Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

October 5, 2013

Estonia: Farms

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 5:28 am

This post on Drugs Sex and Public Health documents observations on a recent trip to Estonia.

 

Far from the rapidly modernizing capital, a half hour ferry ride across Baltic waters, the island of Saaremaa takes you back 100 years to the fishing and farming past of Estonia.

And, it appears, propels you into the country’s future.

We stand on the north shore of Saaremaa island, facing the Baltic.  A grey sea of water beneath a grey sea of clouds.

Flowers grow right to the water line, whipped by the wind that swirls out of Sweden, across the water, to Vikingize our hair.

Lightning silently flashes the grey clouds translucent. We hear only the washing of waves and humming of pine needles in the forest behind us. A full minute later, thunder rumbles, low and distant, from the horizon where sea and clouds fuse.

The wind suddenly intensifies and almost lifts a boat on the beach. The first thick drops splash our faces.  We turn our backs on the lightning show and head back to the cabin.

From our beds, we listen to the wind blast like the proverbial wolf at our roof of straw. We wince as the sudden explosions of electricity blind our dreams and simultaneous cracks of thunder vibrate the cabin.  We smell, all night, the fresh perfume of pelting rain.

Morning puddles disappear within an hour under the returning sun.  Thick clouds, residuals of the night storm, shadow across the sun briefly and non-threateningly. The day will be available for exploration.

Twenty kilometers down the road, surrounded by broad flat fields of hay, stand three old windmills.  Immobile now, their big blades decaying in the Baltic weather, the mills have been demoted to a tourist attraction.

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Here amid the Estonian farms, horses were given a reprieve in the 1920’s from the work of pulverizing grain into flour when craftsmen built the mills. They are two and three stories high, with wooden gears and twenty foot blades.  There are giant handles on the windmills so they can be turned into the wind.

Everywhere is grass and hay, thick with chlorophyll and fragrant under our steps, irrigated by the Baltic’s weather.  The dependable alternation of rain and sun keeps their rich, black soil producing, century after century.  The morning’s wind snaps at flags and at our clothes.

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Further on, we approach the port (“sadam” in Estonian) to catch a ferry back to the mainland.  Looming above the ubiquitous forest, like some Star Wars invasion machines, wind generators turn slow, powerful revolutions.  Once every six seconds on this day, as they face the Baltic and harvest its energy.

Estonia still gets 90% of its energy in Soviet fashion – from mining and burning oil shale.  This little country has the world’s largest oil shale processing plant and led the world in oil shale production in 2005. Most of the rest is imported natural gas and Nordic hydropower.

But, just as they extricated themselves from Soviet overlording in their social and political lives, they are moving in their own direction with energy production.

Currently wind power supplies 4% of Estonia’s grid capacity (almost the European average) but their goal is 14% by 2020.

 

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The 2020 target for all renewable energy sources is higher: 20%.  Currently, other than wind, its biomass.  But solar is on the planning boards. If Germany can do solar (it is the leading solar producer in Europe), Estonia’s Baltic weather should allow it, too.

Estonians have always known how to build a farm.  They have what they need for it in their land and their weather.  They are now beginning a new phase: farmers of wind, farmers of solar, farmers who repurpose their biomass.

Estonians have also shown their ability to adapt to other skills and to build for the future (invention of Skype as most obvious example).  They already have built a network of 165 “fast charging” stations for electric cars.

Some of their young visionary engineers are proposing 100% of energy production from renewables by 2030.

Don’t bet against them.

 

 

 

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