Peat: The Newest Method of Carbon Sequestration

Peat: The Newest Method of Carbon Sequestration

Christopher Owen

Climate change, global warming, and pollution have remained at the forefront of environmentalists’ concern for centuries, as rising temperatures and higher greenhouse gas emissions have been rapidly degrading worldwide ecosystems faster than we can heal them. As Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, put it, “By polluting the oceans, not mitigating CO2 emissions and destroying our biodiversity, we are killing our planet. Let us face it, there is no planet B.” More truthful and candid words have not been spoken; climate change is actively destroying our planet right before our eyes and we cannot afford to procrastinate any longer. Every single day that passes without these imminent threats being recognized and acted upon means that we have less time to save our planet while we still have a fighting chance. Even with the vast amount of advancement in developing complex technology and cracking down on the fossil fuel industry (which contributes to roughly 80% of worldwide carbon emissions), large-scale efforts will only get us so far. Although we have taken many commercial and political approaches to combat the devastating impacts of climate change, it is crucial for us to make changes on an individual level. We need all the help we can get, whether it be from humanity or the natural environment itself, in order to properly address the impending consequences facing our planet. 

 

As scientists recently discovered, peatlands may be one of the best methods to capture high volumes of carbon dioxide, even though these resources have been exploited for thousands of years. Peat is an organic compound formed when dead plant matter becomes packed together and can’t decompose, typically as a result of the low oxygen content. It’s different from soil in that it is composed of only 20% to 30% organic matter, with the rest of the ingredients being grasses, reeds, and mosses. However, peat is much more effective at sequestering carbon dioxide, with worldwide peatlands currently holding over 600 gigatons of carbon dioxide. This accounts for over 44% of all carbon dioxide sequestered by the earth, despite the fact that peatlands only make up 3% of the land. Another shocking fact is that peat can hold 26x its weight in water, indicating that peatlands can mitigate rising sea levels and flooding brought about by more frequent rainfall. So it’s no doubt that peat is a precious resource that will significantly reduce the grave consequences of climate change in the future. 

 

Peat is certainly something we cannot afford to exploit, which we are unfortunately doing at the moment. For generations, peatlands have been perceived as unnecessary, wasted space that robs people of economic opportunity, since peat is too soft to grow crops in or build houses on. To date, humans have already destroyed 15% of natural peatlands, as they are drained for the construction of highways, hydroelectric dams, and mining sites. Not only does this prevent the sequestration of more carbon dioxide, but it does the complete opposite: releases gigatons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. If our primary goal is to mitigate climate change and global warming, why are we reverting our progress? It’s our moral obligation as citizens of the planet after all. 

 

We are all faced with the common enemy of climate change/global warming. As the situation grows more dire, it is crucial for us to become more informed about these matters to make effective change happen as well as learn what we should and should not do. By looking at the valuable yet neglected peatlands around the world, it is clear that they are the unsung heroes in the movement towards a cleaner, safer and healthier planet for us all.

 

Sources: 

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/02/21/headway/peat-carbon-climate-change.html 

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00355-3