Does cannabis cause global warming?

Posted on April 15th, 2011 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , .

earthEvan Mills, an analyst at the US Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Labs in California, recently completed a study entitled "Energy Up in Smoke: The Carbon Footprint of Indoor Cannabis Production"—seeking to quantify the previously undocumented energy demand of the domestic marijuana industry.

Among the disturbing findings, outlined by Beth Buczynski  of Care2's Global Warming blog:

The analysis performed in this study finds that indoor Cannabis production results in energy expenditures of $5 billion each year, with electricity use equivalent to that of 2 million average U.S. homes. This corresponds to 1% of national electricity consumption or 2% of that in households. The yearly greenhouse-gas pollution (carbon dioxide, CO2 ) from the electricity plus associated transportation fuels equals that of 3 million cars. Energy costs constitute a quarter of wholesale value.

Mills breaks the findings down into easy to visualize terms:

  • Smoking a single Cannabis cigarette represents 2 pounds of CO2 emissions, an amount equal to running a 100-watt light bulb for 17 hours with average U.S. electricity.
  • A four-by-four-foot marijuana production module doubles the electricity use of an average U.S. home and triples that of an average California home. The added electricity use is equivalent to running about 30 refrigerators. Processed Cannabis results in 3000-times its weight in CO2 emissions.
  • For off-grid production (i.e. secret grow houses in the woods), it requires 70 gallons of diesel fuel to produce one indoor Cannabis plant, or 140 gallons with smaller, less-efficient gasoline generators.

Gasps Buczynski: "Yikes! Those kinds of stats can really ruin your buzz."

Indeed. But the study notes that, as with all industries, the cannabis cultivation carbon footprint could be significantly reduced—in this case by an estimated 75%—through energy efficiency measures. More to the point, the study only reviews indoor cannabis cultivation.

Indoor increasingly dominates the market, although outdoor can also have its environmental impacts—pesticides, trash, plastic irrigation pipes left behind at grow sites. The eco-impacts of outdoor are exacerabted by cannabis' illegality, with guerilla growers forced into remote areas where nobody is watching. And the prevelance of indoor is, of course, a direct consequence of cannabis prohibition—growers first moved indoors to escape police surverillance.

Now, however, cannabis consumers have got to face up to the fact that the market favors indoor. Hydroponic pot looks more refined because it is grown in a more controlled environment, and for the past decade it is what the connoisseurs have been demanding. Outdoor still has its partisans, who say the indoor stuff has a "chemical" flavor.

Eco-conscious cannabis consumers in Northern California have recently launched the Grow It in the Sun movement, to reverse the trend towards hydroponic and advocate for environmentally responsible outdoor. We're with them.


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