Once the peat is cut and dried, it can be burned as fuel.

Power Source

People in Ireland have used peat for fuel for centuries. Families used simple tools to cut brick-shaped blocks. They laid the bricks out to dry in the summer sun. Then, people carted the peat home. They burned the bricks during winter.

In the last hundred years, larger machines replaced simple tools. Ireland began burning millions of tons of peat each year in power plants to generate electricity.

Today, nearly eight percent of Irish electricity is generated by burning peat. And more than 70,000 homes still burn peat for heating.

Burning peat releases thousands of years of stored carbon into the air. This can warm our planet. Then bogs become carbon sources, and not carbon sinks.

Peat is a fossil fuel, but not an efficient one. It is worse than coal or natural gas in terms of its carbon emissions.

A man stacks bricks of peat to dry.

Some Irish homes are still warmed by peat fires.

Laws to
Protect Peat

In 2019, the Irish government made a climate action plan. It called for reducing carbon emissions. However, it is hard to ask people to change their way of life.

People who use peat to heat their homes love the tradition. Burning something else just wouldn’t feel the same, says Mary Leybourne of Cloghan, Ireland.

Peat is also cheap. Some people might struggle to pay for other types of fuel, like oil. Change may be difficult. But Ireland wants to reduce its peatland carbon emissions. So, they will need to change the way they use their bogs.

A local landowner helps me to identify bog plants.

Insect-eating sundew plants thrive in a bog.

A Future for Bogs

In Ireland, both turf cutters and conservationists feel strongly connected to the wetlands.

Turf-cutters want to use peat. Conservationists want to preserve it.

In Cloughjordan, Ireland, peat user Albert Austin has cut Scohaboy Bog for decades. He had many fond memories of using his peat. When he was asked to stop, it was a big change for him.

In the end, he decided to sell his section of the bog to a government conservation program. In that way, it could be preserved. He is proud that his community will have a bog that the next generation can enjoy, too.

Scohaboy Bog has now transitioned from a site of peat harvesting and forestry to a recovering wetland! These conversations continue all over Ireland, as people work to protect their wetlands, bog by bog.