis, including possible explanations for where these opinions have come from and how those relate to one another. Using these findings and investigating further this study will also theorise what our society could be like if we embraced Hemp completely and made it easily available to the masses.

Hopefully this investigation will also provide more ammunition for those that do understand the differences between Hemp and Marijuana, so that they may begin/continue to fight for a healthy future and a healthy planet.

Currently there is a need for more sustainable alternatives due to the crisis that we are facing, we need to push desperately for these alternatives and we must now begin to make ecological limits central to our decision making, and using human integrity to find innovative ways to live within our earths bounds as it’s not just humans at risk, numbers of many species across the spectrum of earthly existence have more than halved.
One of the biggest concerns is the rate in which our earth’s forests are shrinking. Between 1970 and 2002 they had shrunk by 12%, which may not seem like a lot in terms of figures, but when you consider the mass of the earth and how little is actually covered by land, it’s quite a significant amount of vegetation we’ve wiped out along with all the wildlife once that inhabited it.
Not only has this occurred but 97% of the mature forests in North America have already been destroyed, not showing much hope for the forests of the rest of the world. These forests are vital to us, they provide much of the world’s oxygen, they are home to most of the world’s terrestrial species and are key to preventing loss of topsoil and preventing pollution of the water ways.

But it’s not just our forests that are of concern, today humanity requires the equivalent of 1.5 earths to provide the resources we use meaning that it takes the earth a whole year and six months to regenerate what we use in just a year. UN Scenarios have suggested that if the current population and trends of consumption continue, then by the end of 2030s we will require the equivalent of at least 2 earths to support us all, and its estimated that within 100 years (most likely during our children’s life time) our fossil fuels will have depleted. The results of this however would be devastating; we’d face collapsing fisheries, diminishing forests over depletion of fresh water systems, and possibly most concerning is the build-up of carbon dioxide emissions which creates problems like global climate change. In Al Gores book, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ he states that “We are witnessing an unprecedented and massive collision between our civilisation and the earth” (Gore, page 215, 2006) and he’s very much right, we’re going to have to work with nature, or face colliding with it. The fact is we are currently at a point where we can act, where we need to act, and we need to act quickly. Though we have already done much damage to our earth, it’s not something that can’t be repaired and compensated for; it’s not too late for us to make changes in aspects of our lives and within society to work towards a better future, a more sustainable future that our children can enjoy. Rather than leaving them with a big mess that in truth by then they probably wouldn’t be able to clear up.
when you consider how much poverty there is in the world, and then how much hidden wealth there is, how privileged the westernised lands are and compare the two it truly begins to put things in perspective, you really can begin to see that we are a country fuelled by consumption and materialism, and yet there are people in the world who survive with next to nothing, it’s almost shameful because there are people with no roof over their head, just happy to be living and yet here we are complaining about the most unnecessary and insignificant things in our life, such as not having the latest brand of iPhone.


We’ve lost all sense of what true wealth and value is, the value of this world and life isn’t in what we can dig up from the ground and transform into the next evanescent product it’s in the world all around us in all the beauty we destroy to create these ephemeral items. And yet there’s no reason why we couldn’t have both, if we just let hemp integrate with society.
The way we currently live is only counting down to a death sentence for the future of ourselves and our planet, the longer we overshoot and consume more resources than the sustainable level, the more the long-term “sustainable level” actually declines meaning that if we don’t do something soon then the task of returning back to a sustainable level will only become more gargantuan. It may even come to a point where Hemp is our only option, if we continue to use up our resources at the rate we are it’s a very worrying but likely possibility. If that day comes everyone will be asking why we didn’t make the most of this resource sooner, when it could have helped save so much of our natural world and our finite resources.

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Chapter two
Creative responses concerning hemp

Hemp has been used throughout history as a canvas for many artworks, though currently it’s not so common to find any artwork involving hemp as a material or an issue. However, there are artists such as Wonder Knack, an American based designer and photographer who uses his creativity and skills in an attempt to “cut away the stigma that has been placed on hemp for many years”.

Knack has produced a series of pieces that address environmental concerns such as the increasing toxicity in our environment, and the need for hemp as an available resource. Two projects in particular, “Hemp: Realize It” and “Industrial Hemp $”. Knack has made these specific pieces widely and freely available to download and encourages people to do so, as well as print and share them, in a hope that it will raise awareness and educate people to this incredibly useful, naturally forming, and sustainable resource.

