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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville

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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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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 19, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 2 – Children and Education

Tony Riddle explains how our educational system must be reinvented to better preserve childrens' innate abilities and uniqueness.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

In our latest series called REWILD with Tony Riddle, The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle that’s more in line with our DNA than Western society’s delerious social norms. In Part 1, we introduced how Tony is leading a rewilding movement through his coaching practices as well as his commitment to run 874 miles barefoot across the entire UK to raise awareness for sustainability.

In this installment, Tony discusses society’s disconnect from our ancestral hunter-gather lifestyle, the need to completely reinvent the education system, and how to preserve children’s innate abilities.

REWILD

TOJ: When I see the word “rewilding,” I picture the opening scene of the movie Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day-Lewis is sprinting and leaping through the woods on an elk hunt. Is that how humans are supposed to be, an athletic animal in tune with nature?

Tony Riddle: In modern society, we’re basically living in these linear boxes, breathing in the same air, getting the same microbiome experience, sleeping in the same room over and over, and nothing alters. Whereas the tribal cultures that we came from are moving through a landscape that’s forever changing. They’re always uploading new sensory pathways, new sensory experiences, constantly in a state of wiring and rewiring the brain. For me, the path of rewilding is getting back to that – being present in nature and honoring a cellular system, a sensory system and a microbiome system in their natural setting.

When you start to really assess it, some people have this vision of hunter-gatherers as savages, but these are sophisticated beings, and as they move through the landscape, they become the landscape.

By “Rewilding” we can get back to a lifestyle that’s more in line with our innate human biology.

Tribespeople operate in these states of meditation which, when you have kids you appreciate it. I’ve studied childhood behavior in the formative years, those first years up until the age of seven. The brain is working at a certain hertz that you and I can only achieve through meditation. This is the state of Flow. It hasn’t been cultured or schooled out of them.

When I think of “rewilding” now I have a term I’m calling “rechilding.” We’ve got to try and get back to that level of frequency that tribes have managed to stretch into adulthood. I’ve tried to break down the behaviors of these tribes. I discovered Peter Gray’s work, who asked the question to 10 leading anthropologists, “What does childhood look like in nature?” From infancy through the age of 16, children play. That’s all they do, without any adult intervention, and they learn everything they need to learn about their adult environment in those first playful years. So if that’s the case, then they go into adulthood still playing and they don’t have to work to find flow states through that field of senses and the frequency that they’ve been operating in.

PLAY

TOJ: In familiarizing myself with your work, I noticed that some elements are about reverse engineering the range of motion, movement chains and posture of our own selves as children, while others focus on reconnecting with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, how do you reconcile those concepts?

“For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities.”

Tony Riddle: For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities, the stuff that you and I would have had but we went through an educational process where it’s not appropriate to move or say anything out of turn, where children are expected to just sit still in a classroom for hours on end and not share anything. But then you realize that when you go out into the world that you have to share everything, We need to show them the appropriate behaviors and not dumb them down by limiting their experience.

Tony spending time climbing trees with his children to preserve their innate ability to climb and balance.

In those early years, we have things like physical education, but before physical education, we have play. We were all playing around, trying to understand the physicality of our body. We’re born with all the gear, we just have no idea how to use it, because our adult species doesn’t know how to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. When we go through the playful state to try to understand this system as children, we might impersonate all the animals, but now as adults, we have to go to animal flow class to relearn it.

When children go to physical education class, they’re given specialist clothing, which includes sneakers and the specialist clothes that their adult species wear. The adults model to children how tough exercise is and how brutal it is. Adults come back profusely sweating, which is absurd because imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse! My DNA goes back 270,000 years to a tribe in East Africa. So imagine how hostile these environments would have been!

“Imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse!”

We observe these parkour kids, they’re showing us what’s innately in us. I love hanging out with them because it’s just expanded my mind and my movement. The physicality of the human being is unbelievable, but it’s been cultured into a sedentary position at this stage because the adult population is showing a compromised, sedentary lifestyle. By the time a child reaches the age of seven, all of the observations are made – the templates for the rest of their lives. So if the adult species is compromised, then within those first six years, that’s all the child will recognize as their potential range of behavior. I call it their “Tribe of Influence.” The tribe of influence is made up of your family, your friends and your close community around you. If you’re observing all their behaviors, that just becomes your social core. It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm. And social norms of today are so far afield, we are doing the most horrendous things. I read a stat yesterday, since 1970, 60% of the wild animal populations are gone. We’ve managed to do that in 50 years. That’s less than one human life span. Our social norms are compromising the planet.

