Andrew Simms: We can learn resilience from the natural world – but only up to a point

So, Andy, how’s that 100 months of world saving thing going? Must be near half-gone by now, eh? Since the world’s been cooling throughout the Obama Administration it’s been pretty successful then – ‘nother few years and you can relax, your world-saving done, right?

Good job. Let’s see what you’ve got for us today:

Fire climates – places with little rainfall, lots of wind and long spells when it is hot and dry – are perfect for some species. Woodland giants like the sequoias of the west coast of North America release seed when their cones are heated to temperatures that only fire can reach. A lodgepole pine may hold its cones for half a century until the right conflagration comes along.

Big trees like firs, spruces and sequoias that live for 1,000 years or more can be extraordinarily resilient to heat and flame. When a forest fire reaches the canopy, gases burn at around 1000C. In such a life span, an individual tree might survive several so-called “century fires” (confusingly these great fires occur every 200-300 years).

Forest fires are also part of the cycle of pioneering microbial life forms and fire beetles – the latter have fire detectors hundreds of times more sensitive than the kind installed in our homes – rush to fires when they sense them.

We can marvel at the brilliance of life that can adapt to thrive in such astonishing ways, while acknowledging the odd vulnerability to a changing climate of our own species.


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One response to “Andrew Simms: We can learn resilience from the natural world – but only up to a point

  1. The Giant Sequoia releases it seeds annually. Warm, dry air (summer drought) dessicates the cones sufficiently to release the seeds.
    It is the Lodgepole Pine that *requires* fire to reseed itself. The Giant Sequoia has simply adapted to survive fires with a fire-resistant bark. Wildfire is part of the ecology, both in California (in the forests, the chapparal, and the oak savannah), and in the prarie states (where the grasses cycle through various species until a fire wipes the slate clean).

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