30 October 2012

Peatland Loss in the Tar Sands

Right now, our friends across the pond in the European Union are considering what wetland drainage and rewetting means to climate change policy. It's a very complex question: you and I know that petlands are enormously important as a carbon sink, but how do you account for that? What kind of research is required, and how can this new information be used to create better land use policies?

It's a question our government has entirely ignored. Right now in Alberta, tar sands mining projects are tearing up over 30 000 hectares of wetlands. That's 15 Burns Bogs that are being excavated and destroyed at this very moment. What's worse, and even more inexcusable, is that the industry isn't going to even attempt to replace these ruined ecosystems; instead it will be mostly turned into upland forest, reducing the total peatlands in the Athabasca region by 2/3!

Imagine if we strip mined the entire Fraser Delta River Ramsar Site, replaced 2/3 of it with golf courses, and called it a day. That wouldn't qualify as "peatland restoration" and it shouldn't. This is an enormous loss of natural capital, billions of dollars of carbon sequestration potential that we are losing forever.

If Canada implemented greenhouse gas accounting, companies and governments would have to consider the contributions of peatlands. Right now they can simply choose to ignore them, which lets the industry pretend it's greener than it really is. If tar sands companies were held to account for the real cost of their projects, they'd have to invest tens of billions of dollars in actually restoring the environment. Instead we let them dig up peat in one area, bury it in another, and call that restoration.

That's not restoration, that's rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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