Mining peat is ignorant.

Caterpillar creek from the air.
Caterpillar creek from the air.

Peatlands are a climate superhero! They’re the most carbon rich terrestrial ecosystem on the planet. Only the ocean stores more carbon than peatlands.

The exploitation of peatlands for private profit is growing. Companies continue to promote peat mining as a rural employment opportunity, even as scientists around the world are calling for protection of peat. Governments are happy to take the word of peat mine companies and lobby groups and ignore the advice of scientists, even ones they commission to study peat. 

It’s hard to choose which reason to highlight about why peat mining is such a terrible idea. Here are the top 7 reasons peat mining is ignorant.

  1. Peat is so carbon rich that while it only covers 3 per cent of the Earth’s land surface it provides 30 per cent of the carbon storage. It does so by locking carbon away underwater. As soon as the water in peat is drained away, it begins to break down and emit the carbon it’s stored for centuries.
  2. Peat takes an incredible amount of time to form. It accumulates very slowly, only millimeters per year. Peat mining takes something away that we cannot get back for centuries. 
  3. Peatlands, or ‘muskeg’ in Cree, are ecologically and culturally important. Medicines, food harvest, ceremony and education in muskeg are a key part of cultural life for Indigenous communities.
  4. All peatlands are wetlands, one of the most important ecosystems on the planet. They’re also one of the most commonly destroyed. The value of wetlands’ filtration for clean water is matched only by their ability to retain water and prevent flooding.
  5. Peat doesn’t bring in a lot of money to the economy. It’s not an expensive item and it doesn’t employ very many people across the province.
  6. Peat needs to be trucked a huge distance, from the boreal wetlands to a processing plant and then to a retailer or end user somewhere in North America. The fossil fuel use for transport is an additional climate impact. The danger of increased rural trucking for little benefit also has consequences.
  7. Peat isn’t an essential product. It’s not irreplaceable like copper or nickel deposits. Peat is used as an additive to soil because it’s cheap.

 

Correction: In the original blog post I used the term "dumb" to describe peat mining, which is ableist and can be hurtful language. We have changed the title to correct my mistake, and I apologize for the distress I may have caused.

--Eric

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