Kimberley custodians of fire tactics spread word to Morocco

Kimberley custodians of fire tactics spread word to Morocco, by Stephen Fitzpatrick.

Traditional firestick farming techniques from the Kimberley region of Western Australia are about to be put under the microscope in Morocco, as practitioners demonstrate how it might be possible to rein in an estimated two gigatonnes in wildfire greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. …

The traditional Aboriginal method of conducting strategic burns in the early dry season, in order to control large, late season wildfires — thereby massively reducing greenhouse gas emissions — is estimated across northern Australia to have delivered a 50 per cent reduction in bushfires and generated more than $85 million in carbon credits for indigenous communities.

What a scam. If you burn grass early, it prevents the grass from capturing then releasing carbon dioxide. If you burn grass late, or let it decompose after a season or two where it does not burn, the carbon it captured from the air in order to grow is released back into the atmosphere.

Either way, it does not matter — the grass gets its carbon out of the air, and when it is burned or decomposes it releases it back into the air. The best you can hope of is that some carbon gets bound up in charcoal where it is chemically inert and will stay out of the atmosphere for years. Otherwise, all the carbon in the grass comes from the air and it all returns to the air when it is burned or it decomposes or sometime after it is eaten.

The carbon in the trees and so on that would be burned in an ensuing bush-fire? That vegetation and mulch is going to burn or decompose eventually anyway, at which point it returns its carbon to the atmosphere. The only way to reduce atmospheric carbon more than temporarily is to take wood products (charcoal, furniture, etc.) and store them away out of the reach of atmospheric oxygen — otherwise they decompose or burn and their carbon is returned to the atmosphere.

By the way, I wrote the carbon accounting system that Australia uses to estimate carbon changes in its biosphere, for Kyoto Protocol purposes, for the Australian Greenhouse Office, 1999 – 2005.

Incidentally, burning off early to prevent big uncontrolled blazes later is a good idea, and should be more widely practiced in Australia — because gum trees drop huge amounts of flammable litter to encourage big fires (it gives them an advantage against non-eucalypts, and is why they dominate the landscape). But the effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere on climatic time scales is zip.

hat-tip Barry Corke