I started the fire this weekend after returning from a brisk walk to the farm and pointed out to my wife that it was becoming a political act.
like a mixed fire of briquettes, grass and later charcoal to really turn up the heat. Fire is perhaps our oldest act as human beings. It was fire that helped us cook our first meat, it was fire that cleared the land for fresh grass and in my former home in Australia, the raising of fire sticks by the aborigines is perhaps the oldest intact agricultural management system of farms and landscape in existence.
We live in the epoch of the Anthropocene – the proposed epoch that counts mankind’s time on earth. As Tim Flannery, the Australian climatologist called it, the long hot summer of the past 8,000 years.
But recently I came across Stephen J Pyne, a fire expert who has been researching fire for decades. Professor Pyne, in his many books on fire, has proposed a new term for our time: the Pyrocene, i.e. the age of fire.
First keepers of the fire, humans have changed our world so much that the fire is now, because of our actions, out of control.
In 2019/2020, we witnessed a unique six-month window in which two major fire types burned across the globe. On the one hand, we had the artificial fires of the Amazon, where land was cleared to make way for agricultural pasture, while on the other side of the world, climate-induced fires ravaged the bush. Australia, burning 18.6 million hectares.
Brazil’s wildfires were started by humans to create farmland, with 80,000 fires across Brazil in August 2019.
Those fires are now gone and the land has been reclaimed, but at what cost to the overall health of the planet?
The Amazonian forest, instead of being a carbon reservoir, now emits more Co2 than it absorbs. It is the direct result of the artificial fires in this forest which led to the disappearance of the lungs of the world.
Fire, a formidable tool of our civilization, somehow comes back to haunt us. Just this week, The Guardian newspaper reported that by 2050 wildfires are likely to increase by a third and there will be fires in new, previously unaffected countries, from l Europe to the Americas.
Indeed, the report says suppression-resistant megafires could emerge in Southern California, part of the United States’ food basket. Such fires would of course have a ripple effect on food production.
While Ireland and neighboring UK will be safe from these wildfires for some time to come, it made me think of all the nations where that won’t be the case.
Lighting the fire is now a political act in many ways. From discussions of turf wars in this country to the uncontrollable fires of the global south.
Like it or not, the Pyrocene, it seems, is here to stay.
John Connell lives and farms in Co Longford