Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I still remember my first sighting of a cotton plant. It was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Back then, there was no Camp X-Ray, and the base had a friendly feel about it. The white-sand beaches, palm and coconut trees and lots of sun made it a nice place. In addition, service personnel could rack up double duty time for their tour there, making it possible to retire on half-pension after sixteen years in, if one got stationed there for four.
Then it was just a nice plant, the soft white bolls with the dark seeds a bit of nostalgia. How it grew or how it got made into my uniform I did not care. Since then I'm sure I've worn a ton of it, but now I wish I hadn't
Even a little research would show that we are being very foolish to grow a water-hungry crop that needs lots of pesticides. In the US, millions of acres are cultivated, with about one millions of these in California. An Audubon article estimated that this practice had led to the death of some 67 million birds, and a look at the parched craters that once held water speaks a thousand words.
Many of the pesticides used are defoliants, sprayed right on to the plants, soaking the seeds, which are then used as cattle-feed, if not directly in human food (thought its taste is not making it a gourmet item). The cattle are then slaughtered and fed to...
Millions of acres in the US, millions in Asia and Africa, mostly to make clothes. The ground is poisoned in the process, the water-systems dried up, the birds left to die.
Growing other crops is the answer, and hemp is part of that. Both produce cellulose, but hemp can be used for more than textiles. In addition, hemp can be grown in both warm and cold climates.
Many companies, such as Minawear in California and The Hemp Trading Company of the UK are producing hemp clothing, helping to get this message to the public. Much will need to be done to replace cotton farming, but it will be worth the effort.
Not that I expect to see Gauntanamo Bay again, but I still wonder how that cotton plant got there. Maybe it was a bad omen. If I do ever go back, I will know what to plant instead.

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