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This grass is great for the globe!
Hank Pellissier   May 11, 2011   Ethical Technology  

What can stop eco-disasters? Advanced technology? Perhaps, but the savior also might be a 40-million-year-old plant…

Bamboozled? You’re right! Bamboo is shooting into prominence as a flexible friend of humanity. The skinny stalk with the whispering leaves and white roots is exhibiting a husky talent as a cure for multiple planetary illnesses.

The long weed has been showered in recent years with optimistic praise. Here is a partial list of its complimentary monikers:

The Wonder Grass
The Phenomenon of the Vegetable Kingdom
The 21st Century Eco-Fiber
The Future of Sustainability
The Natural Material of the 21st Century
The Future of Green Fashion
The Poster Child for Environmentally-Friendly Accessorizing
The World’s Fastest-Growing Renewable Resource
The Premiere Construction Material of Our Time

Name your main fret. Are you suffocating with fear of greenhouse gases? An acre of bamboo absorbs 33% more carbon dioxide and releases 35% more oxygen than hardwood trees. Forests of bamboo—which can thrive at subtropical sea level and on 12,000 foot mountains—can provide our lungs with an increase of our favorite gas.

poem1Limbs quivering with despair due to deforestation? Yes, one million acres per week are lost to lumbering, and hardwoods—like oak or teak—can require up to 50 years to reach maturity. Pulp woods like poplar, eucalyptus, and pine require six to ten years, but fast-growing bamboo only needs three to five years before harvesting, with certain varieties skyrocketing up a shocking one meter per day! Harvested bamboo forests also require no additional planting; new shoots emerge from its extensive root system.

Shuddering because soil is being poisoned by chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides? Bamboo can calm you. Clothing made of bamboo is now promoted as the eco-replacement for intensely-sprayed cotton, which uses a ghastly, gaseous 25% of the world’s insecticides. Bamboo cloth is capable of being as soft as silk, with 60% more water absorption than cotton.

Thirsty for water shortage solutions? Bamboo quenches this anxiety. It’s twice as water-efficient as trees, requiring little or no irrigation, just natural rainfall, and it can be cultivated in arid areas. Bamboo’s water-thrifty skills contrast sharply with gluttonous cotton—arguably the biggest H2O-sucker in world agriculture. Last month, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathi suggested to her Kenyan government that bamboo replace eucalyptus as a crop in the highlands because its water demands are more modest.

Exhausted by your elemental fear of carbon depletion? Deja vu, bamboo to the rescue. An acre of bamboo can store 6.88 metric tons of carbon per year, 70% more than an acre of hardwood, reports the World Wildlife Fund.

pandaAnxious about erosion? Tense with topsoil loss? Landslides bring you down? When hardwood forests are clear cut, erosion follows, but bamboo harvesting protects the soil because its interwoven root system stays intact. Cuba has planted six thousand hectares of bamboo to safeguard its soil.

Famished for solutions to world hunger? Bamboo shoots are nutritious and delicious—you don’t have to be a panda to enjoy them. Low in fat, high in potassium and fiber, plus Vitamin A, B6, E, calcium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, chromium, antioxidants, anti-bacterials, antivirals, anti-carcinogens and 17 amino acids. Taiwan consumes 80,000 tons of bamboo shoots per year, and 30,000 tons of bamboo shoots are annually imported to the USA.

Want to alleviate poverty in the Third World? Bamboo provides numerous jobs in developing countries. In India, village peasants grow it, and tribal people harvest it from forests. In Ecuador, it was noted that “bamboo can generate income for the rural poor with little capital investment.” Poor populations in Vietnam, the Philippines, Guatemala, Benin, Ghana, and numerous other nations gain from bamboo’s utilization, and it’s projected as a “new cash crop” for the USA’s economically-depressed Mississippi Delta, to replace exhausted cotton. China is the bamboo king of the $7.55 billion annual market, accounting for 80% of exports, to 177 countries. Many nations are just beginning to grow the giant grass which is predicted to be “one of the biggest exports and imports throughout the world in the 21st century.”

