9 March 2010: For peat’s sake…

Yesterday, the UK Environment Minister gave a speech about the use of peat as compost. Peat bogs are an excellent sink for carbon dioxide, as peat is made up of partially decomposed plant material. In 1999, the UK government set itself a target that by 2010 peat would be eliminated from 90% of the compost sold in the UK. However, 2010 has arrived and almost half of UK compost still contains peat. The destruction of peat bogs is highly damaging to biodiversity and the use of peat in UK compost causes the release around a million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

Having missed its target by a country mile, what does the government do? Ban peat from all compost? The moral case for this is extremely strong. Garden compost is hardly one of life’s essentials and there are acceptable alternatives available. A million tonnes of unnecessary CO2 every year has a serious impact on many people’s lives and add to the number being killed by drought, floods and disease. The essential role of government is to stop people from harming others.

No, the UK government has decided instead to … set another target, this time for a complete phase-out of peat from amateur gardening by 2020. And to enlist a TV star (the presenter of BBC’s Gardeners’ World) to try to persuade the public to stop buying peat.

This is an utterly feeble response – classic NIMTO (Not-in-My-Term-of-Office). No use of government powers to achieve progress, just some more exhortation.  And not even exhortation or a target for the horticultural industry. Clearly it’s ok to destroy the climate if you’re a business rather than an amateur gardener.


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