Australia. California. The Mediterranean. When recalling the ecological components that all three landscapes share, it is best to look to the news. What these places have in common is their pervasive proclivity to burn. Their proclivity for fire. Their role in the next epoch coined by Stephen J. Pyne as “The Pyrocene”.
In the book The Pyrocene: How We Created an Age of Fire, and What Happens Next by Stephen J. Pyne, the author weaves a lifetime of studying fire ecology into an extended essay on humanity’s often tumultuous relationship with fire. He details the rise of human domination of the planet, drawing parallels between the decline of the Pleistocene, the rise of the Anthropocene, and the resulting emergence of the new age of man and fire.
In this book, Pyne describes Man’s ability to wield fire. He details how fire allowed us to shape natural landscapes and how it has allowed us to give rise to human-made landscapes. By utilizing fire as a tool, we have even disrupted the natural climatic oscillations of the Earth. Our relationship with fire in the form of combustion has led to the climate’s disruption and potential catastrophe. The cultural suppression of fire by Europeans has led to the apocalyptic images of cities burning around the world.
Highly scientific, highly graphical, but contrastingly poetic, Pyne’s musings tell a story of humanity in three acts: first, second, and third fire. While books on climate change can be depressing, Pyne sensitively acknowledges the facts of climate change while also laying out how fire has brought us to this precipice. For those interested in climate science and the interaction of fire, history, ecology, and geology this book is for you.
To learn more about the author and this subject, check out Stephen Pyne’s 2015 Ted Talk.
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