21 Oct 2006
Peat is new peak oil
Any sign of the principal speaker ballot papers or the online candidates hustings video?
Anyway this is from Schnews, they would make a much better Green Party principal speaker than any of the actual candidates.
AND THE PEAT GOES ON
SchNEWS gets its hands dirty and fingers burnt in the climate change debate
So what on earth do bogs, moors, muskegs, mires and tropical swamp forests all have in common? Yep, the clue was in the question - they're made of good old peat that's what. The rich soily stuff forms from layers of decayed organic matter. Under the right conditions it is an early stage of the coal forming process. And all that means that it's packed full of carbon, which as nearly everyone (!) now knows causes major hassles for the climate when it gets rudely and massively released at the hands of unthinking humans. You might be surprised to learn that the carbon stored in global peat is the equivalent of 100 years of fossil fuel emissions at current rates.
If you're thinking of boggy Ireland and the swampy Florida Everglades as typical examples of peatlands, and guessing that there must be loads of inaccessible places where the peat is left largely undisturbed, you'd be right. Only 7% of the world's peatland has been exploited and yet the effects of it have already caused measurable problems for the environment.
So how does the world's peat every get its carbon released? Well, for example over 60% of the world's tropical peat is in one place: Indonesia. There, and across South-East Asia, huge greenhouse gas emissions are caused annually as forests and peatlands are deliberately torched, largely to make way for enormous oil palm plantations and acacia plantations. These produce palm oil, timber and paper, plenty of which heads straight for the European market. The destruction has accelerated recently because Europe has started importing vast amounts of palm oil for biodiesel and also for biomass to burn in power stations.
And quite aside from the environmental concerns, all this resource exploitation has also lead to the usual capitalist vices: local farmers are evicted and forced into barely arable natural areas, there are massive human rights abuses and an estimated 30% of children under five in the peatland areas suffer from respiratory diseases and associated growth retardation because of the fires.
Overall this flaming mess is responsible for carbon emissions of a not-so-cool 1 billion tonnes a year - a heavyweight contributor when you consider that the Kyoto Protocol only aims to reduce total global emissions by around 188 million tonnes per year from 1990 levels. This underlines just how woeful a response to climate change the global governance game has come up with. The emissions they encourage and allow in Indonesia alone would take several Kyoto's to negate. And the real irony is that the industries responsible for all the destruction are getting large amounts of their funding through the crazy carbon credit competition bonanza (See SchNEWS 311), the so-called 'Clean Development Mechanism' transfers under that same Kyoto Protocol.
One report claims that the 1997 emissions from Indonesia may well have exceeded total emissions from any other country, including the US. Gee, that's some real great pollutin there, especially when you remember that California is the world's 4th largest total polluter on its own. And as South East Asia continues to burn and slash, with others like Malaysia and Brunei joining the party, the climate is doubly threatened as not only does peat destruction release massive quantities of carbon, it also destroys one of the planet's most important carbon sinks, meaning less other CO2 emissions can be absorbed by the biosphere.
This all means that peat should be the word on everyone's lips - but over here more people are concerned about the latest crises in the world of Pete and Moss. While receiving little press, the situation is now so alarming to informed climate campaigners that they have organised into new groups to try and raise awareness - and do what their governments are failing to do for all humanities sake. One of these is the new Biofuelwatch, which is distributing an urgent action alert at www.climateark.org as well as a campaign to stop Npower from profiting from cleverly fulfilling their mandated 'Renewables Obligation' by just burning palm oil from Indonesian and Malaysian deforestation.