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Here's an article in the New York Times regarding a government-appointed taskforce recommendation to phase out the use of peat moss. I've seen a few discussions on Dave's Garden about this matter over the years so I thought I'd post this here to hear some thoughts on the matter now that the government has stepped in. It's interesting to me because there are, according to some, abundant supplies of peat throughout the world. On the other hand, "harvesting" the peat releases the carbon stored by the bogs so even if the ecosystems aren't destroyed by taking some peat off the top, there may be larger climate issues to consider.
I would probably be affected most by its uses in potting and seed starting mixes. I seldom use straight peat moss unless I have a stubborn heavy garden bed that I'm in a hurry to start, and I'm out of "good" compost.
The problem with peat moss is that what you take from the bogs will take decades to come back. It is not really renewable unless you want to wait decades between uses. It will eventually all be gone at the rate they "mine" it.
People used to think that the Passenger Pigeon was a unlimited supply of bird game. They blacked out the sky in America in the mid-1800's and now they are extinct. Billions and billions of birds are now gone forever.
Enjoy your bog while you still have one. Once peat runs low elsewhere, they will strip yours clean and destroy some of the wildlife when doing so.
I have used peat in the past and I'm not 100% opposed to it but I do think I'll try to limit my use of it just like I have started avoiding products with bat guano . . . another organic material that is "renewable" but only if you're willing to wait a very long time for the guano to build back up while the ecosystem it was harvested from suffers.
Canada has millions of acres of peat moss. Only about 1%or less has been harvested. It likely is growing much faster than being harvested. Countries like Ireland and UK may have much less reserves as they have used it for fuel for centuries and limits there could make sense.
Canada's peat industry is controlled. I feel we could be fussing about nits. Below I have pasted a couple of quotes from others.
"Chicken Little would be aghast at any inference peat is renewable. In my estimation, it doesn't matter much if it's renewable or not, and I refuse to be made to feel even mildly guilty about using peat.
Here is a reply I often leave when the non-renewable thing comes up:
"Sorry, but I'm not buying the non-renewable lament. In Canada alone, there are more than 270 million acres of harvestable peat bogs. If we make the conservative guess that the harvestable portions of these bogs are 10 feet deep, that means there are probably more than 900 billion cu. ft. available for harvest, just in Canada! That doesn't even take into consideration what's available in Europe, Asia, or places like New Zealand where they also mine peat. Canada currently has mining/harvesting operations underway on approximately 40 thousand acres or about .014% (that reads 14 one thousandths of 1 percent)."
Check the math - it's accurate and conservative. It's more likely that the next ice age will be upon us and glaciers will have covered what's available before we even use a noticeable percentage."
Renewable/non-renewable = moot.
"Constantly arguing about whether peat moss is or is not a non renwewable(sic) resource is a waste of time and energy because despite ALL the valid, documented scientific evidence to the contrary and the support of all manner of environmental agencies and ecological associations, there are some who persist in adhering to old beliefs and information and remain entirely closed-minded to the issues of sustainability."
What harvest methods are you using to determine your numbers?
The most destructive has less than a 30 percent area peat regrowth.
The most common which is 30-40 percent regrowth or newer methods that are more ecologically sound.
If you have 270 million acres that are harvestable and a less than 30 percent regrowth area, that leaves you with 81 million acres or less available for regrowth after mining. I suspect your numbers dont reflect that.
Your numbers are based upon Canada's mining of peat. Is it possible that your peat is basically untapped because it is easier to harvest in areas with more infrastructure and a less harsh climate? What are the annual peat harvesting rates for the entire world? What they have or are doing in Canada has little to do with the world supply?
You seemed to downplay the carbon issue. You said is being transfered to the peat and not destroyed. YES! It is being transfered and stored where we want it. The mining of peat releases it from that stored safe location to a harmful location. If I put nuclear waste in a barrel, it isnt being destroyed but it is where I want it opposed to where I dont want it.
Seven percent of the worlds peatlands have been used for peat mining. That with a low percentage of area available for regrowth and regrowth at a rate of a few centimeters per 100 years. Since we are at peak oil that means that peat will also increase as a power source as oil dwindles and population increases.
Do your numbers account for low regrowth area, almost non-existent regrowth amounts per year "1mm", increase in population, decrease in oil production and infastructure of Canada?
If you are addressing me, and I assume you are, Those figures are not just my figures. .014% being harvested in Canada is a very small percentage. As I said, perhaps some older countries that have mined peat for centuries might have at least some reason to limit mining.
As far as ever getting around to harvesting 270 million acres and then having a 30 to 40 percent recovery goes... I will repaste what the man said," It's more likely that the next ice age will be upon us and glaciers will have covered what's available before we even use a noticeable percentage."
Here is what a local Indiana bog looks like. Copy the numbers below and then click on the link above that. Then paste and enter in the numbers in the URL address in the GOOGLE section [below the top address] Now zoom in closer with the mouse. This map is active and will travel.
I have to agree with Indy on this one. Peat has been harvested for centuries in Europe as a fuel for cooking, heating and even in the process of alcohol distilling. What little that is used for gardening today does not come close in comparison to the amounts that has been used as fuel. I believe it is still used in the Eastern Block today as a fuel. When peat is burned it releases carbon to the atmosphere but not when it is kept in it's natural form. I have seen huge peat bogs in Canada first hand (stuck up to my knees in them) and I would imagine Siberia, Alaska and areas in Greater Scandinavia also have vast peat bogs.
Personally I find compost a better growing medium than peat moss but that is not always available to some small gardeners especially in urban areas. There are times when there is no substitute for peat moss, depending on the application. Such is a bog garden, but even then it is not a huge amount and it is mixed with other materials. I would rather use a natural material rather than some synthetic that will almost never break down. In fact I am more concerned with the Oceans, Forests, fresh water, industrial pollution, the loss of or miss-management of farm land, the tons of plastic garbage produced daily and the list goes on and on, all resulting from over population, lack of concern and our currently throwaway society.
Ok my rant is over, I'm off the soap box now.