Month 8, Day 14: Peat Fires

Jeebus. This sounds really depressing:

Firefighters laid down a pipe to a nearby lake and pumped 100 gallons of water every minute, around the clock, until the surface of what is known as Fire No. 3 was a muddy expanse of charred stumps.

And still the fire burned on.

Under the surface, fire crept through a virtually impenetrable peat bog, spewing the smoke that — until the wind shifted on Thursday, providing what meteorologists said was likely to be temporary relief — had been choking the Russian capital this summer.

The peat bogs were drained up to ninety years ago, when Soviet electrical generators burned peat. Naturally, nobody thought to reflood them after they’d been harvested. Now they’re just sitting there up to fifteen feet deep. And when they catch on fire, the firefighters’ lives really really really suck:

Fighting peat fires is an exhausting, muddy job, taking weeks or months, in which hardly a flame is visible. Matted, rotting vegetation smolders and steams deep underground.

In my letter, I tried to make the peat fires a specific example of a broader trend of disregarding the long-term consequences of ecological destruction…consequences which are going to affect all of us, sooner rather than later.

Russia’s peat fires are the disastrous result of an earlier failure to respect an ecosystem’s integrity. The early Soviet engineers who drained the peat bogs to fuel their generators but never reflooded them couldn’t have anticipated a smoke-filled Moscow. The Russian crisis is emblematic of the global one; our fossil-fueled economy (so rewarding in the short run) has triggered unintended long-term consequences all over the globe. Smoke, fires, drought, flood, wind, rain, weirdness.

The first rule of getting out of a hole is to recognize that you are in one. Our information economy must recognize and address the connection between global climate change and local environmental crises like the one choking Russia. The second rule is to stop digging. Our energy economy must move off fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.

Warren Senders

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