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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt

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Op-Ed

Nov 16, 2018

Hemp: A Little Plant; Powerful Enough to Spark Big Change

The time of irrational trepidation is over. The movement to legalize marijuana has overlooked hemp's divergent benefits to combat climate change.

WRITTEN BY

Maren Krings

Maren Krings is freelance photographer and artist, with studios in Germany, Austria and Sweden. Her work entails documenting projects with a special focus on sustainability. Since 2016 she has been working on a long-term photojournalistic documentation about the rediscovery of the hemp plant and its environmental benefits worldwide. You can find out more about Maren here.

As the deadly California wild fires continue to blaze, the time is right to consider our collective impact on the environment and what changes can be made to benefit the planet and ensure our survival as a species. The year of 2017 was declared to be the worst that the state had ever seen regarding wildfires. This year has made sure that 2017 didn’t hold that title for long, with fires that have already killed more than 60 people. These extremes in weather conditions will soon make parts of our planet uninhabitable for human society. Yet, even as this unfolds in front of our eyes, most of us are not prepared to reconsider our industrial or personal practices.

Self-Portrait of german photographer Maren Krings, in a hempfield in Bar-Sur-Aube, France

The same plant that can be used to smoke a joint might also hold the potential to change our future.

The plant we are talking about is cannabis sativa. The same one that can be used to smoke a joint might also hold the potential to change our future. Hemp is highlighted as a political conversation topic worldwide, as we’ve seen a wave of decriminalisation at the state level in the US as well as a full scale legalisation in Canada this October. However, a strong understanding of this plant is unusual. Most people are unaware of the many positive purposes of hemp. My own lack of knowledge and curiosity has been the driving force behind the intensive research that I have undertaken. In turn, this has ultimately been the foundation for a book about hemp, which I have now been working towards for two and half years.

It is important to understand the differences within the strains that derive from the same plant family but deliver very different products. While cannabis sativa is the botanical name for the plant family, experts differentiate by using three terms:

  • Industrial hemp: Any cannabis plant that contains 0.3 or less % of the psychoactive ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
  • Medical cannabis: Cannabis that is cultivated specifically for medicinal purposes, and contains higher amounts of THC.
  • Marijuana: Usually used exclusively for recreational purposes.

Very few of us have sufficient environmental awareness

As a photographer, it is alarming to observe our lack of urgency regarding global issues like climate change, waste-management and the preservation of natural resources. Furthermore, very few of us have sufficient environmental awareness and understanding as to how we should conduct our daily lives and  find solutions to these important issues. This all changed when I took a closer look at hemp, perhaps the most forbidden plant on earth throughout the 20th century.

Photo: Hemp harvest in Keshan Country, Heilongjiang Province China. By Maren Krings.

Even if you are a climate scientist or a habitual user, you’ll be surprised to learn about hemp’s adaptive attributes:

  • It is a fast-growing crop that can absorb vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • An Italian building-materials specialist, Werner Schönthaler, calculated a 60% negative account of CO2, on buildings he constructed with hemp stone.
  • In the past, farmers have turned to hemp due to its ability to grow without the heavy use of pesticides and herbicides, chemicals that were often required for their other crops. A Swedish farmer Thomas Jacobsson reported that despite all of his other crops dying, his two hectares of planted hemp were the only crop that was able to adjust to the Swedish drought during the summer of 2017. This is because hemp has the ability to adapt, with roots that can grow much longer than other plants.
  • At the scene of nuclear disasters, not just Fukushima and Tchernobyl, but also smaller areas that have been contaminated by industrial accidents, hemp has been used for the biological process of Phytoremediation, a process that pulls contaminants from the soil.
  • Hemp is a source of food, textile making and medicines. For many years it’s been common to see stores stock hemp seeds, oil and flour. The clothing industry has been using hemp-yarn for woven and knitted materials,

Our irrational trepidation for hemp was inherited from more than 70 years of prohibition. The time is right to finally move on. The worldwide hemp-growing community, which dedicates time, money and efforts into reintroducing industrial hemp and fighting for legalization of cannabis is growing exponentially and there is a good reason for this to happen.

Hemp has become the new answer to many problems that were previously unsolvable. This plant can be used to respond to a growing global population and people’s need to be fed, sheltered and medically provided for. Hemp has become a synonym for people who are willing to think differently – people who want to start changing their own lifestyles to induce change on a bigger level. It has become the crop of people willing to take action and make the changes that do not seem to be able to initiate quickly through politics.

Photo: Hemp harvest for textile purpose in North China. By Maren Krings

WHY SHOULD WE THINK DIFFERENTLY? 

Regardless of whether the majority of us do not know where this island is, nor what it feels like to lose the earth beneath our feet, nature’s responses are devastating.

