Marijuana’s Mushrooming Carbon Footprint
The energy used by marijuana growers is more than alarming. Heating, ventilation and lighting account for 1% of total electricity use across the US and in greenhouse gases, equates to driving across America seven times. Factors like ventilation, lighting and consumer demand play a role in the detrimental advancement of energy consumption and increasing CO2.
Ventilation: Heating and Air Conditioning
Retaining and fluctuation exact temperature is vital in keeping cannabis plants thriving. Heating the plant too much can result in nutrient burn, ultimately weakening the leaves. Keeping the facility too cold and the plant will furl inward, creating brittle leaves. Humidity must also be exact, which is heavily reliant on a heat-to-air conditioning ratio.
In order to keep this perfect balance, massive amounts of energy is used. Lights also play a major role in marijuana’s energy consumption. Though LED lights are much less harmful to the environment, growers have discovered that unfortunately LED’s are too weak to grow high quality plants. Instead, high pressure sodium (HPS) lights are used. These lights can be found in hospital operating rooms and throws out approximately 500 times the illumination recommended for reading.
Since 90% of marijuana is grown indoors due to legal reasons, these lights are the only solution for growing quality cannabis, yet the cost is much too high. This type of energy consumption is troubling for energy solution advocates that want to reduce the national emission rate. Timothy Hade, co-founder of Scale Energy Solutions, said “Producing a pound of marijuana uses 300 times the amount of energy than producing a pound of aluminum.”
Consumer demand is high now that legalization has become so widespread. Marijuana growers must meet this demand in order to stay successful. Annually, such high consumption produces 15 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is equal to gas emissions of three million cars.
Paul Isenbergh, a Colorado marijuana grower, talks with The Guardian about this struggle of changing his practices to be more ecologically friendly. He owns three grow-operations that are housed in windowless warehouses. His plants are ordinarily sell at $1,400 per pound, which is a significant profit for Isenbergh and his company. “We are consuming a lot of energy compared to what we would with LED lights,” said Isenbergh, who pays $4,000 a month for electricity. “We tried LED but we couldn’t get the right yield from the plants. And this is a weight game. The LEDs just don’t have the horsepower.”
Understanding Greenhouse Gases
Growers like Isenbergh carry the same financial weight of using high powered lights as well as the moral weight of using the state’s and nation’s limited energy. Contributing to an increase in greenhouse gases (CO2) is not something to take lightly. Greenhouse gases are gases in the atmosphere that absorb and emit radiation within the thermal infrared range and is the leading cause for global warming. Mankind has been increasing greenhouse gases for hundreds of years and if we continue at our present rate, Earth’s temperature could potentially hurt ecosystems, biodiversity and the human race.
There are many groups, public and political, who are devoted to reducing greenhouse gases. Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Alcoa are just a few companies working to educate communities about harmful effects we are making through increasing CO2.
Start of Reduction
Growers are becoming more aware of their energy consumption and are working on sustainable ways to help reduce energy usage. One program devoted to this reduction is the Energy Impact Offset Fund, a Colorado based program that helps educate and finance sustainable cannabis cultivation in Boulder county.
There are some offsets to going green when growing marijuana, like cost of eco-friendly equipment and the risk involved with changing up grower’s traditional process. Ron Flax, sustainability examiner for Energy Impact Offset Fund, said “each crop cycle has a lot of dollars associated with it, so they’re really hesitant to try something new and hope it works.”
Evan Mills, a senior scientist at the University of California, was among the first scientists to bring to light the amount of energy the industry uses. He leaves us with an ominous conclusion on how the industry will ultimately affect emission reduction and quite possibly global warming. “Until policymakers confront this problem,” said Mills, “some of the nation’s hard-earned progress towards climate change solutions is on the chopping block as regulators continue to ignore this industry’s mushrooming carbon footprint.”