Huge carbon footprint of pot growers

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When you smoke a blunt, you are responsible for two pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. At least according to a study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The same study, by energy analyst Evan Mills, reports that US pot growers are responsible for one percent of national electricity consumption. In California, the top pot-producing state, that percentage increases to 3% for all electricity use and 8% of household use.

Minimal information and producer consideration of energy use, coupled with adaptations for security and privacy, lead to particularly inefficient configurations and correspondingly large energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions. If improved practices applicable to commercial agricultural greenhouses are any indication, the energy use for indoor Cannabis production can be reduced dramatically. Cost-effective efficiency improvements of 75% are conceivable, which would yield energy savings of about $25,000/year for a generic 10-module growing room. Shifting cultivation outdoors eliminates most energy uses (aside from transport), although the practice can impose other environmental impacts.
"Energy up in Smoke: The Carbon Footprint of Indoor Cannabis Production" (via National Geographic)

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  1. Yeah, but think of all the carbon emissions whose potential is wasted.

    Stoners are lazy and don’t do much, so emissions costs cut both ways. This finding may be a boon to the atmosphere, more so as LED lights become more efficient and the production footprint falls further.

      1. thank you. as someone who is basically a poster child for health issues for which cannabis helps, i still work 60 hours a week, and i use cannabis as an alternative to xanax, pain meds, and a crazy amount of antihistamines for urticaria, so that i can still function. stereotyping people who smoke makes me want to scream.

    1. “Lazy and don’t do much’? Hmm, we must define ‘stoner’ differently, because all the ones I know are awesome, amazing, and motivated people.

      1. I don’t mean to offend you, but do you not know a lot of people? I know many pot smokers that smoke occasionally to relax after working a hard long day. They are as motivated as the average person. I also know plenty of lazy stoners who are walking clichés. They aren’t the majority, but they certainly are a sizable minority.

    2. If you’re only getting  ‘stoned’…you’re smoking shitty drug cartel weed. The point is to get ‘high’, experience the world around you and perhaps add something just as beautiful to it, if only in a small amount, a kind word, a smile or a hug.  That is best done when smokin’ your own, or partaking in a good persons lovingly tended crop.

  2. LEDs are a lot better, but outdoor herb is on another level, nothing touches the sun.

    Pity that growing outside is a risk, from LEOs above all, but people who’d like to steal it can pose a risk also.

  3. Sorry, but your intro is inaccurate.   While energy analyst Evan Mills does work at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, the report is NOT a study from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs.

  4. I’ve read some other stuff about the interesting problems that growing secret indoor crops presents–for example, how to deal with the inevitable bug infestations on a crop that can’t be sprayed with insecticides. Some of the self-taught electrical grid-hackery that these guys have come up with is ingenious, right up until the point where a transformer blows up and half of Humboldt County goes dark.

    In other words, it’s a hell of an accomplishment to make it difficult and expensive to grow weed, but we’ve done it!

    It’s too bad that the scale of these operations (as well as the legal and cultural issues involved) won’t ever let these farms get big enough to start exploiting immigrant labor. If the other farmers could see that these guys were serious, I bet they’d back legalization. But you’re nobody in American agriculture until you’ve paid a pregnant woman $50 in cash for picking tomatoes from dawn till dusk (and then charged her $10 for a ride back into town).

    1. I believe there are a lot of pot farms that exploit immigrants. I have read some articles (sorry, can’t cite any sources at the moment) that mention this practice for some operations. Immigrants make good laborers for illegal crops because they are less likely to complain about treatment to the authorities for fear of deportation. This is part of why we exploit them for legal agriculture, and it’s an even bigger deal for growers who worry about getting turned in for their crops.

      1. I believe there are a lot of pot farms that exploit immigrants. I have read some articles (sorry, can’t cite any sources at the moment) that mention this practice for some operations. Immigrants make good laborers for illegal crops because they are less likely to complain about treatment to the authorities for fear of deportation.

         
        Ah, interesting. I considered the possibility, but I’d never heard it mentioned and I figured the scale of the harvest meant it didn’t make financial sense.

        Gaming it out in my head, I wonder if these laborers are treated or paid better than they would be picking lettuce? I’m not a fan of either marijuana prohibition or basically any agricultural labor practice (legal or otherwise) that I know of, but it seems like the fact that pot farmers actually go to jail if caught might level the playing field a bit. After all, agribusinesses know that undocumented workers know that calling the Labor Dept. is basically useless, and so they screw the workers over with impunity. But calling the DEA to report a few million dollars’ worth of weed will get results right quick!

