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Engineering and Re-engineering Earth: Industrialized Harvesting of Ireland’s Peatlands and its Aftermath

Breathnach, Proinnsias (2011) Engineering and Re-engineering Earth: Industrialized Harvesting of Ireland’s Peatlands and its Aftermath. In: Engineering Earth: The Impacts of Megaengineering Projects. Springer Verlag, Dordrecht, pp. 429-446. ISBN 9789048199198

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Abstract

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 academic discipline. “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.

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: 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
Keywords: Engineering; Earth; Industrialized Harvesting; Ireland; Peat Extraction; Bogs; Peatland;
Subjects: Social Sciences > Geography
Item ID: 3082
Depositing User: Proinnsias Breathnach
Date Deposited: 08 Feb 2012 16:35
Publisher: Springer Verlag
Refereed: Yes
URI:

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