Don’t let money rule your world


Hemp Paper

Hemp Paper

Hemp Paper

Society may be moving away from paper dependency, but we’re not there yet. Forty-two per cent of the world’s industrial wood harvest goes to the production of paper, and 87 per cent of that paper is used by industrialized western nations like the United States and Canada. And despite its pristine appearance, paper is anything but clean.

The process industrial paper makers use to turn wood pulp into paper has been shown to result in a number of harmful chemical by-products such as carbon monoxide, ammonia, nitrogen oxide, mercury, nitrates, methanol, benzene, chloroform, and dioxins.
Despite its negative side effects wood paper is the only game in town these days, but it wasn’t always that way.

Back in the day hemp paper was a popular and widely used alternative to wood paper. Many of the founding documents of the United States are printed on hemp: two drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Hemp paper doesn’t require bleaching, lasts longer and is more durable than its wood-based brother. So why didn’t it catch on?

Declaration of Independence


At first the reason was a practical one. When the Industrial Revolution took the Western world by storm, people built machines to make larger amounts of paper faster, to meet with the growing demand brought on by the spread of literacy. Hemp, however, proved too much for the first machines. Its fibers were too tough. And so wood pulp based paper became the golden standard.
People didn’t give up on hemp, though. In the early 1920s and ‘30s mechanization was getting more sophisticated and industrial hemp paper production looked like a viable option. Hemp, being a highly renewable resource and relatively easy to grow, had the potential to revolutionize the paper industry (among others). Deforestation could be slowed and many of the harmful chemicals used in the making of paper could be done away with.

But by this time there was a whole industry based around the use and production of wood pulp paper. People had become rich off wood and they wanted to keep the money coming, people like William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst owned a large number of newspapers in the United States. He also owned large tracts of forest and paper mills. Using his newspapers Hearst launched a massive smear campaign against hemp. He published any number of articles with headlines like, “Marihuana Makes Fiends of Boys in 30 Days,” and “Hasheesh Goads Users to Blood Lust.” His articles actually popularized the term Marihuana. Many of the articles published in Hearst’s papers would later be used as evidence against hemp in the mid-1930s when the U.S. government held hearings to consider whether the plant and its relatives should become controlled substances.
In 1937 after various hearings on numerous levels of government, the U.S. adopted the Marihuana Act. This act didn’t criminalize the possession or cultivation of hemp, but it might as well have. A tax was levied on anyone who dealt commercially with hemp (by this time Hearst’s campaign had proved so successful that cannabis and hemp were considered practically the same thing) and strict rules surrounded its production.
Farmers were required to pay $1 a year to register as growers but could be subject to a fine of $2000 or five years in prison if they inadvertently violated the conditions of the Act—for instance should any plant in their crop test above the allowed level of THC (the average income at the time was about $500 a year). Those who chose to pay the tax were required to register their names and place of business with the tax collector who was then obliged to give out that information to anyone who wanted it provided they paid the fee ($1 for every 100 names). Those who wanted to import hemp were charged $1 per ounce of hemp they wished to buy, and were charged a fine of $100 per ounce if found in possession without paying the tax.

As a result most farmers were either too poor or too afraid of the consequences to attempt commercial hemp production and the cost of trying to import hemp into the eager U.S. market became prohibitively high. The technology that would have allowed the large-scale production of hemp paper withered for lack of opportunity, wood pulp kept its monopoly on the paper industry and Hearst continued to make money. The laws that Hearst encouraged with his media blitz are still in place today in the U.S., though in a slightly different form.

The Electric Car


NiMH battery
NiMH Battery

You may have heard of the EV1 and its unfortunate demise. EV1 was the fully electrical car that General Motors released in 1996 and ultimately killed in 2002 and was the subject of the very popular 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?

You may not have heard of NiMH, the Nickle-metal Hybrid battery pack that was the power source for the EV1 and is quite possibly the best battery produced to date. A man named Stanford R. Ovshinsky invented it and turned over the rights to GM, with whom he was working at the time.

In 2008 as gas prices soared and the world eagerly waited for an alternative to paying at the pump, many people questioned GM about why they weren’t re-releasing the EV1, an electric car that had already proven itself on the market. Instead the company announced its plans for the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, a car that was only capable of driving 40 miles on electric power before its gas powered engine had to kick in (about one third of the distance the EV1 was capable of before it had to recharge)
When GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on June 1, 2009, some saying because the company was out of touch with consumer trends, producing large cars for a market that wanted to downsize, critics asked why GM didn’t dig into its blueprints and bring back the EV. The answer is simple; they couldn’t.

On October 10, 2000 GM sold its controlling shares in Energy Conversion Devices, Inc., Ovshinsky’s research and development company, and therefore the patent rights for the NiMH battery to Texaco, who later merged with Chevron, an oil company. They quickly quashed the wide-scale us of NiMH technology.