Looking for a natural product that curbs mining and heavy industry pollution? Sick of synthetics? Plastics make you puke? If so, bamboo is your buddy. There are 1,500 documented uses of versatile bamboo, for example: bedding, bath towels, baby wear, bagpipes, beads, baskets, brooms, bows, bridges, bats, bicycles—and that’s just the beginning of the B’s! In tech/science, Thomas Edison used carbonized bamboo filament in his light bulb development, plus there’s a bamboo stylus for the iPad, a bamboo Macbook case, a bamboo laptop cover, and a biodegradable bamboo-and-rattan-based Phoenix concept car.

poem2Seeking a superior building material? Bamboo houses have survived floods, landslides, earthquakes, and cyclones. The stalk’s flexibility is well known, but they’re also so strong they’ve been used as “rebar” in Asia to reinforce concrete. In 1992, a 7.5 earthquake in Costa Rica crumbled all the buildings around a development of twenty bamboo houses—the government subsequently decided to annually subsidize the construction of a thousand new bamboo houses.


I planted fifty yellow bamboo by my driveway. I toss bamboo shoots in my salad. I sit comfortably in my bamboo furniture and read “Bamboomania.” There is a bamboo grove in Golden Gate Park that is beautiful to sit inside. Listen to the stalks clattering and the thin leaves murmuring hope.

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.



COMMENTS

Yeah, bamboo is amazing stuff.

My practice swords are made out of bamboo (shinai)  smile

It never ceases to amaze me how many natural solutions there are to our complex of self created problems.

Go bamboo!

I really enjoyed this article!  Bamboo grows quite well here in East Tennessee.  I see it in a lot of yards and in plots in various parks.  I have done some knitting and crocheting with bamboo yarn, and it is indeed very soft and fun to work with.  Perhaps if we used more of this fast-growing grass, we could leave the long-growing hardwoods to keep growing in peace. 

Yes, KT, I also like the idea that we could leave hardwood forests intact instead of cutting them down at the present rate of… 1 million acres per week.  Hopefully there will be a lot of bamboo grown in the southern states, otherwise it will be yet another item we import from China.

All in all a wonderful article but I do have one question.  In regards to the idea of locking up excess CO2 in the biomass of bamboo, how long does an individual bamboo plant live?  I ask because similar ideas have been proposed for other plant species and the efficacy of it is largely determined by how long the organism lives.  If bamboo dies after only a few years then that excess carbon isn’t going to be out of the atmosphere for long.

hi Matt—thanks for your question.  It seems like the lifespan of bamboo is quite variable depending on the species.  Some only live 7-10 years, others up to 40-50 years.  There’s a desire to increase the lifespan that agronomists are surely working on—especially for the “commercial breeds”—here’s two links to rather long-lived variants:

http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/bengal_bamboo.htm

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-01-17/mangalore/28366821_1_bamboo-flowering-rodent

This article is very inspiring, perhaps too inspiring. It is great to think that this would be a great ‘quick fix’, for many of the worlds problems, but one must do the research.  Would this ‘wonder plant’ do more harm than good if it becomes an invasive species?  Many exodic plants have been brought to our soils for many reasons. When a plant out prosper the native plants and have no natural enemies, they not only cause a loose in biodiversity, but become a weed that upsets the balance of our fragile southwestern water ways, like ‘arondo donax’.  Check with your local Forest Service, county extention office, or NRCS experts, and grow native.

A very informative material about bamboo. But they are not suitable for Hydroponic Gardening though.

Container Gardening using hydroponic is suitable when you have small space and no soil to plant on. You can grow your kitchen herbs and vegetables, keeping you organically healthy and contributing something good for the environment at the same time.

Go Green! 

http://www.gogreengardening.com/  wink

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