        1. A few years ago, I read about the amazing Tennessee pot cave. The story is that there was a natural cave underneath a house, and the owners of this had basically turned it into an insane grower’s lair. They had a hydraulic fake rock outside where you could climb down into this place, and also entrances from the house. Inside the cave, they had a sophisticated growing operation. They eventually got caught for stealing power, and the place was well documented. The local sheriff gave tours of it, and they finally sold it to a cheese maker. Search on “tennessee pot cave” and you’ll find it.

          One piece that the story mentioned was how they got their workers. They would drive out to Arizona and pick up some illegals on the street. They would blindfold them, and transport them in a van with the windows blacked out. They were told what they’d be doing, but not where they were going. These guys would work for a 6 month shift, and then get back in the blacked out van with the blindfolds and go back to Arizona.

          I suspect this is not a particularly unusual story. These guys it sounded like were treated fairly well, but I’m sure that’s not the case for all workers. Being in a country where you are illegal and don’t speak the language, and not even knowing exactly where you are is a really vulnerable position to be in.

        2. In California immigrants are used by the Mexican drug cartels in guerrilla grow operations, and they are not treated well at all. Their lives and the lives of their families are threatened if the grow fails or does not meet the demands of the cartel.

  5. Seems that once again,the law-and-order types are using such analysis as evidence for why marijuana is evil; of course, if it were legal people wouldn’t have to cultivate it in sealed, blacked out shacks using high-wattage bulbs in place of the sun. Oy.

    1. Gene, these people will latch onto anything. Pot is, for all intents and purposes, about as dangerous as coffee. It’s about time everyone accepted that.

      1. I thought growing plants was inherently good for the atmosphere.

        When you burn a plant, pretty much all the carbon it sequestered is immediately released back into the atmosphere. If you use non-carbon-neutral energy sources to grow the plant you end up with a net gain in carbon released.

          1. And it’s not even carbon-neutral, unless you used nothing but manual labor for growing and transporting it.

            Even manual labor isn’t completely carbon neutral, physical activity burns calories and increases respiration. (Not that I’m against manual labor.)

        1. But the whole plant isn’t being burned, only the buds.  If the stems and leaves are returned to the soil as compost, I would surmise that most of the carbon is being sequestered.

          1. If the stems and leaves are returned to the soil as compost, I would surmise that most of the carbon is being sequestered.

            I’m no biochem expert but I’m pretty sure decomposing vegetation releases a lot of carbon too. At any rate I’m sure it doesn’t sequester nearly enough to offset all the energy it takes to grow the plant (under artificial lighting, anyway).

  6. The report says a “cannabis cigarette” causes two pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Most people would call that a joint, not a blunt. A blunt is a cigar that’s had the tobacco filling replaced with marijuana, or a big-ass joint wrapped in tobacco leaf instead of rolling paper. Second pedantic post today!

  7. Unlike when you burn fossil fuels, which is carbon from a realllllllllly long ago. A little unlike the carbon in plants that was sucked up from the recent layer.  When you burn plants, it’s part of a natural cycle. When you burn fossilized fuels, you’re dumping extra batter in the mix, per say.

  8. {PROBLEM} Indoor pot farms are a large portion of carbon foot print.
    {SOLUTION} Legalize It. Then its grown outside. Stop arrests, continue educating.

    P-fuel prices
    S-Legalize It.

    P-paper kills trees/deforestation
    S-Legalize It.
     
    P-Depression/anxieties you take pills for
    S-Legalize it.

    P-1,000,000 people in jail a year for non-violent offenses.
    S-Legalize it, then they are no longer “criminals”

    P-Depression is getting worse
    S-LEGALIZE IT AND TAX IT then keep paying police to capture real criminals.

    There are 2,000 more reasons but Ive listed enough for now.  Been in use as medicine and to wind down for 10,000 years, ILLEGAL FOR 80?  1/2 of all high school students admit to using it, more actually do.

    PS, I find it ridiculous that they didnt factor in the actual plants themselves reducing greenhouse gases!

    1. “P-paper kills trees/deforestationS-Legalize It.”

      This is a pretty lame argument. Paper doesn’t cause deforestation. Paper comes from trees that are grown for paper, just like the carrots in the grocery store are grown to be eaten. Paper does not come from old growth forests. And, besides, how does legalizing pot change the paper industry? 

