Australia’s Burning Bush,
Earth’s Emerging Pyrocene?
Tuesday, February 25, 2020 | 11:30 am-1:15 pm
Lunch & Networking: 11:30 am-12:00 pm
Program: 12:00-1:15 pm
Snell & Wilmer
400 E. Van Buren St.
19th Floor, Board Room #1
Phoenix, AZ 85004
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- Australia can be thought of as a fire continent much as Antarctica is an ice continent. The range of adaptations to fire is extraordinary and long precede human contact.
- Humans have occupied Australia for 45,000-65,000 years and have used fire extensively. An anthropologist famously described the fire habits of Aborigines as ‘firestick farming.’
- European contact disrupted the existing regimes by removing the indigenes, introducing new flora and fauna (some domesticated, many feral), but kept a new version of the firestick habit. A major cultural divide emerged between elites, who condemn fire, and those who live on the ground, who use it. In European thinking fire is a stigma of primitivism. This division is pronounced and still colors Australian discussions about how to live with fire.
- Major conflagrations affect the southeast especially, what has been termed a fire flume. These have become more frequent and damaging in the past couple of decades.
- After WWII Australian foresters reconstituted forest and bush management on the basis of routine burning – what might aptly be termed the Australian system. In the US foresters stood for fire suppression, environmentalists for fire restoration. In Australia the positions were reversed, and the controversies continue. The reincarnating firestick makes a useful index for tracing the arguments, which today have reorganized around the impact of climate change.
- Climate change acts as a performance enhancer, so places already disposed to burn like Australia (or California) feel the impacts first. But climate change is becoming a subset of fire history since it’s humanity’s combustion habits that are underwriting global warming. One way to conceptualize the full range of consequences is the notion of a Pyrocene, that we are creating the fire-informed equivalent of an ice age. Australia seems to be going from recurring fire crises to the leading edge of a fire epoch.
- Basically, we have too much bad fire, too little good, and too much combustion overall.
About Stephen Pyne
Stephen Pyne, PhD is an emeritus professor at Arizona State University and an urban farmer (sheep, chickens, citrus). Dr. Pyne has written over 30 books, mostly on the history and management of fire, with big-screen fire histories for America, Australia, Canada, Europe (including Russia), the Earth, and shorter surveys for other countries. He has also written on the history of exploration, Antarctica, Grand Canyon, and the Voyager mission. Dr. Pyne spent 15 seasons with the North Rim Longshots, a fire crew at Grand Canyon National Park. At present, he is writing a book on the Pyrocene and a fire history of Mexico.