The short answer to ‘what causes wildfires’ is global warming, degraded soil and colonization. But to truly understand the problem and potential solutions, we’ve got to understand how they intersect.
Global heating and climate breakdown are caused by displaced carbon. Since the beginning of time, there have been the same number of carbon atoms on the planet that there are now, they’re just stored in the wrong place. We’ve moved too much carbon from the fossil and soil pools to the atmosphere and oceans which has created a massive imbalance.
These carbon atoms are displaced through degenerative farming practices, the burning of peet and other forests, the burning of fossil fuels, as well as through open pit mining and deforestation. When we displace carbon from its safe home in the soil or biomass (where it creates and supports life) – and force its migration into the atmosphere (where its overpopulation causes harm) – we contribute to the effects of greenhouse gas and global warming.
HOW DOES CARBON DISPLACEMENT CONTRIBUTE TO GLOBAL WARMING?
When carbon atoms are forced to migrate from their home in the soil and become trapped in the atmosphere, they absorb sunlight and solar radiation that bounces off the earth’s surface. If more carbon was stored in the soil, less of this radiation would not be trapped in purgatory with the carbon and would instead escape to space (creating the greenhouse effect).
Because of the imbalances we’ve created, carbon’s overpopulation traps that heat – thickening the atmosphere and trapping that heat like a blanket – amplifying the planet’s warming and causing global temperatures to rise.
HOW DOES GLOBAL WARMING CONTRIBUTE TO WILDFIRES?
The heated atmosphere caused by displaced carbon exacerbates the severity and spread of the fires by increasing the brittleness of our land.. But global warming isn’t necessarily the ‘reason’ this happens. Nor is fire necessarily ‘bad’.
Fire isn’t bad? Fire is a natural and essential part of the earth’s ecosystems. For centuries, Indigenous folks around the world cultivated land with fire, creating enhanced diversity, agroforestry, habitats, and rangelands.
The principles practiced by Indigenous folks are forms of incredibly intricate and deeply intelligent land management. Which work in such symbiosis with nature, that the result of these forms of cultivation were essentially made ‘invisible’ to the untrained eye, causing them to be ignorantly overlooked by colonisers and researchers until recently.
It is because of colonisation, and degenerative land practices, that displaced carbon, global warming and unmanageable wildfires exist.
HOW DO INDIGENOUS LAND PRACTICES MITIGATE GLOBAL WARMING AND WILDFIRES?
Indigenous folk made/make the decision to burn based on soil conditions. As most of us know from our own experiences with fire, it will stop burning when it has no fuel, or the fuel is too moist.
The way we manage the land is both the cause and solution to the rampant wildfires we’re facing. Most of our current land practices turn the land to kindling for the fires, through degenerative farming, agrochemical use, monocropping, overgrazing, deforestation, fossil fuel extraction, mining ect… which kill the soil, plants and trees.
Conversely, restorative land practices, those developed to mirror Indigenous land cultivation, prevent fires from raging. This is where the contemporary umbrella terms for Indigenous practices comes in, Agroecology or Regenerative Agriculture.
HOW DOES REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE / AGROECOLOGY MITIGATE WILDFIRES?
Regenerative Agriculture / Agroecology works to prevent the detrimental effects of fire, in a number of ways:
ONE. AGROECOLOGY INCREASES ORGANIC MATTER Without organic matter (plant life) soil becomes easily combusted by fire. However, when soil has diverse plant life and trees dwelling within it, the organic matter acts as ‘armour’ for the soil, providing a buffer soil can draw upon as protection in times of fire.
TWO. AGROECOLOGY INCREASE WATER RETENTION When soil is thriving with organic matter, it is spongy, making it able to retain water. Just a 1% increase in soil organic matter equates to 150,000 litres of water stored per hectare in the soil. This Ground-water and soil moisture increase the soil’s ability to withstand fire. Water retention in soil also means that during dry spells, leaf litter is able to draws up water through capillary action which keeps it from drying out, further increasing the land’s ability to withstand fire.
THREE. AGROECOLOGY PROMOTES DIVERSITY Intercropping plants and trees increases diversity. Diversity reduces the risk of fire and increases resilience in times of fire, especially when intercropping fire resistant plants and trees.
FOUR. HOLISTIC GRAZING DECREASES FIRE FUEL ‘Prescribed herbivory’ as Fibreshed recently shared from the CA Board of Forestry, the “intentional grazing of livestock to remove, rearrange, or convert vegetation on wild lands reduces the costs and losses associated with wildfires and enhances the condition of forests, rangelands , and watersheds”. How does this happen? When animals graze, they remove the combustibles while defoliating plants (like a tree does in autumn) then they poop, pee and stomp on the organic matter they contributed to the soil, creating a natural compost of organic matter.
HOW DO WE PROMOTE AND PROTECT INDIGENOUS LAND PRACTICES AND SAVE THE WORLD?
HELP ensure Indigenous People are returned their land so they can again take leadership over land management. Donate towards Indigenous land rights (turtle island): Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, Your Cier, NDN Collective. If you’re in the UK, donate to Land In Our Names for land reparations.
SUPPORT your local agroecology projects this can be through your purchases of food, fashion, beauty products, furniture and more.
DEMAND laws, policies, and political groups amplify the rights and lives of BIPOC folk and protect soil and plant life – have you read the manifesto of the folks you’re voting for?
READ about Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and the regeneration of restoration culture. Some of my favourite books on these subjects are:
- Braiding Sweetgrass (USA / UK)
- Tending The Wild (USA / UK)
- Archipelago of Hope (USA / UK)
- Sacred Ecology (USA / UK)
- Farming While Black (USA / UK)
- Fibreshed (USA / UK)
- Project Drawdown (USA / UK)
- Wilding (USA / UK)
- Indigenous African Knowledge (USA /UK)
SHARE this info you now know what I know and can become an advocate for soil, share this info out in your own way to the world! We’ve all got a role to play in creating a regenerative and equitable world. Your voice matters!
SAVE THIS POST BY PINNING IT!