      I like the rest of what you wrote, but that right there is pretty lame.

      1. …how does legalizing pot change the paper industry?

        Ask William Randolph Hearst. Our government’s stance on marijuana is largely due to the fear campaign his media empire waged to protect Hearst’s (wood-based) paper mill holdings.

        1. Oh, crap. I forgot about that. You are completely right. To make the same amount of paper, you need either one acre of hemp or four acres of trees.  

          (I thought you were talking about joint paper. :-) )

        2. Pot is illegal BECAUSE of the paper industry. Go read history. You can blame the Hearst family because they were evil greedy bitches.

          1. Pot is illegal BECAUSE of the paper industry. Go read history. You can blame the Hearst family because they were evil greedy bitches.

            I know, I have, and I just did. Did you somehow get the impression that my comment was implying anything else?

      2. What percentage of which class of cellulose is made by pulpwood trees?  What percentage of which class of cellulose is made by cannabis?  If you don’t know the answer to those questions you might want to reevaluate your appraisal.

  9. I wonder what the carbon dioxide emission would be when using my vaporizer? Hmm, let me go test that now. Science is so much fun!

  10. so…. where am i s’posed to find the eco-conscious grower who supplies my dealer?

    ::thumbing through 5-inch thick paper phonebook::

  11. First the Ugandan corpor-forests, now this.
    I want to do the right thing. Whose footprint is bigger, pot or Belvedere?

    1. What kind of quality results do you get? I’ve been wanting to grow (I legally can with my card) but cannabis can be fairly picky. I have a huge garden on my patio, but I’d be worried about theft.

      1. I have a huge garden on my patio, but I’d be worried about theft.

        I imagine this would be a function of your neighborhood and the visibility/accessibility of your patio garden, but do people habitually scope out backyard gardens in hopes of pilfering some weed?  I mean, I know people with the proper credential can legally grow (well, “legally” on the state level, if not on the federal level, but yknowhutimean), but it seems like one would have to be a desperately energetic thief to be reconnoitering and raiding neighborhood backyard gardens for vulnerable plants.

        Then again, my fence isn’t as low as some people’s.

  12. Legalize it already. 

    Then we can grow it outside.
    The weed will absorb CO2.We can burn it and smoke it and then exhale the CO2.It all balances out man. 

  13. Add water use.

    Outdoor grow ops divert from stream without consideration to other water users (including wildlife) and add run off.

  14. I’ll stop smoking pot when you stop dumping oil and trash into the oceans. I’ll stop smoking when China stops building coal plants. I’ll stop smoking when Fracking is abolished. So many more heinous things going on then people using electricity for growing pot. I think the benefits both pyhsically and mentally outweigh the “cost” of Pot production. This is a terrible news story to write.

  15. Plant some corn in your back yard along with a few other crops.  Once the corn gets to be knee high, put your marijuana starts in. Just one or two plants in every row but the outsides.  I have done it this way for years and years.  Low flying helicopters or even satellites in LEO (like someone here said) cannot spot them.  The meter readers do not spot them.  Nobody does.

  16. Meanwhile everyone keeps on eating meat…  the standard by which all energy squandering should be judged.

  17. Burning one gallon of gasoline produces about 20 pounds of CO2. So one blunt, pound for pound of CO2, is worth about a tenth of a gallon of gasoline, which, assuming a decent car, is about 2 to 3 miles of driving.

    So, what’s worse, smoking a couple of doobies each day, or driving to work?

    I suspect that leaving your porch lights on all night produce more CO2 emissions than a good spliff.

  18. I’m just blown away that all these pot farmers haven’t twigged to the power of a battery-based off grid backup power system and LED Grow Lights.  I mean, don’t they think that the cops watch power consumption levels?  Any of these huge, money making operations could shell out 3oK in legitimate dollars, and boom, they’d be done and invisible.  Pot must make you stupid.
     

    1. LEDs are the worst. I tried professional LED grow lights and my tomato plants where scrawny and the fruit was tiny.

  19. You know, whenever pot is mentioned on a newsboard, the comment section winds up being the strongest argument for enforcement.

    “Pot is great for the earth!” 

    Really? Ripping up the native ecosystem to plant some subtropical exotic cash crop that needs LOTS of water and fertilizer is great? Are you the same people who hate meat because of all the water and fertilizer used to grow the corn that feeds the cows? You do realize that pot is more water- and nitrogen-intensive than corn? And growing it outdoors only works in warm, wet climates. At least post-harvest, cornstalks and leaves are plowed under to compost during the winter, along with lots and lots of cattle manure. I doubt if open-grown pot ever would be treated this way – certainly not in arid western states or above the Mason-Dixon line. And no, cows can’t be fed pot – it’s too fibrous and low in protein. The cows would get gas and diarrhea, then lose weight. Goats, maybe – but not cows.

