Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

7 Mar 2020

The quest to and from fire

Posted by Michael Keating

Harnessing the power of fire made humans the most powerful species on the planet. We started using wildfires far in the distant past and making our own fires as long as 1 million years ago. At first, fire gave us heat, light, protection from wild animals, the ability to make better tools and especially to cook food, making it much easier to eat. Since then fire has given us guns, rockets, steel, concrete and chemicals. Burning fossil fuels produces most of the world’s energy, powering our modern civilization. But, fire has a darker side. Burning produces air pollution, which has long sickened people and now kills an estimated 7 million a year around the world. It is causing an even graver crisis as millions of tonnes a year of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil and gas, are changing the climate we depend on for life as we know it. A linked problem is the deliberate burning of vast tropical forests to clear land for farming and cattle. This adds to climate change and is reducing biodiversity, another of the environmental crises we face. After hundreds of thousands of years of inventing ways to use fire, we have to make a historic shift and put the genie back in the bottle. We have to move beyond fire before it consumes us.

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