And Now For Something Cool…

As the hysteria over the belief that pot was a “gateway” drug finally began to abate, and states slowly moved to legalize its medical and recreational uses, discussions about the benefits of marijuana have tended to focus on CBD and similar semi-medicinal uses. But the real benefit of a more sane approach to the plant is in the rediscovery of the multiple uses of hemp.

As Wikipedia reports, industrial hemp– a botanical class of Cannabis sativa cultivars grown specifically for industrial and consumable use– can be used to make a wide range of products. Along with bamboo, hemp is among the fastest growing plants on Earth. It was also one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 50,000 years ago. It can be refined into a variety of commercial items, including paper, rope, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.

Pretty impressive!

It always seemed insane to me that disapproval of the more “recreational” use of marijuana plants had effectively prohibited the growth of hemp for these multiple benign purposes. (As I understand it–and I probably don’t– plants grown for industrial purposes lack the “recreational” element, but because the varieties look so much alike in the field, neither could be grown in jurisdictions that outlawed pot. In other words, most jurisdictions.)

Now it appears that hemp is being used in yet another promising way: as a climate-friendly building material. As the Guardian reports,

Cannabis sativa, the plant of the thousand and one molecules, has a long and expansive reputation – as a folk medicine, a source of textile fibre for clothes, for making rope or plugging holes in ships.

But now cannabis – or specifically its non-psychoactive variant, hemp – is being touted for something greater still: building blocks for housing that may avoid some of the environmental, logistic and economic downsides of concrete.

The cement industry is responsible for about 8% of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions, alongside problems created by unyielding surfaces and low insulation, or R-value, properties. The search for large-scale alternatives has so far yielded few results, but on a small scale there are intriguing possibilities, including the use of hemp mixed with lime to create low-carbon, more climate healthy building materials.

“There’s an enormous growth potential in the US for hemp fibre used for building and insulation,” said Kaja Kühl, an urban designer and the founder of youarethecity, a design and building practice based in Brooklyn, New York. “Hemp was only legalised in 2018, but now industrial hemp is following the first wave of CBD and cannabis.”

The Guardian reports that there is a “fledgling network of advocates, designers and fabricators” who are working to enlarge the use of bio-based building materials, which they see as a way to dramatically reduce the upfront carbon footprint of materials that can account for some 80% of a building’s carbon lifecycle.

But more recently its ability to capture more than twice its own weight in carbon – twice as fast as traditional forestry – has come into focus. By some estimates, hemp can capture up to 15 tonnes of CO2 per hectare, through photosynthesis. Hemp cultivation taking up only 25% of the world’s agricultural land used for dairy and livestock would close the UN emissions gap of 23 gigatons of CO2 annually.

“Choosing materials that sequester a lot of carbon before they become construction materials can be very beneficial in this quest to get to carbon-neutral by 2050,” Kühl said, pointing out that the hemp that is used is the hurd, from the inner stem, and not the bark that is used for paper or rope.

This is so cool!

It is so easy to become discouraged about the current state of the world we inhabit. Listening to the daily reports of idiocy emanating from our various legislative chambers, cringing from the reports of devastation in Ukraine and the Middle East, scanning the reports of all-too-frequent episodes of mass gun violence…The bad news tends to overwhelm and drown out the good.

We need to remember–as I report here too infrequently–there are a lot of good people in the world doing a lot of very good things. They are making cool discoveries, inventing marvelous things and figuring out new ways to help those who need that help.

Those of us who prefer helping the good guys to feeding the resentments and insecurities of those who are barriers to progress have a job that is both difficult and disarmingly simple: we need to elect lawmakers who want to make it easier–not harder– for the good guys to move humanity to a better place.

At the very least, we need to vote out the MAGAs who want to take us back to a past that never was.


Q And A

Last Sunday, as those of you who read my posted “sermon” will recall, I spoke to the Danville Unitarians. At the conclusion of my talk, I engaged in a brief question-and-answer session, and a couple of those questions echoed comments sometimes posted here.

For example, one parishioner asked what one citizen can do about our unrepresentative  legislature, given the reality of Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering. It’s a reasonable question, given the lack of mechanisms available–we lack a citizens’ initiative or referendum, and a friend of mine who cares a lot about the issue (and not so incidentally spent several years as a judge on Indiana’s Supreme Court) tells me he sees nothing in the state constitution that might be used to overturn partisan redistricting.

