Wildfires: environmental and social entanglements
Wildfire is fire out of human control. More specifically, the United Nations Environment Programme has defined wildfires as ‘an unusual or extraordinary free-burning vegetation fire which may be started maliciously, accidently, or through natural means, that negatively influences social, economic, or environmental values’ (United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2022).
Wildfire is becoming an increasingly pressing environmental challenge. Wildfires are getting bigger, more intense, and burning in places they have never been seen before. Between 1998 and 2017 there were 254 recorded major wildfires across the world, which resulted in an estimated US$68 billion in economic losses, and contributed to 2398 fatalities caused by wildfires, volcanic activity, and mass movement due to drought (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) and United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), 2019). During the rest of the twenty-first century, climate change and changes to land use practices are projected to make wildfires even more frequent and intense. It is predicted that global wildfires will increase by 14 percent by 2030, 30 per cent by 2050, and 50 percent by the end of the century (UNEP, 2022).
Wildfires have long-term effects that last well beyond their flames. They impact communities’ health, drain economic resources, contaminate water supplies, leave significant toxic waste, advance the extinction of plant and animal species, and contribute to climate change (UNEP, 2022). As a result, it is important to understand the complex reasons why wildfires happen and what might be done to reduce their recurrence, intensity, and impact.
This free course, Wildfires: environmental and social entanglements, will explore wildfires as ecological, environmental, cultural, material, and social interactions. Through readings, films, and activities, it will specifically introduce you to wildfires as ‘entanglements’. By doing so, this course will help you understand the many complex relationships that cause wildfires and help you to reflect on how approaching wildfires as entanglements could shape future responses to the major environmental challenges they pose.
This course is split into four sections, in which you will:
- consider fire and its place in human history
- explore the Greek wildfires in 2007, their impact, location, and causes
- be introduced to the geographical concept of entanglement and use it as a tool to develop a detailed understanding of what causes wildfires
- critically reflect on Greece’s preparedness to respond to the ongoing threat of wildfires and explore potential responses to the environmental challenge of wildfires.
This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course.