What can stop eco-disasters? Advanced technology? Perhaps, but the savior also might be a 40-million-year-old plant… 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.
Limbs 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.
Anxious 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.
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.
Seeking 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.
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 in the 21st century.