Peat Harvesting Coming to an End in Ireland
Bog Rehabilitation Projects Launched Around the World
The giant Irish Electrical Utility and Peat-harvesting company, Bord na Mona has announced an initiative to close 17 of its peat-harvesting locations shortly, and the remaining 45 locations within 7 years. Used as a fuel source throughout much of Ireland and some areas of Scotland and the UK, peat is being replaced by wind, solar and bio fuels as a power source. Irish Whiskey fans have “naught to worry a wee bit,” as the use of peat to flavor their favorite brews are not in danger, but the cutting and burning of bogs across the planet are in fact posing a great danger due to the staggering amounts of CO2 released that are accelerating global warming.
Announcing the move to stop peat harvesting, Bord na Mona Chief Executive, Tom Donnellan, said:
“Decarbonisation is the biggest challenge facing this planet. For Bord na Móna it presents both a serious challenge and a national opportunity. By accelerating the move away from peat into renewable energy, resource recovery, and new businesses we are supporting national policy and seizing the opportunity presented by decarbonisation. Standing still is not an option for Bord na Móna. We are embarking on a transition phase now which will see us become a leading provider of renewable energy on the Island of Ireland by 2026, a leader in high-value recycling and provider of a range of new low carbon goods and services…”
Peat Bogs and Boreal Forests Cover 3% of the Earth’s Surface
Although only 3% of the earth’s surface is covered by bogs, they store 30% of the earth’s CO2. Think about those proportions—This very small bit of land, most of which in in the northern hemisphere, holds the key to the alarming rate of global warming, drought and wildfires that the entire world has experienced in less than a single decade.
When bogs lands remain wet, they safeguard the thousands and thousands of years’ creation of CO2 created by the accumulation of decaying plant matter. For this reason, bogs are often called “Carbon Sinks” as CO2 and other destructive greenhouse gasses stay harmlessly underground when they are wet. It is only when the land is drained and the top layers removed for fuel or burned to create new crop lands that the release of CO2 into the atmosphere is enormous, and the benefits to the area are few.
- Wildlife, some of which have provided sustenance for centuries, disappears
- The acidity of the boggy soil does not produce abundant food crops over time
- Burning of the peat for fuel is inefficient, pollutes the air, damages health
- The water quality degrades, and drought is often a consequence of weather change
- Resultant Fires and Floods cause the death and displacement if 100,000’s of people a year
(Source: The Global Assessment on Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change, 2010)
“Tropical peat swamps, boreal forests and arctic permafrost regions, as well as temperate bogs, are a true global heritage, occurring in more than 180 countries. Although the cover only 3 percent of the land area, they store nearly 30 percent of all global soil carbon. They hold approximately as much carbon as is found in the atmosphere or as in the total of terrestrial biomass…However, time is running out. The continued burning, degradation, drainage and exploitation of peatlands all over the globe, and particularly in Southeast Asia due to forest fires, constitute a ‘time bomb’ of massive amounts of below-ground stored carbon ready to be released in the atmosphere.”
Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Program, 2010.
Predictions of Consequences of Bog Destruction Realized in 2015-18
Less than a decade later, the predictions of these hundreds of eco-scientists are indeed coming to pass.
- In 2016, a peat bog /boreal forest fire in the rural community of Fort McMurray near Alberta Canada burned from May, 2016 until August, 2017! The forest was growing on top of thousands of years of peat accumulation that burned and then smoldered for a full year and three months, causing $9.9 billion in damages and loss of property and livelihood. It is the largest forest fire in Canadian history.
- In 2015, more than 100,000 premature deaths across Northeast Asia have been attributed to intentionally set peat bog fires in Indonesia, (some visible from space) as plantation owners cleared land for farming.
- 2016-17 Satellite photos of the Boreal forests (forest, wetlands, lakes, bogs and tundra that keep 1/3 of the CO2 in the world underground) in Canada, Russia, Northern Europe, and Alaska show the largest number of fires in history due to the extreme warm temperatures and drought conditions. https://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2017/05/Russian_wildfires
- The 2018 North American fire season is 25 percent worse than during the same time period in 2017. As of August 20, 2018, wildfires had burned 4.5 million acres.
- The frequency of western U.S. wildfires has increased by 400 percent since 1970. California, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico experience the worst damage. These fires have burned six times the land area as before and last five times longer. Their fierce temperatures consume all nutrients and vegetation, leaving little to grow back. (Kimberly Amadeo, The Balance, November 30, 2018.)
When Restored, Wetlands Become “CO2 Sinks” Once Again
Surprisingly, drained and damaged bogs can be rehabilitated and restored in less than a decade. When restored, they stop emitting CO2, and contribute of a healthier, cooler air mass. A prime example of how rapidly bogs can be returned to their natural functioning is the United Nation Environmental Program (UNDP) /European Union’s pilot programs in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. By working with communities to re-hydrate wetlands and develop new and more appropriate business ventures, “it’s estimated that 30 million tons of carbon has been kept in ground…the equivalent the UNDP says of closing 140 coal-fired energy plants.” And this transformation did not take decades and $Billions of dollars…this level of turnaround was accomplished in just 5 ½ years!
When the bogs in these pilot areas were drained in an attempt to create more arable farmland, the effect was far from positive. As the temperatures increased, fires became more prevalent and the water levels dropped, costing the area it’s sustaining natural wildlife, including deer, rabbits and waterfowl. The European Union /UNDP funded and organized the Clima East project in 2012 to restore the area’s ecosystems, reverse the impact of the CO2release, and develop newer more sustainable livelihoods for the residents.
In less than 5 years, with the re-hydration of private arable peatlands to their semi-natural condition, the wildlife is returning, and the application of newer farming methods have brought these communities a higher level of productivity and quality of life. It is more than a bit humbling to see that the villages in the Clima East project, most without educational resources beyond elementary school, could determine that they as a community had the will bring their areas back to productivity and through their efforts, to make the world a better place for their next generations.
“If these peatlands (in the Clima East project) can be maintained and protected for the next 20 years, it will keep 132 million tons of CO2 in the ground, the equivalent to taking more than 20 million cars off the road. If peatland communities can be empowered to protect their own homes and livelihoods by restoring the environment, their experience can serve as a salutary example for all of us.”
Story by Andrea Egan, Taylor Rees, and UNDP Belarus, UNDP Ukraine, UNDP Russia / Photos: Taylor Rees for UNDP Russia, Andrea Egan, Igor Lavrinenko, and Dmitry Kaverin © 2018 Climate Adaptation UNDP
HortGrow’s “Best Practices” to “Grow Like the Pros”
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