When Ovshinsky initially created the battery his company granted permission to use it to a number of car companies, Toyota included. Toyota decided to use the battery in their RAV4-EV, a limited distance electric car. In March 2002 after taking control of the patent, Chevron sued Toyota for 30 million dollars for patent infringement. Nine months later the two companies came to an agreement; Toyota would stop making NiMH batteries and discontinue its line of RAV4-EVs. After the settlement the car company refused to extend any leases and began collecting what cars they could to have them destroyed.

Some argue that Chevron just wanted to stay in control of the distribution of the technology and hasn’t received any viable offers from car manufacturers to use the NiMH recently. But as recently as August of this year, Chevron (and therefore Energy Conversion Devices, Inc.) announced it was pulling its funding out of the only company that was manufacturing large NiMH batteries, dooming a deal it had established with Mercedes to let the company use the power source to run its new line of hybrid SUVs

In the mean time there are a number of small start ups which are taking advantage of government technology investment programs. A new group of entrepreneurs the world over a looking into cheap renewable fuel sources (e.g. bio fuel companies that receive funding from government grants Canada programs).

Golden Rice

Golden Rice

Despite how you might feel about genetically modified foods, the story of Golden Rice is a good example of a large corporation trying to strangle a noble idea.

For centuries people have been breeding plants in an effort to come up with the strongest, most nutritious varieties possible, and for just about that long they’ve been trying to protect the secrets of their successes.

In the 1930s the first Plant Patents were passed in the U.S. though law-makers were careful to exclude food plants, saying food was too important to allow monopolization. But these high moral sentiments wouldn’t last long. By 1980 patent laws were redefined to allow the patenting of genetic organisms, by extension allowing a monopoly of all biological products and processes associated with the patent. By 1985 whole plants could be patented. By 1987 animals were patentable.
This has left us in a situation where 10 companies control one third of the global seed industry and two companies—Dupont and Monsanto—own 73 per cent of the seed and corn market in the U.S. This doesn’t affect most North Americans substantially, but it has a huge effect on people trying to breed new plant strains.
In 1992 scientists Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg and Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology started a project to create a new strain of rice that would help children suffering from Vitamin A deficiencies in the developing world, a condition that results in approximately one to two million deaths and about half a million cases of blindness annually. Their idea: create a strain of rice that produced beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, as many of the countries whose populations suffer from Vitamin A deficiencies rely on rice as their staple food.
Researchers toiled on the science for eight years trying to get it right. Finally in 2000, they released their findings. Right off the bat Golden Rice faced about 30 intellectual property right violation claims. The researchers had had to use over 70 patented processes to create the new strain of rice. This situation could have killed off Golden Rice entirely; It could have stayed locked away in a Swiss greenhouse forever.
Luckily, the media was on the side of the inventors. Neither of the inventors wanted to profit off of the invention. In fact, Potrykus wanted to distribute the rice for free to communities at risk of Vitamin A deficiencies. He was featured on the cover of TIME magazine next to the headline “This Rice Could Save A Million Kids A Year” the same year the two men announced their discovery. The patent owners—Monsanto among them—eventually granted Golden Rice a Humanitarian Use License and the product is in its second generation, now containing even more provitamin A than ever.

15 Responses to “3 World-changing Innovations Held Back By Corporations”

  1. matt Says:

    Thanks for the glimpse of history.
    A correction: NiMH stands for “Nickel-Metal Hydride”

  2. Uncle B Says:

    EV-1 batteries did the trick! They were good enough! Look what happened to them! Locked away from the “American People” by patent laws and a very corrupt corporate system! Depleted Uranium, very high density, possible Holy Grail of all battery, cold fusion, development, held in U.S. Navy labs, away from the people! “Wars for Oil” are these folks stock and trade, only a fool believes they would let such huge potential as depleted Uranium has, to be freely explored by Universities, private labs, Not gonna happen! Leaked article on net shows “Depleted Uranium Super Battery” in use by U.S. Navy, along with a super generator, a very small powerful high frequency device that rapidly charges aircraft batteries, and appears to be a two stroke diesel powered, if not turbo powered affair - still searching for that website. It seems to have disappeared? Can you help me? Is the net censored? controlled? Corruption will supersede all marvelous discoveries, and we shall endure the “Status Quo” as the ‘Money Men” wish! Going to school in America a fruitless waste of time! Discoveries not honored, used for common good, but shelved so the OPEC and current profiteers can flourish! “money talks or nobody walks”, and American proverb!

  3. Jim Says:

    Corporations didnt do it, politicians did. Corporations simply asked for government backing and they got it. Therefore, big government isnt here to save you, but are part of the problem. Please remove head from butt.

  4. robb Says:

    it’s all down to politics.
    and some nasty policies, too.
    otherwise, we’ll move closer to what future might seem to looks like.

  5. Hemp Paper – World-Changing Innovation Held Back By Corporations « HempNews Says:

    […] with his media blitz are still in place today in the U.S., though in a slightly different form. Source. […]

  6. Joe Says:

    Here is what happened. The government cannot collect taxes on the electricity used to run cars. Therefore, there cannot be any large scale adoption of electric cars until the government finds a way to tax the electricity one uses to charge one’s car. End of story.

