Peat-Fest 2020 and Peat-Fest 2021 were two 24-hour-long online festivals organised and hosted by youth-led collective RE-PEAT. During the course of both festivals there were over 900 participants and more than 80 different speakers from every continent of the Earth (excluding Antarctica). Sessions ranged from Irish bog photography with Tina Claffey, to lessons from the young Peruvian peat-protector Susan Manrique, we sang along to boggy English folk songs with Sam Lee and heard from leading IPCC scientist and Indigenous rights advocate Tero Mustonen in Finland, British-Indonesian poet and storyteller Khairani Barokka told of the ongoing colonial roots of peatland-drainage, while Annisa Noyara Rahmasary tuned in to talk about peatland solutions in Indonesia, Canadian Radical Mycologist Peter McCoy explored the connections between peatlands and fungi and bogs became defined as “Queer Ecosystems” by German collective Coven Berlin, and the list goes on for another 48 hours...
These two gatherings not only demonstrated the number of people and networks around the world who are concerned about the threatened status of this wetland ecosystem, but, more than that, they demonstrated an outpour of care, commitment and action to revive and regenerate peatlands everywhere.
With COP26 in Glasgow coming up shortly, and with the newest IPCC report being published very recently, the multi-faceted importance of peat is increasingly beyond denial and in desperate need of attention. Anyone attending Peat-Fest this year will have been able to see the integral role that peat plays in upholding biodiversity and contributing to much-needed carbon sequestration. The international aspect of the festival, connecting peat lovers, scientists and activists from all over the world, reflects that this is the case on a global scale, connecting peat lovers, scientists and activists from all over the world. Across these 24 hours, we learned about the connections that peat has with gardening, climate, fungi, biodiversity, poetry, and visual art, across a diversity of spaces ranging from boreal permafrost to tropical forests. This is something that Peat-Fest was hugely successful in showcasing, and which made it such a beautiful and often poignant 24 hours. On top of this, it truly showed us how important it is to both protect and celebrate it.
While this is true, we want to do more to make Peat-Fest a globally influential and relevant event. This can be achieved by attempting to directly influence policy and practice in future events and inviting even more policy-related individuals to both speak and attend, in hopes that peat is valued at a broader, more institutional scale. Specific moments such as the all-female panel on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform and the panel on tropical peatlands are great examples of these intentions already taking form, and hosting events like this with relevance to specific regions around the world would prove to be invaluable to influencing and drawing attention to peat and policy.
As always, we see a massive value in engaging and collaborating with those who have something to say. Keeping in contact with our diverse audience is one of the best ways that we can truly situate ourselves in the wider world of peat.
Situating Peat-Fest within the wider world
While we learned a huge amount from organising the first Peat-Fest, which equipped us for the second one, there was a lot that we learned this time around too. This is especially true when we think about the fact that we have many more team members this year, and that we gave ourselves a bit more time than before to put the whole thing together.
Even though the latter is true, and we benefited from the extra time hugely, we also learned that allowing as much time as possible to organise a festival is the best option, which is why we are hoping to get started with planning even earlier for the next Peat-Fest, whatever form it is that it ends up taking! This also applies to the promotion of the festival - one of the key limitations that we noticed this year was the fact that we could have benefited significantly from more promotion, both by RE-PEAT itself and by external organisations who might be able to boost our outreach. Solidifying a concept of what the festival will look like as soon as possible should make it easier to gain more support from others with the power to promote the event in advance.
One of the best aspects of this year’s Peat-Fest is the fact that we, as a team at RE-PEAT, were able to come together and work as a tight-knit team to collaborate in putting together such an ambitious outcome. Having a group of people who are able to dedicate so much of their time, skills and brainpower to the event is not only what made it possible in the first instance, but also what made it such a dynamic and successful 24 hours. With that said, there was a certain sense that the organising could have been improved by creating more defined roles across the team in order to even out the workload and reduce the risk of some members being overworked. Despite this, everyone pulled through and maintained a great energy throughout planning and on the day, and kept the peat hype alive.
