The world is ridden with many resources that are often taken for granted. Some of these resources have to be dug up or mined, but many are spread out all over the land for the taking. One of these natural gifts that has found indispensable use in our society is peat. Peat is a combination of various things, mostly vegetable and plant matter that has decayed over millions of years. (Smith) The proper term for this process is carbonization, and while peat has yet to completely carbonize into coal, this can take thousands of years more.
(Smith) Although peat is composed of many other vegetation decaying over the years, most of it is moss. (Smith) The decay of these materials occurs “mostly under anaerobic (oxygen-deficient) conditions”. (LMU) Peat in its raw form contains 96% water (LMU) and is harvested primarily for fuel and agricultural (fertilizer) purposes. (Smith) The process of peat decay causes the material to “store organic carbon which is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane, greenhouse gasses that affect global climate. ” (LMU) The gases released by peat as it decomposes are highly flammable.
However, peat, in its natural form is totally harmless because it is “too wet to burn”. (LMU) In certain cases where the natural state of peat is disturbed it becomes vulnerable to fire, which is often the cause of forest fires or fires commonly occurring in wetlands. This can be very dangerous because burning peat can release smoke that contains aerosols and toxic gases, which can result to respiratory diseases and problems. (LMU) Peat is best harvested, obviously, after hundreds of thousands of years, or the time it takes for the materials to totally decompose.
Peat bogs have a surface living layer that gets destroyed when mature peat, beneath the living layer is harvested. (LMU) Of the many uses of peat, fuel is the most common. In remote areas where there are no other resources, peat is used for energy production. (LMU) Peat is “shown to be an economical alternative to oil or coal-fired electric-power generating stations in some circumstances” (LMU) and it is also used to produce methanol. Peat can also be used as garden fertilizer as it is an efficient moisture retainer.
Using it in gardens can promote the formation and retention of nutrients. Some companies also use peat as a raw material in producing biodegradable planters. (Smith) “Peat can also be used to make paper, pad livestock beds, or pack products for shipment. ” (LMU) Peat is also a decorative implement in creating handicraft and artwork. Many handmade crafts and arts use peat as an aesthetically pleasing accent. Peat is an irreplaceable resource, if not for eternity, for this generation at least, because it will take hundreds of thousands of years in the future for other peat layers to form.
However, peat is abundant nowadays in many countries all over the world, but the indiscriminate harvesting of this resource can lead to ecological imbalance and eventually, its irreversible depletion. Like any other natural resource, peat should be harvested reasonably to preserve existing peat bogs and ensure that plenty will be available for future generations to use. Like oil, which is a fossil fuel, peat has to be harvested with much discretion because once all of it is gone, we will all have to wait for hundreds of thousands of years to harvest it again – surely, none of us can live that long.