The world is in the midst of a serious environmental crisis. Cannabis has the potential to be a critical part of the solution.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report last weekend saying that greenhouse emissions are rising faster than ever before. Only an intensive push over the next 15 years can bring those emissions under control.

One of the main shifts that has to happen immediately, they note, is a move away from petroleum to more renewable energy sources—solar power, wind power, and biofuels.

Coincidentally (or is it?), an announcement has emerged from the University of Connecticut, where researchers have found that hemp—that sturdy, sustainable cannabis plant—can be used to produce biodiesel.

This is huge.

Not only can hemp be inexpensively grown, it also has the uncanny ability to grow in infertile soils. This reduces the need to grow it on primary croplands, which can then be reserved for growing food. Current biodiesel plants include soybeans, olives, peanuts and rapeseed. Using hemp for biodiesel instead allows farmers to reserve edible crops and the valuable land they occupy for food.  

Industrial hemp is grown across the world, in many parts of Europe and Asia, including the Ukraine. Not long ago, the US was planning on importing Ukrainian hemp to support the struggling economy there. Until recently, it was illegal to grow hemp in the US—in fact, outside of Colorado and a few university and research locations, it still is—despite the fact that there is almost no THC whatsoever in this form of cannabis.

There are myriad uses for the cannabis plant, from building materials, to food sources, to fiber that can be used for making clothes and textiles. Many parts of the world still rely on cannabis stalks as a primary fiber, mainly because of its ability to grow without requiring lots of water, fertilizers, or high-grade inputs. The seeds, which house the plant’s natural oils, are often discarded. This apparent waste product may just turn out to be a critical element to our planet’s salvation.

That is, if the US deems to de-criminalize the harmless plant before it’s too late.