He also invites us to look at the role industrial hemp has played throughout history and how it has helped with the development of mankind so that we can see how much it has to offer. He requests that the audience educates themselves with the facts of the situation, to start a dialog and ask questions in an effort to help society to learn about this valuable renewable resource especially how it can be utilized in a sustainable future.

hemp_seeds_thm hemp_history_future_thm hemp_earth_medicine_thm

“Hemp: Realize it”

hemp$_GRN_thm hemp$_BLU_thm

(Industrial Hemp$)
His approach to this issue is clearly evidence that he too sees this as a resource that we need to recognize. He is not doing this for his own benefit but to raise awareness for this resource and break it away from its negative connotations, to allow it to take back its own identity in the hope that it will be recognized so that it may benefit others and eventually all of us. He states with his work that “Hemp has carried humans through the ages and deserves an identity and future based on reality. Farmers in America and worldwide deserve to continue this symbiotic relationship that is as old as agriculture itself.” (Wonder Knack, 2012) His choice of language conveys a belief, that of which I agree with, that Hemp has been unfairly represented in modern society and we need to acknowledge it for what it could be: a beneficial resource to agriculture that we deserve to have available to us.

These pieces are particularly effective as they visually highlight the link and importance of Hemp to our natural world. The series “Hemp, realize it” states many of the uses for Hemp, informing the audience of things they may not be aware of. Whereas “Industrial Hemp$” visually implies the economic benefits of embracing industrial Hemp in a way that mimics propaganda posters.


Unfortunately in the 20th century there was an influx of anti-Cannabis propaganda that may have influenced society’s opinions regarding hemp due to its close relation with psychoactive Cannabis. These campaigns arose at around the same time that Jazz music became popular throughout Britain and the rest of the world, a genre which was and still is predominantly dominated by black males, at this point in history many people were racists and there were many reservations about black men integrating with white women. With the rise of jazz music there had the “hippy” era there had been an increase in the smoking of cannabis to get high, so it’s clear to see how people made a link between the two, rightly or wrongly. And it is true that marijuana held a prominent role in the music scene of this era, Ray Charles himself wrote a song called “Let’s go get stoned”, which no doubt would not have helped with the association between the rising black community and Cannabis.

It also shows evidence that opinions of different races at this time influenced their opinions and what they believed about Cannabis. Society at this time held more Christian/catholic beliefs than it does now and there was much controversy about interacting with black people, they believed if you were fraternising with black people, you were committing a sinful act and that god wouldn’t approve.

marijuana-propaganda-devils-garden marijuana-propaganda-assasin-youth marihell

Despite the fact that cannabis and hemp have been used throughout history in a number of religious circles, it is clear that a link was made between how they perceived black people in this era, and how they perceived cannabis as in many of these posters the smoking of cannabis is described as a sinful act, a product of the devil spawned from hell itself. Which seems like an amusing concept now we know so much more about the genus cannabis, but at this point in time with the reservations people had and the traditional beliefs of society it seemed like a very plausible idea that many believed and passed on to their children.

Another factor was that corporations wanted to protect their businesses and profits. If Hemp had been used for paper instead of trees, then that would have been a number of timber and logging companies that would be out of business. If we had allowed ford to continue using hemp fuel in their cars, no doubt other car manufacturers would have followed suit, and put petroleum fuel business out of pocket also, because they simply wouldn’t be able to compete with the yield and availability of this resource. If we had continued using hemp as a fabric then many cotton farms and producers would have also struggled to be successful. Though it may seem as though that could have had a negative impact on the economy, hemp would have been able to restore that with how much and how quickly it can be produced. Some of these alternative resources that we chose to use instead of hemp have become the most damaging to our environment, but at the time they were portrayed as innovating and prosperous.
By portraying cannabis in such a negative light they were able to deter people away from using Hemp as an alternative; and if people disobeyed they could face drug charges and end up with a prison sentence.

Casagrande and Rintala are two Finnish designers that have used Hemp within their work. In japan they installed “Bird Hangar” a sculptural cone with a steel frame wrapped in hemp rope, sending birds made of balsa, a light weight timber, attached to meteorological balloons that contain five seeds of basic Japanese vegetables and a note asking whoever finds the birds to contact the artists and plant the seeds.
Though there are many more possible uses for hemp other than just rope this is a good example of how hemp can be utilised in design, with little impact on the environment. It is also a good example of how hemp can be reintroduced and eased into modern society as if you saw this sculpture you would not assume it was made from the same plant that so many countries have reservations over. Little by little if we each started to use hemp more, and use the conventional alternatives less, we could see that people would be more accepting of this resource and tear down the current misconceptions and allow better understanding of this miracle plant to form. If more people followed in the footsteps of these designers and physically showed the potential uses of hemp and how good it is as a material then people would begin to acknowledge it as an option leading to an increase in demand for this resource to be utilised in more aspects of society and industry.

Bird Cage_Casagrande & Rintala_Yokohama Triennial_2001 Casagrande & Rintala@Yokohama Triennial 2001 Hemp cone Marco Casagrande@Yokohama Triennial_photo Nathalie Pozzi

This piece is particularly effective as its clearly promoting an environmental cause and using hemp within this piece highlights the environmentally friendly aspects of Hemp itself, such as its sustainability and biodegradability. It provides a clear link between growth and the environment and the part that hemp plays within that.

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