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All Things Considered: April 2007

Save your neck, and maybe save the planet


January 11, 2008
By Jim Knisley


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Save your neck, and maybe save the planet.  When it comes to reducing energy consumption… farmers are in the catbird’s seat

It’s been a couple of years since I climbed on a rickety, old kitchen chair with a flashlight in my mouth and fumbled with a screwdriver trying to remove the lightshade so I could replace the burnt out bulb in a ceiling mounted fixture.

As I recall, the last time I did this I thought to myself “I’m way too old for this.” But I think I was probably always too old for that nonsense, I just wasn’t smart enough to realize it.

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But, as I said, it’s been a couple of years since I did that. The reason is that I replaced that bulb and all the others with longer-lasting, compact fluorescent bulbs.

These bulbs are also highly energy efficient using 80 per cent less electricity to produce just as much light as an incandescent bulb and that is their main selling point these days. For me that is a bonus. An additional bonus is that I’m apparently doing my part to slow global warming and save the planet.

Australia and California are in the process of eliminating incandescent bulbs in favour of fluorescent. In California, this will cut electricity use in the state by 10 per cent. Australia is expecting similar results. Along the way they are anticipating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions because they will need to produce less electricity from coal.

There is also an expectation that the changeover will save consumers money. Using a handy calculator provided by my local utility I discovered that each fluorescent bulb reduces my energy bill by about $10 a year. Not a big deal, but nothing to sneeze at either. Over the last two years I’ve saved more than enough to cover off the higher cost of the fluorescent bulbs and am now pocketing pure savings.

So now I’m saving money, doing my bit to save the planet and may have saved my neck, or a leg or an arm and especially my sanity as well as keeping my blood pressure in check.

Making the change was clearly sensible for me and I don’t have all that many light bulbs. A poultry barn has many, many more. Switching to fluorescent makes a ton of sense. It will save money, it’s easy to do and might even make you feel good about doing your part to reduce total energy use and reduce CO2 emissions.

But that could be only the start. When it comes to reducing energy consumption or even producing you own, farmers are in the catbird’s seat.

There are a ton of options and many farmers are already using them. These range from passive or active solar to provide heat or generate electricity, to wind power, to geothermal, to biodigesters and that list goes on.

You can probably even make your own biodiesel. There are a number of sites on the Internet that will tell you how to build, or buy, your own system.

Where that might get tricky is when it comes to federal and provincial fuel taxes. If you make your own fuel are you supposed to pay them and if so how much – I don’t know.

But I do know that it makes a great deal of sense to investigate what’s available out there.

Maybe wind power makes no sense for your location, but solar might. Geothermal may not make any sense right now, but in five years maybe will. Setting up a biodigester on your own farm might not be economic, but maybe a partnership with others in the area makes it worth considering.

But the one thing you should certainly look at phasing in, if you haven’t already done it, are fluorescent bulbs. When one of the old bulbs burns out replace it with fluorescent and then forget about it for 10 years. After a while you’ll likely notice the savings. On a completely different subject, land prices are jumping. Last year, the price of farmland anywhere in North America’s corn belt rose faster than property prices in midtown Manhattan or anywhere else. Prices in the corn belt are up 15 to 20 per cent and rising while Manhattan prices rose 12 per cent in 2006 and have stalled.

Land prices are even up in Argentina and everywhere else in the world where corn is grown.

The jump is attributed to higher corn prices and increased ethanol demand.

The last time we saw this kind of rapid, widespread rise in land prices was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was an era when the phrase “Buy land that aren’t making any more” rang out on every rural road.

When crop prices fell in the mid to late 1980s there were an awful lot of farmers who had taken on too much debt to buy too much land at too high a price. This time may be different, but be careful. n


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