Our destruction of ancient bogs to facilitate industrial farming operations around the world is environmental and climate madness. For Peat’s sake let’s stop this nonsense. Let me explain.
We do not live on Earth, we live on a thin crust of rock surrounding a molten core covered with a thin dusting of soil that we call home. Soil accumulates at an incredibly slow rate, imagine a pile of leaves in your garden at the end of autumn and how little compost this makes.
When was the last time anyone saw a clear stream or river, probably rarely if ever, in the last century or two. This does not mean that the water is polluted it is simply that as a result of intensive agriculture – these waterways are carrying our precious top soil out to the one place from which they cannot be recycled.
The UN estimates that for each person on the planet, two cubic metres of soil is washed into the sea each year. The amount of top soil that we have available, and its erosion rate, led to the UN prediction that we only have 60 effective planting seasons left.
Once place our soil has continued to accumulate is in our 3.7 million square kilometres of natural peatlands, an enormous natural carbon sink. Peat was for many centuries dried and then burned in the hearths of agricultural workers in the northern hemisphere. Their numbers were low and the impact limited.
Peatland can also be an important source of drinking water. It provides nearly 4% of all potable reservoir water In the UK. More than 28 million people use drinking water from sources which rely on peatlands.
As the agricultural revolution mechanized, centralised and industrialised, the use of peat as a growing medium was recognised and exploited. Millions of tons a year of Peat were exported to commercial growing operations in Europe and millions of gardening enthusiasts in North America.
We needed this source of industrially available composting to maintain the agricultural revolution. As our cities grew and the landfill sites associated with them we have been burying rather than composting our organic waste.
Peat bogs are dried out before harvesting each year. This process in the UK alone, releases around 400,000 tons of greenhouse gases – the equivalent of having an extra 100,000 cars on the road.
As common sense prevails, millions of gardeners in the UK will be banned from using peat compost from 2024 under new plans to protect Britain’s bogs. The phasing out of peat use has started ahead of the banning of it use in commercial farming operations by 2030. The phasing out of its use across Europe has started and hopefully this will spread to other parts of the world as has the banning of sending organics to landfills.
Let’s get busy repairing the future.