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Welcome to the Pyrocene

climate change

Climate change awareness is in full swing, there is a plethora of rhetoric on the Anthropocene crisis — the current geological age in which human activity is the dominant influence on the environment. Of course, the Anthropocene is very much associated with the climate crisis but includes biodiversity loss nonetheless. When media or scientists refer to the impact emissions have on the climate and particularly weather events, it is natural to think of erratic weather conditions and category 5 hurricanes. Few immediately think of fire. Can fire even be considered weather? After all, fire warnings are typically issued during the weather segments on television news.

We are entering the Pyrocene. Humans rely on fire tremendously, fire is the result of the chemical reaction, combustion, at the ignition point flames are produced. Ignition powers our cars, gas fires cook our food, we burn oil, natural gas and coal to produce electricity. Fire is the very foundation upon which the Anthropocene was built. In its use of fire, human civilisation walks a thin line between control and chaos. The productive and equally destructive qualities of fire make it unique, it appears that the more ubiquitous our use of fire is the more omnipresent it’s destructive qualities will manifest.

Today there are more fires, a lot more fires, in places we don’t want them. The cause is very much due to the climate, weather and human activity. All of which are interlocked in an amalgamated web of feedback loops. Forget the fire triangle of oxygen, fuel and heat. That is a micro picture. The bigger picture is human activity warming the climate, a warmer climate creates severe weather systems and hotter seasons, human infrastructure disrupts natural land use and the result seems to be fire. California, Gran Canaria, Australia, the Amazon rainforest, Mozambique even the Arctic is on fire.

In California, heavy winds have caused PG&E power lines to collapse on the sweltering ground. The dry bush and heavy winds supply the fire with fuel and oxygen. The ignition, however, is human activity. PG&E has since fought legal liabilities in bankruptcy court and have resorted to shutting down the power supply for millions of residents and businesses during high wind periods. The irony here is the generation of that power is the very cause of the warming temperatures in the first place. What good is power supply if it needs to be shut off because of the impact it has on our environment?

Fires are natural and in some cases healthy for an ecosystem. Low-severity fires can release valuable nutrients in forests and create space for light, helping to stimulate fresh growth. However, the new breed of fire that is predominantly intensified by rising temperatures eradicates the biodiversity of the land it encroaches upon, wiping out everything in its path.

 

This article was originally published by  Nick Gaskell, Medium.com