Read next on TOJ: Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD

REMEMBER YOUR PAST

There’s a great term I’m plugging the moment which Peter Kahn called “environmental generational amnesia.” Every generation that’s born, it can either expand on the knowledge passed down from before, or be dumbed down further, and it only remembers where it left off. So for those 60 percent of the species that are gone, to the new generation that comes in, that’s their new norm.

“It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm.”

The natural human pathways from our previous generations have been forgotten in a way, but movement is just a component of it for me. It goes beyond movement. There’s a whole physical, social and spiritual animal that needs rewilding. There’s also sleep and play and nutrition and human contact, even sunlight. We’re just disconnected.

Tony regularly plunges his body into icy water to maintain proper cardiovascular health.

We have a D3 issue with our culture now. We’re surrounded by artificial light in artificial environments, but when we do go out in the actual environment, we cover up by wearing sunglasses, so we’re not actually absorbing any of the nutrients from the sun that we should be. Especially in the UK, people are starved of sunlight, but as soon as the sun is out, they’re wearing sunglasses. If you look at helio-therapy, the highest absorption of D3 is around the eyes. There was a study recognizing that sun exposure helped kids with TB recover, but it also found that when they put sunglasses on, they didn’t get the results.

REINVENT EDUCATION

TOJ: If you were the superintendent of a school, what changes would you make if you are in charge?

“The educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again.”

Tony Riddle: It’s almost like the educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again. It’s flawed and it’s not working. In countries that are trying to do something about it, in particular, Finland in Scandinavia, it’s completely different. People are starting to wake up to the fact that it’s not biologically normal to be indoors all day, it’s not biologically normal to sit down all day, it’s not biologically normal to eat processed foods. But, that’s the environment where we’re growing these young bodies and minds.

The future is unraveling at such a rapid rate with tech. My understanding is, the current iteration of the educational system will have to die because of the way that the tech world is transforming things. So what can we possibly take from the educational model of today for five years time or 10 years time, where are we actually going to be in terms of the evolution of tech?

Like father like daughter, training their hanging L-sits on the olympic rings.

There’s almost like a natural pendulum. It’s swinging way back over this way. Now we’ll start to explore more biologically normal ways. With my barefoot run, I’m trying to raise awareness of these issues like sustainability in the environment and I can reach a wide audience through technology.

“It comes down to small changes.”

It comes down to small changes. You can drive yourself nuts thinking, “I’ve got to do this and do this…”, but actually, there’s value in just assessing things that are in your hands, looking at what is a biological norm versus a biological extreme. If you can’t justify something, you have to let it go. Then, what you can start to do is whittle away at things that aren’t appropriate behaviors and that will improve in the next generation that is observing those behaviors.

You and I are walking around with the observations from those first six years of our lives, and then if you really unravel it, we’re walking around with the norms of our ancestors as well.

We need a different educational model. We need a schooling system based on educating kids about their fundamental needs, including movement and play, one that gets them involved in growing natural foods and learning about their own independent role within the interdependent social tribe.

We’re all unique, but we go to school and we’re taught to conform. You have to sit and do the same exams, but in a real tribal situation, there’s an interdependence of the tribe, When you have kids, you suddenly realize how important it is. I’ve got three kids and another one on the way. They’re all different. Nature didn’t design them to be the same. They’re designed to be uniquely different so they fulfill their role in our tribe. Why not nurture the fact that they are different in order to grow their individual talents at a very young age. How do I nurture their unique abilities and create the appropriate environment for them to learn and become uniquely awesome?

Tony’s coaching is individually tailored based upon the belief that we all have a unique role to play in our community.

Stay tuned for our REWILD series featuring an in-depth discussion of Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

Feature Image: Tony’s daughter working on her grip strength in Tony’s studio.

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