Life and Death on the Fire Planet

An Interview With Stephen J. Pyne

Image by Fabian Jones.

Fire is everywhere, nowadays. In the Arctic, Siberia, Australia, Canada, the American West, even in some rain forests. Terms like “fire tornado” have entered the vernacular, along with “heat dome,” which often, along with drought, set the stage for uncontrollable fires. Of course, everyone connects these blazes with climate change. We humans heated the planet by fire, namely the burning of fossil fuels. This in turn dried out entire regions, and they burn. How hot have we made it? Well, last summer the little Canadian town of Lytton smashed all records at 122 degrees Fahrenheit, while in Portland, Oregon, it was 116 degrees for a few days. Portland eventually cooled down, but not Lytton. After days of murderous heat, it burned to the ground.

Humans have a long and intimate relationship with fire; so intimate, it’s there in our genetic code, or rather cookery is. Because of this deep relationship spanning hundreds of thousands of years, one professor of biology and society, who has devoted years to the study of human fire, Stephen Pyne, believes we should rename the entire Holocene the Anthropocene, and its most recent, industrial phase, the Pyrocene.

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Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.

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