My only answer rests on the fact that the most nefarious result of gerrymandering is vote suppression. Hoosiers who live in House and Senate districts considered “safe” for one party or another (and yes, there are a few safe Democratic districts, thanks to the mechanism known as “packing,” aka cramming as many voters of the “other party” into as few districts as possible) tend to stay home. Why bother to vote, if the result is foreordained? 

The voters who stay home are overwhelmingly those of the “loser” party. That’s especially the case in places where the loser party hasn’t bothered to field a candidate.

But here’s the dirty little secret: in a number of those “safe” districts, if there was a massive turnout, the “losers” could win!  That’s because, in a number of Indiana’s rural districts, Democrats have failed to go to the polls.

There are two reasons for that.

Reason one: When an acquaintance of mine who ran in one such district went door-to-door, she was astonished by the number of people who expressed surprise that there were Democrats living in the area. Years of being told that they were rare exceptions had beaten them down, and added to the belief that they were rare–and powerless.

Reason two: as another member of the congregation noted, the suburban/bedroom communities around Indianapolis and other urban areas have been growing significantly–and much of that growth comes from young, educated people looking for less-expensive housing and able to work remotely at least part of the time. Given the significant political divide between people with a college degree and those without, it’s fair to predict that many–if not most– of those new residents have more progressive political orientations.

It’s obviously impossible to know how politically significant those two observations are unless many more people vote. So my answer to the young woman who asked that question was: do everything you can to get out the vote. We know is that those engaging in the redistricting process rely upon prior years’ turnout when drawing their district lines. If longtime residents of the “other” party who haven’t previously gone to the polls were suddenly to do so–and if newcomers with different values and concerns join them–a lot of those presumably “safe” districts will no longer be so safe.

There was another question that struck me as important. A young man followed up the previous question with what he characterized as an “expanded version.” What could congregations do? Not as individuals, but as congregations.

It was a great question, because one of the most annoying aspects of our terrible legislature is the serene belief of far too many of its members that God is on their side. (Their God hates the same people they do…) When someone like me–Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian– comes to testify, it’s easy to ignore that testimony. 

But when a church lobbies or testifies, it’s a lot harder to dismiss out of hand.

We sometimes forget (as our legislature clearly does) that not all religions–or even all Christian denominations– endorse the punitive doctrines of the fundamentalists who control today’s MAGA Republicans. There are enormous differences–not just between religions, but between denominations of the Christianity that dominates American culture. It’s past time for  the many congregations that preach love and acceptance, embrace modernity and equality and care about the “least of us,” to speak up at the Indiana Statehouse.


The day before yesterday, I posted about a Christian legislator who had the guts to challenge a performative Christian lawmaker on biblical grounds. We need more people like that authentically religious legislator, and we especially need more congregations willing to challenge hateful and discriminatory measures at the Indiana Statehouse.

Those are the challenges to which our pathetic lawmakers should have to respond. Not to the “rule of law”  and “fair play” people like yours truly, but to the co-religionists they  inaccurately claim to represent.


Civics Education Should Start with Legislators

I’ve been pretty hard on Indiana’s General Assembly, and I’d argue deservedly so, but I certainly don’t want to give anyone the impression that we Hoosiers have cornered legislative incompetence. Over at Peacock Panache, for example, Tim Peacock reports on a bill introduced in Arizona, in the wake of Governor Brewer’s veto of that state’s badly misnamed “Religious Liberty” bill.

HB-2481, also called “Arizona’s First Freedom Act,” seeks to protect those solemnizing marriage in Arizona to protect them from ceremonies they do not want to participate in. Specifically, the GOP is marketing the legislation as protecting ministers from having to marry LGBT couples as it violates their freedom of religion.
Are the bill’s sponsors really that ignorant, or are they just playing to the perceived ignorance of their constituents?
The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause already allows ministers to limit religious services as they alone see fit. No minister can be forced to preside over the nuptials of people in violation of his or her beliefs. Free Exercise allows any cleric to decline to perform any wedding: intermarriages, marriages of divorced people, same-sex unions….whatever his or her doctrine proscribes.
These clerical decisions cannot be overruled by government, thanks to the Separation of Church and State that so many conservatives insist we don’t have.
No statute is necessary to preserve this right. Any first-year law student who didn’t know that would be unceremoniously booted out of law school, and any lawmaker who is ignorant of so basic a principle of American law should forfeit re-election.
I really wish the people demagoguing about religious liberty would visit a high school class on the Constitution and discover what rights they actually do and don’t have. That won’t happen, of course, because they are thoroughly uninterested in accuracy. They are pursuing an agenda.
And people with an agenda read the Constitution the same way they read their bibles, if they read them at all: very selectively.