A rose by any other name

Ed
Ed Smith
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It's time we had some straight talk about gas. Everyone's talking about the high price of gas. What everyone may not be aware of is that a large part of the cost per gallon is government taxes.

Taxes again.

My granddaughter yesterday asked me why we had to pay taxes.

"So government can keep our roads passable, and hospitals and schools open..."

The view from here - It's time we had some straight talk about gas. Everyone's talking about the high price of gas. What everyone may not be aware of is that a large part of the cost per gallon is government taxes.

Taxes again.

My granddaughter yesterday asked me why we had to pay taxes.

"So government can keep our roads passable, and hospitals and schools open..."

"What keeps the government open?"

"Taxes," I said wearily, "taxes."

"How do they know how much to take?"

"Easy," I said. "They take as much as we let them take."

Looking at it now, I realize that was a fair bit of wisdom from me. Thing is, they seem to know exactly how much to take without starting a rebellion.

But if you think we have it bad here, you should be living in New Zealand and be a sheep farmer. I know a fair amount about sheep in New Zealand. There are roughly 10 times as many sheep in that country as there are human beings.

That's where the Church of the Woolly Haired Sacrificial Lambs had its beginning and flourishes to this very day. I'm one of the few people outside that country to be a paid-up, card-carrying member of that church.

Ah, you say, they must be taxing sheep, are they? Well, not exactly.

Having been chastised by a reader, a one-time reader, I think, for not being careful enough with my "facts" in my last column on gas and oil, I hasten to point out that the facts reported in this column are indeed factual.

I have also been hauled over the coals for saying the word "diarrhea." I should warn the person concerned that I intend to use the word "fart" very soon in this column. On the other hand, she said she wasn't going to read any more of my drivel so we won't worry about "fart." Let us carry on.

You've heard of the problem of methane gas in the atmosphere? You are also aware of where much of this gas comes from? Right. From the innards of cows and sheep in what the polite news stories are calling belches.

These belches are belches gone in the wrong direction and becoming something else. We call them farts. Farts is a perfectly good English word and a great Newfoundland word. The polite word is flatulence, but that's no fun.

It is estimated by those who are supposed to know that more than 20 per cent of greenhouse gases is made up of methane. Methane, again calculated by the experts, is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

These same experts say that a humble, ordinary, honest-to-God cow can expel through its rear end 500 litres of methane gas a day.

I don't know how they calculate it, Ma'am. Perhaps they feed the cows bubble gum and then count the number of pink bubbles coming out of its bum. By measuring beforehand how much methane each of those bubbles is capable of holding, they can accurately gauge how much methane the cow is producing.

No? You don't think that's practical? OK, here's another idea. Having witnessed similar experiments from my university days among the more adventurous students, it would be interesting to stand behind each cow with a match or cigarette lighter. The length of the flame ignited by the methane coming out of the cow would give an indication of how much methane is being produced, although I don't think it would be that exact.

If you're not aware of these university residence experiments, talk to any person older than 40 who went to Memorial University. All they needed at the time was some boiled cabbage, some peas pudding, a dozen beer and a box of matches.

Perhaps I should point out that the university experiments involved humans rather than cattle. That's how I know humans also produce methane. Methane is also one of the more audible gases, especially in humans.

I mentioned New Zealand at the start. It's estimated by scientists that fully half the methane gas produced in that country comes from farm animals.

The government has become desperate in their attempts to limit the amount of animal methane going into the atmosphere and has proposed a tax on sheep-produced methane, which for some reason has quickly become known as the fart tax.

Farmers objected strenuously and last I heard the Wellington government was beginning to rethink its fart-tax strategy. Actually, countries all over the world, including Canada, are trying to find ways of reducing methane emissions from animals as a more practical way of reducing greenhouse gases.

One of these is to mix animal feed with fish oil. Evidently, methane is cut almost in half by that process. We might have known that was coming, now that we've run out of fish. On the other hand, they didn't say what kind of fish. We've got tonnes of conners and sculpons around wharves and stage heads.

I don't know how much attention has been paid to the idea of the judicious application of corks, just a little larger than what one finds in wine bottles. Now there's a thought: insert wine bottles in the animal's backsides and collect the methane directly. There must be something wrong with that idea or someone would have tried it, most likely another Newfoundlander.

I said earlier that humans also produce methane through flatulence (perhaps it's time I used a little more polite language here; never know who might be reading). I don't know how much it is, but if you're looking for guinea pigs I have a couple of relatives I could offer up.

I'd lay good money on their ability to produce as much methane as any bovine. 500 litres a day would be nothing for them. Of course, I base that only on what I can hear.

And sometimes smell.

Ed Smith lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is edsmith@persona.ca

Organizations: Church of the Woolly Haired Sacrificial Lambs

Geographic location: New Zealand, Newfoundland, Wellington Canada Springdale

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