    “Pot smokers are ambitious and hardworking!”

     Really? Because all of the potheads I’ve ever had the joy of working with were blowhards who would spend most of the day derailing meetings with their political rants (usually right-wing, oddly enough), and holding forth on how blindingly smart they were from their cubical castles. Now, if you asked them, they were the hardest-working employees and the whole business would collapse without them – even though everyone knew they were unreliable and tried to avoid contact with them. And I’ve noticed that smokers tend to have train wrecks for personal lives – they can never seem to figure out that their vanishing partners, criminal kids, and those constant, ‘freak’ car accidents might have a common cause. Just because you don’t notice the problems your habit causes, doesn’t mean that others aren’t bothered by it.

     “Industrial Hemp could solve all of the world’s problems, only a vast government conspiracy keeps farmers from growing it!” 

    No, no it doesn’t. First of all, while cannabis is a member of the hemp family, not all hemp is cannabis. I grew up in a part of the U.S. (the cornbelt) where the Navy and Army tried to grow cannabis – on purpose- during World War II. They were trying to grow it for rope. They wound up abandoning all of the thousands of acres they planted because they discovered too late that the poor quality of cannabis fiber – too short, too coarse, too brittle – made it useless for rope. Ropes would have to remain made of sisal grown in tropical countries vulnerable to invasion by Axis powers. Hemp makes crappy paper – it’s worthless even as art/craft paper, it’s certainly no good for computer printers, rolling papers, toilet paper, or even brown paper bags. As a textile, it falls apart when it gets wet – which is why burlap bags aren’t made from it. If pot were worth growing for any purpose other than smoking, farmers would storm congress to grow it. And NO – the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were NOT written on hemp – they were written on PARCHMENT. Parchment is the tough, see-through layer between a calf’s hide and it’s muscles.

    1. You know, whenever pot is mentioned on a newsboard, the comment section winds up being the strongest argument for enforcement.

      Comments on a blog are a reason to continue prohibition?

      “Pot is great for the earth!” Really? Ripping up the native ecosystem to plant some subtropical exotic cash crop that needs LOTS of water and fertilizer is great?

      In areas where pot is legal, pot farming is conducted more or less sustainably, depending on the farmer and their skills and philosophy. Just like on any other farm growing any other crop.

      Your point fails.

      Are you the same people who hate meat because of all the water and fertilizer used to grow the corn that feeds the cows?

      Nope. Most people who smoke pot eat meat.

      You’re generalizing and stereotyping.

      Your point fails.

      You do realize that pot is more water- and nitrogen-intensive than corn? And growing it outdoors only works in warm, wet climates. At least post-harvest, cornstalks and leaves are plowed under to compost during the winter, along with lots and lots of cattle manure. I doubt if open-grown pot ever would be treated this way – certainly not in arid western states or above the Mason-Dixon line.

      Again, if you would look at how pot is grown in countries where it is legal, none of this is true. Your point fails. Again.

      “Pot smokers are ambitious and hardworking!”  Really? Because all of the potheads I’ve ever had the joy of working with were blowhards who would spend most of the day derailing meetings with their political rants (usually right-wing, oddly enough), and holding forth on how blindingly smart they were from their cubical castles.

      Ah, I see what you did there: you said “pot smokers” in one sentence and then “potheads” in the next, the one where you generalized and relied on stereotypes to make your point. “Pot smokers” are to “pot heads” as “people who have a glass or two of wine with dinner” are to “people who drink a fifth of vodka every night and die of cirrhosis.”

      Your point fails.

       “Industrial Hemp could solve all of the world’s problems, only a vast government conspiracy keeps farmers from growing it!” 

      Strawman.

       And NO – the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were NOT written on hemp – they were written on PARCHMENT. Parchment is the tough, see-through layer between a calf’s hide and it’s muscles.

      This is the only thing you wrote that is true. The only thing. Everything else was a steaming pile of dubious Archie Bunker-style ranting.

  20. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the carbon footprint of pot, and I don’t even smoke it. 

    I think pot should be legal because I don’t want to keep paying to lock up people who smoke it. What an incredibly stupid waste of money. 

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