Extinguishing wildfires may not always be the correct solution
Many landscapes need fire but population expansion into wildland areas creates a tension between different interest groups. In a major volume published today more than 70 researchers from across the globe show that a combination of factors, including the problem of invasive plants, landscape change, climate change, population growth, human health, economic, social and cultural attitudes that may be transnational make a re-evaluation of fire and humankind necessary.
There is an increasing realisation that fire is a major Earth system process affecting not only the atmosphere, but also the biosphere in profound ways. Further, it has been recently established that increasing global temperatures will lead to increased fire risk and indeed recent studies suggest that the increase is greater during periods of rapid global change. Fire has not only an impact on the landscape and vegetation, but also on humans. This is a significant paradox. Fire is essential to the health of many plant communities and is used by humankind but is also hazardous to humankind, not only from the fire itself but also from smoke and from post-fire erosion and flooding.
The meetings at the Royal Society on which this volume was based was edited by Professors Andrew Scott and William Chaloner from Royal Holloway University of London together with Claire Belcher from the University of Exeter and Chris Roos from the Southern Methodist University in the United States.
Following discussions involving scientists from across the World the Chicheley Declaration was signed which stated: “By 2050, global mean temperatures are expected to be at least 1-2OC warmer than the early twentieth century, potentially altering fire regimes by transforming vegetation in fire-prone landscapes and making previously low fire-risk regions more flammable. With globally interconnected economies and population exceeding 9 billion by 2050, all fire challenges will be human-fire challenges. It is therefore imperative that wildfire research that has heretofore been fragmented as sub-disciplines among physical, biological and social sciences, engineering and humanities be integrated across disciplinary and national academic frameworks so that research and policy can tackle twenty-first century fire problems. We believe that wildfire should be considered in terms that recognize diverse natural and human tensions that may vary across cultural settings.”
Professor Scott commented “If there are challenges considering risk in landscapes where fire is common, then the problems of developing wildfire policy in countries such as England, where fire is uncommon but where this may change in the future, are even more complex.” He added “We hope some of the research published in this volume today will contribute to the current debates on the relationship between fire and humankind.”