Another thing that we learned is the fact that it may also be best to leave plenty of time to seek funding before the festival. While our GoFundMe was a massive success and helped us hugely (thanks to all of you!), raising over €5,000, we weren’t successful in receiving any other funding, and this is partially due to the fact that we were relatively last minute in finding and applying for different opportunities. The team was also relatively lacking in capacity or experience for seeking funding, and the uniqueness of Peat-Fest as an event also meant that it was tricky to find funds that we would be eligible for. Luckily a large number of speakers and volunteers sacrificed their time and energy to take part in the festival without payment, but next year we would love to be able to compensate people better for their work, as well as to introduce even more ambitious aspects to the festival and promote it even more widely.
The Circle space was something that also worked very well for us and allowed the team and attendees to engage with one another before, during and after the event. With that said, there were some technical drawbacks with the space, including the fact that some attendees found it relatively tricky to navigate and find certain elements like Zoom links. This is something that we’ve taken on board as a team as we pursue the ideal digital community space for future Peat-Fests.
During Peat-Fest 2020 we managed to persuade all of our friends to give up their bedrooms in their student accommodation so that we had enough space to host over 50 zooms over the course of 24hours.
Across the sprawling 24 hours of the festival there were certain moments and anecdotes which stood out to each of us at RE-PEAT. One of these was Khairani Barokka’s stunning and sobering poetry reading, followed by an impassioned talk on climate injustice in Indonesia and Malaysia, highlighted by the quote “The way science is employed is deeply political”, highlighting the unhealthy interplay that science has with colonialism, and the fact that this is something which requires desperate reform.
Some other quotes which resonated with us included Kate Flood explaining that “Maps don’t just reflect ‘reality’ - they help create it”, or “Memories can help us bridge time” from Soil Voices. Indeed, saying what we were all thinking, fellow RE-PEAT member Jamie Walker’s quote “God I love moss” in the chat of Bin Xu’s boreal peatland session is one that has stuck.
Alongside this, RE-PEAT members recall the feeling of sitting through the entire festival, feeling like they had been “sucked into the peat” by the 20th session in a row. One might argue that this took the slogan “dive deep into the peat” a bit too seriously, but we would disagree. It was an undoubtedly immersive event in this sense, with attendees donning peat-themed Zoom backgrounds while rolling up wormy soil into balls and singing folk songs about peatlands.
RE-PEAT would like to give a special thanks to every single person who hosted a session at Peat-Fest 1 and 2, to everyone who offered their time and their inspiration, we would like to thank Lily, Bethany, Amara, and all the others from Amsterdam University College who offered their bedrooms for the Peat-Fest 1 take-over, and to the Transnational Institute and especially Niels who lets us host us Peat-Fest 2 in their beautiful office space for 24 hours, to Sjournee who worked so hard creating the Peat-Fest field notebook and all the amazing illustrators that contributed to it, to Sidsel and Lukas and everyone who recorded something for the post-Peat-Fest video and to Alice and Lidya who put together such wonderful and exciting promotional videos, to Jamie, Ananya and Flavie who came up with such fun peatland games.
We would also like to thank the whole RE-PEAT team who committed so much time and energy organising to organising both festivals and finally we would like to thank all of the attendees that tuned in throughout the 48hours of talks and sessions and who contributed so much to these important conversations.
What’s next for Peat-Fest 2022?
We want to hear from you what you think should happen next year. Perhaps a hybrid event, perhaps a collective action, a policy paper or maybe a children’s Peat-Fest?
Do you want to take action for peatlands?
If you feel inspired to take action or want to contact any of the Peat-Fest speakers then feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help figure out an action that fits your passion!
Are you a young person working on this topic? We would love to hear from you as soon as possible because we are making plans for a strong youth-voice for peatlands at COP26.