  7. Perfect plastic cards Says:

    It is all politics:

    Politics, it seems to me, for years, or all too long, has been concerned with right or left instead of right or wrong. ~Richard Armour

    Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason. ~Author Unknown

    Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against. ~W.C. Fields

    We live in a world in which politics has replaced philosophy. ~Martin L. Gross, A Call for Revolution, 1993

  8. Alex Libman Says:

    That’s complete and total bull. Corporations exist in a competitive environment and don’t have the power to hold back anything that their would-be competitors (the 6+ billion people who don’t work for them) can do. The economic stagnation comes from the one and only monopoly that has ever existed — the government — and its use of force to limit competition, protect its cronies (ex. patents), and otherwise pursue power for its own sake!

  9. Uncle B Says:

    Dear Alex Libman: A corporation bought the patents for the EV_1’s batteries and shelved them in “Patent Oblivion” to protect themselves from the battery car - Plain and simple, and documented in the movie - Google, torrent, the movie “Who Killed The Electric Car” and study this expose of corrupt American corporate manipulation! Then: Ask yourself, “Why the flourish of Hybrids and Electric cars for the 2014 market in the ’states”? Then go look at the price of gasoline at the pump! America is in a squeeze-play between burgeoning Asian growth and demand for oil world-wide with a very strong Yuan, bidding against a very weakened and devaluing U.S.Dollar - consider the tax on gasoline, the higher the price in US. the more the government gets! so they rejoice! You pay for the great big debt of the government, and the Asians see this and offer you an alternative to walking - battery and hybrid cars, but your electrical infrastructure, long neglected, and your Nuclear/Electric infrastructure so poorly planned that even this will not save you, so Obama seeds a Nuclear/Electric powered electric bullet train network in Florida and still, this is far to little far to late! I know you crave, and feel entitled to, a Buick Electra 225 with factory air, and still shop for it and hope for it as a retirement car, but this will never happen - too little oil in the world with too much money chasing it has written off the liquid foreign energy economy of the U.S.A. and the dollar falls like a stone - even Canadian “Loonie” has parity with the sawbuck - and a Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro, Tidal, Geothermal, Nuclear, Electric economy will replace the foreign liquid energy economy after much convulsive turmoil and gut wrenching paradigm shift in the U.S.A. and in only decades! The next few decades! You will be converted by economic forces! Yes, you will so use LED lights, battery cars, super-insulated buildings with full solar respect!You will eat much less meat! - no oil to produce it! Life is so going to change - the falling dollar, which buys less and less oil for more and more dollars is dictating this to be so! As long as a weaker dollar commands less and less of the 80% of world resources required to maintain the American Dream lifestyle, your lifestyle will diminish! Fact of life and my point.

  10. Alex Libman Says:

    I saw “Who Killed The Electric Car” when it came out. Don’t you realize that patents are a governmental construct that cannot possibly exist in a libertarian society that’s free from irrational government force?! The corporations’ use of intellectual property law is just a natural result of economic evolution - companies that don’t use it will be taken advantage of by their competitors that will. It was the government that killed the electric car (and the flying car, which we certainly could have had by now), in part through patents and in part through regulatory red tape, the economic damage that all government intervention in free market causes, the “public” roads monopoly that’s isolated from market signals, as well as all the trillion dollar wars for cheaper oil!

  11. Jason Says:

    Dear Alex Libman–

    Corporations spend a lot of money lobbying to protect patent and intellectual property laws. Politicians pay attention to people or groups who bother them a lot and give them campaign contributions. The bigger the contributions, the more attention they will pay. The government didn’t just decide to pass these laws out of the blue–it did so because the people it paid attention to were overwhelmingly in favor of them. And it’s pretty strange to call patents a consequence of “the government,” (I assume by “the government” you mean the sprawling monstrosity of today that we refer to as the federal government) considering that in the US the very first Congress in passed a Patent Act in 1790 and granted Samuel Hopkins of Vermont a patent for a potash production technique. President George Washington signed the bill into law, and Thomas Jefferson sat on the first patent board. As long as there has been an independent government in this country there has been patent law. So unless you are claiming that the very first Congress, comprised of the founding fathers, was bad in the same way that today’s government is bad, I think the problem has more to do with abusive big corporations.

  12. Batteries that kill | couchcricket Says:

    […] leap in the way we can store and release energy and still survives the big boys. More about that here and […]

  13. fredboy Says:

    I know corporate types who brag about “owning” politicians and regulators. And wrote about the regulatory-banking revolving door, the interbreeding that failed us during the S and L and 2008 economic financial crises. Patent law, developed to protect inventors’ right, is also used as a preventive sword. The result: countless thousand innovations that would help others are blocked, stifled, or shelved by frustrated inventors annually.

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