The human control of fire is often mentioned as the progenitor to civilization. Fire, as we’ve already noted, is the chemical release of energy. Typically it requires three things; fuel, oxygen and an ignition source. When these combine then there’s a release of energy. Wilderness fires are natural and can lead to a huge, acute release of energy. Humans changed this to a slow, chronic, controlled release such as when we chop wood and burn it in a wood stove. And our civilizations thus prospered with this skill.

The current firestorm in Australia vividly demonstrates the natural release that wild bush fires can engender. At least 11 million hectares have released their latent energy stores(about 2.4e19 Joules); that is, the fires have burnt all the plants. The plants are the primary producers as shown in the trophic pyramid. Current estimates arrive at over 480 million primary, secondary and tertiary consumers of the pyramid as being affected by the fire and will likely die. They will starve due to the fire burning all the primary producers.

Consider the consequence. An area about the size of New York state has just lost all its stores of energy. Lack of water means that regrowth may be long in coming or may never come. What does this mean for the future? As more and more regions of the Earth’s surface become barren then there is less for all consumers of the trophic pyramid, including humans. Thus, as the human population continues to grow, they will have less stores of energy from which to draw. And the Earth will have a simpler and simpler ecosystem. Is this the goal of civilization? Can our civilization continue to exist without fire?

Bushfire January 2020
Australia – Bushfire