We are all familiar with the debate that is often held on climate change, whether it is a human-made problem or just a natural cycle our world is passing through. It is true, our climate has always gone through periods of change, even prior to industrialisation. However, it has never happened so quickly and so drastically as it has done today. The Island of Kiribati, located in the Central Pacific Ocean along the equator, has become the symbol of nature’s response to our carelessness. The island is slowly drowning by the rising water level of the ocean. The chief of Kiribati has been unremittingly traveling the world, speaking on climate conferences and UN conferences to find new land for his people. The chief of Kiribati also wants to make us understand that we have to take up our responsibility for the changes that are happening now. Regardless of whether the majority of us do not know where this island is, nor what it feels like to lose the earth beneath our feet, nature’s responses are devastating. For the hurricane and storm stricken inhabitants of Kiribati this is more than a nightmare, it is the end of their culture.

Photo: The harvest work done for the medicinal use of the company Medi-Hemp in Austria. Maren Krings

My New Life’s Mission

It’s not just a project anymore, I now realize the urgency of the topic.

My journey to photo-document hemp, its industrial uses and the positive impact it can have on the environment, has taken me to 17 different countries so far. In order to follow this road, I have left my home and made my car a rolling bedroom and office. I am about halfway there, having completed half of the work required to complete the book. Having edited all the images captured over two and half years and documenting my story along the way whilst looking for a publisher and running a crowdfunding campaign to support the project, I’ve spent much time to reflecting on this project. I now realize the urgency of the topic. I am connecting a dedicated, international community of like-minded people, who are all doing everything in their means to change the way we perceive sustainability, environmentalism and social responsibility.

This book is turning into a life’s mission. I have come to the realisation that this is the only way I can truly communicate my own concerns. My goal is to find many like-minded people who can work together to answer the big questions that need to be solved to conserve our planet. I have already received an incredible amount of support and help from many people worldwide. Some by participating in crowdfunding by pre-ordering the hemp book. However, my true wish is far greater; to inspire others by showing some of the achievable changes that we can all make in our backyard and portraying people who have stepped up and showed us how to live this change.

On Tuesday 20th November, Maren will be taking over the The Outdoor Journal’s Instagram account. Maren will speak with hemp pioneer Werner Schönthaler about why he dedicated six years of his life to inventing the hemp stone. We will also hear from Ding Hongliang, China’s main producer for hemp-textiles. Stay tuned and be part of the change!

If you want to support Maren’s Crowdfunding Project please visit the site here or for the newsletter on hemp, please sign up directly by sending an email to [email protected] with the subject line“newsletter-hemp“.

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Op-Ed

Jan 28, 2019

The New York Times Travel Show: Beware an Astonishingly Out of Touch Industry

On Friday, 25th January, The Outdoor Journal attended an industry event that left us infuriated at "expert" panels bereft of expertise, or possibly even honesty.

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WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

The New York Times Travel Show is a marquee event, held at the Javits Centre in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. According to the Travel Show website, they boast 560 exhibitors, 30 thousand attendees, 280 speakers and 100 cultural presentations from around the world. The exhibitors in the main hall, representing either countries or operators know their stuff and speak with passion. However, the same could not be said for the seminar that we attended downstairs, with an “expert” panel targeted specifically at the travel media industry.

This was far from “expert”, this was out of touch, damaging and ultimately, either unknowledgeable or dishonest.

This week, The Guardian questioned the future of digital journalism as BuzzFeed and HuffPost laid off 1,000 workers. Elsewhere, The New Yorker also asked this same week “Does Journalism Have a Future?“. Travel media should not be immune to concerns shared by the rest of the journalism and editorial media business.

This opening seminar of the event was entitled “Focus on Travel Media – The Future of Travel Journalism”, yet nothing regarding the huge talking points that are making headlines in mainstream media at the moment appeared to be open for discussion.

On four separate occasions, we left the conference room because we couldn’t bear to hear anymore, only to feel a need to return out of morbid curiosity akin to the feelings evinced by a horror film, to squirm some more. We returned because we knew that we must. This “expert panel” was feeding misinformation to an enthusiastic audience, who wanted nothing more than to find personal success in the travel industry. We needed to cover it. The panel spoke of a rosy world, where anything is possible and making a living doing what they’re doing required just a little practice, perseverance and creativity. This was far from “expert”, this was out of touch, damaging and ultimately, either unknowledgeable or dishonest.

The session lasted for two hours, with a six-person onstage panel of so-called experts.

The audience numbers soon dwindled within the seminar.

In the first hour, everyone on stage was given a period of time to talk about some area of focus within the travel industry. Presumably, the brief was “Focus on Travel Media – The Future of Travel Journalism” given the title of the seminar, although you would never have known it. Most just talked about their own publication, sometimes with a little obsequious praise thrown in for fellow panellists. It got so bad that it wasn’t long before an incredulous member of the audience stood up and instead of asking a question, reminded the panel of the name of the seminar.

