Climate Change – Up in Smoke (or not)

The lesson here concerns the unnecessary need that most in rural areas feel they have to clear bush with fire. They don’t.  They could use animals. That is one of the objectives of the Center, to help inform villagers that fire is not necessary.  Animals can do the same job and are nature’s preferred method. The do so without destruction, or smoke, and in a way that is more suitable for the land. Indeed, it is how the grasslands evolved. The natural role of fire on grasslands, by lighting strikes, is vastly overplayed.  There always were naturally caused bush fires, of course, but the principal way that bush was cleared was by the animals. Acres upon acres of dead bush never naturally existed. It was always eaten by animals and recycled, or trampled down in the topsoil.  Natural fires would not of had the abundant kindling.  Additionally, natural fires from lightning strikes occur, um, during the rainy season, not dry season, like now.  There would never naturally be fires during the dry season, which is most of the year. Instead, grazing animals would be eating and recycling the nutrients. We have the fire equation all wrong.  Contrary to folklore echoed from the villagers to the ivory tower, fire is not what nature wants for nutrient regeneration and not a tool for progress. Indeed, fire is an anathema to healthy sustainable soil.  As is obvious, fire kills. Where there are no animals, intentionally set bush fires will provide a temporary benefit of returning nutrients to the soil, but at a high price.  Over time it kills the grasslands, which will become increasingly patchy and woody, as is happening throughout the world. Of course, these fires are also major contributors to global warming and can wreck havoc on local villages when raging out of control, which I have now seen.  There is nothing like being in the midst of it to see it and feel it intuitively.  If fire had been the key component of grassland evolution, the atmosphere would have been thick with smog the world over and CO2 levels would have been quite higher. Yes, fire was there, occasionally, during the brief rainy season, but more common were herding mammals in the hundreds of millions, moving like clouds on the surface of the earth, trampling and digesting the bush, turning it back to moist, nutrient rich, water-retaining soil. They are gone, and now we have fire. This is a Faustian bargain, faithfully adhered to by the scholars of range science and the Western machine of land “cultivation”.  The Africa Center for Holistic Management, and its sister organization in the US, The Savory Institute, want to break this bargain and set things right again. It is time to forge a new deal with the land. One in which animals and soil are rejoined in their co-evolutionary balance, and fire is banished from the human toolshed, living only as the occasional natural occurrence, burning briefly and unsubstantially, while mammals, correctly managed, restore soil as nature intended, and in a fashion that retains water and, thus, holds promise. Let us not have a future that goes up in smoke, when the alternative is so apparent.

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