Engineering and Re-engineering Earth:
Industrialized Harvesting of Ireland’s
Peatlands and its Aftermath.
Engineering Earth: The Impacts of Megaengineering Projects.
Springer Verlag, Dordrecht, pp. 429-446.
Such has been the transformation of the planet Earth by human activity over the last
200 years thatWood (2009), quoting scientist Paul Crutzen, has suggested that geologists
should henceforth refer to these two centuries as the “anthropocene” period.
In that time, according to Wood, humans have reshaped about half of the Earth’s
surface. While some of this reshaping has been unintended, for the most part it has
constituted deliberate engineering, that is, the application of science, technology
and know-how to achieve particular ends. The result has been the transformation
of the earth, identified by Kates (1987) as one of the key strands of the analysis
of human/environment relations, and one of the core concerns of geography as an
“Earth” being a concept with many meanings, here we use it to refer to the surface
of our planet, which provides the environment for human habitation, and that
thin layer of earth’s crust underneath the surface from which humans derive most of
the resources which sustain their civilization. The term “earth engineering,” therefore,
describes both the restructuring of the earth and the extraction of its resources
in order to facilitate human occupation and subsistence. While much of the earth
engineering which has occurred to date consists of small and localized incremental
alterations, as human technology has advanced so has the scale of earth-engineering
interventions, leading to a rising frequency in the incidence of the megaengineering
projects which are the focus of the current volume.
This chapter focuses on one such project, that is, the large scale mechanized
harvesting of peat from Irish bogs, a project which has been ongoing for more than
seven decades and is likely to continue for at least two more. In its areal impact, this
project represents the most extensive episode of planned earth engineering in Ireland
since the transformation of the island’s agricultural landscape associated with the commercialization of farming in the 17th and 18th centuries (Aalen, Whelan, &
Stout, 1997). This is a fascinating story in terms of the development and utilization
of appropriate technologies, the extent of landscape transformation involved, and
the social and economic impacts of this transformation on the areas affected.
The remainder of the chapter outlines the physical/environmental and historical
background to the launching of the peat harvesting project in the 1930s, provides
a descriptive account of the development of mechanized peat harvesting and processing,
and analyzes the socioeconomic impact of this development in the areas
affected. It concludes with an assessment of the likely uses to which the residual
peatlands will be put following the cessation of peat extraction, representing a second
exercise in earth engineering which, in terms of the complex issues involved,
may prove to be even more challenging than the first.
||Postprint version of original published article. The original publication is available at www.springerlink.com eISBN 9789048199204. S.D. Brunn (ed.), Engineering Earth, DOI 10.1007/978-90-481-9920-4_25, 429
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011
Industrialized Harvesting; Ireland; Peat Extraction; Bogs;
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