In the wake of Ireland’s hottest day for 130 years this week, harvesting peat under sun-dried grass is a family affair in the Bog of Allan, a vast marshland in the center of the country.
Peat briquettes, licorice black when freshly extracted, turn brown in summer heat, ready to serve as heating fuel for winter.
But peat bogs, like others in Ireland, are at the heart of a clash between rural residents and urban politicians, some promoting traditional culture, others a natural carbon sink that needs to be protected.
“What the Green Party and its urban members feel is such deep anger and resentment … that they can lash out against people in the Irish countryside,” John told AFP. Dorr, spokesman for the Kildare Turf Cutters Association.
According to the Irish Environmental Protection Agency, 14% of the population use peat for heating. For them, this traditional source of energy, which has been slashed and burned for centuries, is an inheritance.
“It’s a cultural activity, part of our community,” says Mr. Dorr. “We’re independent on fuels. That’s the point.”
On Tuesday, during a visit to Japan, Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin said his government must focus on the country’s carbon emissions, aiming to legislate on the issue by the end of the month.
“Heat waves are showing us that the big effects of climate change are being brought home,” the Prime Minister said. “It’s here now.”
– “Back to Basics” –
Official figures released on Thursday show that CO2 emissions are up 4.7% in 2021 compared to 2020 and 1.1% compared to 2019 before the pandemic in Ireland.
But the governing coalition, which includes the Greens, is still nursing wounds after trying to pass the legislation in principle, a plan that has sparked a revolt by some rural representatives of the majority.
Tipperary’s Independent MP Matty McGrath said ministers needed to “go back to basics” to recognize the consequences of principle restrictions for low-income rural families.
Since then, unveiling his revised project, Environment Minister Eamonn Ryan has assured that controversial measures, particularly restricting the sale of peat within communities of fewer than 500 inhabitants, have been dropped.
Under the new rules, selling peyote to families, friends and neighbors will be allowed as before.
But retail and internet sales will be banned, as will advertising of peat sales in the media.
For Patsy Power, a peat cutter in the Bog of Allan, the new rules won’t change anything.
“We’ve grown peat here all my life,” says the 60-year-old. On his land, he harvests grain with his seven brothers and sisters.
“We don’t sell it anyway, it’s for home use, it’s for family,” he adds.
– Carbon Zinc –
For Mr Dorr, the government’s retreat is “a small victory”. But he said the settlement was driven by rising energy prices, not regional concerns.
Aware of the environmental issues facing the country, he believes the principle aims to attack “the little people first”.
Environmental groups have urged the government to take the bull by the horns for damaging wetlands, which are natural carbon sinks.
“Peat cutters are not required to restore habitat or consider emissions when clearing peatland,” said Tristram White, manager at the Irish Peatland Conservation Council.
And, according to him, culture pollutes waterways and leads to “loss of biodiversity.” “It’s the most emitting fuel source we can use…the heating effects of burning peat are not worth it”.
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