For climate’s sake, save the peat!
Burning coal, oil and gas is causing the world to heat at an unnaturally rapid rate. Destroying forests, wetlands, grasslands and marine ecosystems, which act as “carbon sinks,” drives the fever higher.
Peatland conversion for agriculture is thought to have fuelled some global warming even before the current era of prolific and wasteful fossil fuel burning.
Researchers from France’s Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences and other institutions recently found that converting northern peatlands to croplands could have added 72 billion tonnes of carbon (250 billion tonnes when combined with oxygen to form carbon dioxide) to the atmosphere between the years 850 and 2010 — 45 per cent of it before 1750. That surpassed by more than double the amount of carbon sequestered by high-latitude undisturbed peatlands.
The study illustrates the value of protecting and restoring natural areas. As researcher Chunjing Qiu said in the Washington Post, peatlands make up just three per cent of global land surface but store about 30 per cent of soil carbon. Recognizing their importance, the Global Peatlands Initiative was formed at the 2016 climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco.
Peat forms in much the same way as coal, but in bogs — a type of wetland with high acid content that keeps dead vegetation from fully decaying. As with other fossil fuels, organic matter and the carbon it has absorbed are compressed over millions of years, condensing the solar energy obtained through photosynthesis. Because of their stored energy, dried peat bricks have long been burned for fuel, mostly for heating.