There were a couple of exceptions on stage, and some valuable information was offered, such as that from Andrew Sheivachman, the Senior Editor of Skift who shared the below infographic. However, after offering his introductory piece, and despite speaking eloquently during his alotted opening remarks, Mr. Sheivachman sat very quietly for the remainder of the two hour period, perhaps aware of the laughable proceedings that surrounded him.

A worthwhile contribution courtesy of Skift that appeared to have acknowledged the name of the seminar “Focus on Travel Media – The Future of Travel Journalism”

The second hour was offered up for questions for the audience, and subsequently, a long line formed behind a microphone set up in front of the stage. Audience members diligently lined up to effectively ask the panel the same self-centered question, again and again in many different ways: “how do I achieve success (as a travel writer/journalist/blogger/influencer/latest-trend-setter)?”.

While the questions themselves may have been tiresome, and honestly a little concerning, the lack of intelligence on offer by the panel was shocking and infuriating.

There was one moment in particular that almost left us in a state of shock. A woman stood up and asked a question that many social media users around the world are now asking themselves. It is an important question that deserves an honest answer from those who are framed as “experts” in the industry.

The petitioner told the panel that she was attempting to visit every country on Earth. She had, so far, made it to 122. Yet she struggles to show growth in followers to her social media accounts.

The influencer marketing industry is now worth billions, but estimates show up to 25% of influencers have paid for fake followers from illegal bot farms

There was a quick retort from “Adventurous Kate” as the resident influencer on the expert panel. “Are your photos good?”
“Yes, I think so”, 
replied the lady. Another member of the “expert” panel offered this woman further advice. However there was more before the lady was allowed to sit down, “Adventurous Kate” had thought of something else. Visiting all those countries, “It’s not that impressive, it’s not that original”, Ms Kate told the supplicant.

The woman asking her question was clearly a little taken aback. She then told Adventurous Kate that 15 women had previously visited every country on Earth, meaning that it remained a fairly rare and unique travel achievement.

“Still” replied Adventurous Kate with a shrug of the shoulders. Perhaps Kate was just jealous that this woman had been to 45 more countries than she had (according to Kate’s website)? She added, “It’s not a good enough story, or maybe your photos aren’t good enough,” adding further “advice”.

Not one word was brought up by the “expert” panel about social media spends, fake followers or the fundamental fact that any new wannabe influencer today, authentic or otherwise, is competing against accounts that buy followers. SocialChain, one of the world’s most notorious social-first marketing agencies, recently reported that “The influencer marketing industry is now worth billions, but estimates show up to 25% of influencers have paid for fake followers from illegal bot farms“. It’s not just immoral, but given brands are expected to pay these “influencers” between $5 and $10 billion in 2020, it amounts to fraud.

Social Chain’s initiative has solidified into like-wise.co, and if you’re an influencer, we encourage you to sign up on their website.

However, there’s still more. You could have a million followers, but without social spend, changes to social media algorithms mean that you can sometimes only expect to reach 2% of them or less organically.

This demands an answer: what are brands, operators, and official bodies paying for? They should be very careful. Brands should either be sure that the influencer can offer them the exposure that they’re selling or instead invest money into a personality whom they believe in without preexisting follows, via social spend.

This is just one of many important topics to discuss within travel media. “Focus on Travel Media – The Future of Travel Journalism” at the New York Times Travel Show managed to dodge almost all of them. If people hadn’t paid to attend and scarily seemed to have taken this “advice” on onboard, then it would have been laughable. Another audience member simply shook his head when we asked him what he thought.

To repeat ourselves, this was not a wider reflection upon those in attendance, upstairs the exhibitors were great to talk to, but the level of content on offer via the seminars was disrespectful to an audience that clearly expected more intelligence.

Finally, a quick mention for the woman who stood up asked the question and was told that her story wasn’t good enough. The Outdoor Journal spoke to Janice Lintz after the seminar, who went on to share her story with us. It wasn’t just good, it was incredible, authentic and genuine – worthy of following. A story that includes speaking out against domestic violence at the height of the #MeToo campaign, a publicised divorce, beating cancer and a complete change of lifestyle to embrace travel.

In the coming weeks, we will publish that story at OutdoorJournal.com, but for the time being, we encourage you to give Janice’s Instagram account a follow here. We’ll be supporting her journey all the way.

 

Correction: The Outdoor Journal has updated this page, we previously listed Tom Lowry, Managing Editor as the Skift representative at the event, as per the official event documentation. In reality, Andrew Sheivachman was in attendance on behalf of Skift, as Mr. Lowry was unable to attend.

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