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a black horizon

A Black Horizon: Should we Still Extract Peat?

a black horizon

Have you ever found yourself standing in a completely black field? This German peat mine consisted of miles of black ground. Even though colour and life can still be found, even in a place like this, I think peat mining is not something to be proud of. What is it, what impact does peat mining have, and should we still do it?

 

Last week, I wrote about my visit to Germany with the Junior Rangers. We went to see cranes, but also got a lovely view of some very special landscapes. One of those strange environments was a peat mine.

railway in disuse

A railway track in disuse immediately becomes a settling place for pioneer plants

Peat

When plants die and fall to the ground, most of the time they will decompose. Micro-organisms will step in to break apart the plant into different compounds, like carbon dioxide and other not-organic molecules. For this process to function, oxygen is needed. If there is no oxygen available, the plant material can not be decomposed completely. That is the case in peat bogs. So instead of breaking apart, the dead plants remain partly intact and are pressed together into a tight mass. Over thousands of years, these plant mass transforms into a solid compound, peat.

The enormous area of black stretching out in the distance

Peat Mining

In former times, peat was widely used as a fuel. Small brick-like blocks were cut out, piled, dried, and then carted away to keep the houses warm and ovens running. Nowadays, peat is not so much used any more. Though there are industries who still mine and burn it, as well as use it for agricultural purposes. So while extraction of peat is hardly done any more in the Netherlands, from what I’ve seen, in Germany it is apparently still common practice.

Environmental Impact of Peat Mining

Because peat bogs form a very specific environment, they harbour lots of rare and endangered species. If you industrially extract the peat, enormous harm is done to that vulnerable ecosystem. And that’s not all. Apart from the direct harm to nature, mining and burning peat also has consequences for the greenhouse effect. Peat bogs are estimated to contain 180 to 455 billion metric tons of carbon. If that would be released in the atmosphere, temperatures on earth would rise even faster.

railway in peat mine

A railway track, used to transport the mined peat

 

Is Mining Peat Still Necessary and Desirable?

So, I have to say I was very surprised that peat mines still exist, especially so close to our own country. In my opinion, peat is a fuel of the past. With all our modern technology, there are enough other options for energy production. That’s what makes me wonder if peat mining is even profitable nowadays, and why there is not a stronger counter-movement to prevent this mining. Because, tell me, is that little bit of energy really worth destroying such a precious ecosystem and releasing that much carbon?

 

What do you think?

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