When fire consumes wood, the light released is simply the sunlight captured earlier by the tree. These photons were painstakingly gathered over long periods of time, by the leaves of trees in a process called photosynthesis. Via this biological process, light splits carbon from carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen from water (H2O), which the tree rearranges into wood, while discharging the leftover oxygen into the atmosphere. According to the Gaia hypothesis, our atmosphere is so rich in oxygen because of all the photosynthesis performed by our tropical rainforests in the past.

Fire has taken on new meaning with the appearance of modern civilization. Today, the earth is literally on fire, judging by the rapid rate at which mankind is releasing the energy stored by forests over millions of years. Collectively, we have yet to learn about the intimate interdependence of all life on earth. In neglecting our responsibility as caretakers of the rainforests, we are in essence, neglecting to take care of ourselves. Either now or later, the fuel will run out, the fires will die, the piper paid, taking us to the next step in the universal cycle.

While fire destroys, potentially, it makes way for the construction of something new. For example, certain seeds germinate only after having gone through the heat of a forest fire. Such heat is the signal to the seed, that it is alright to grow, and that the once established forest and all its creatures are no longer there to endanger the fragile seedling's survival. Hence, the crisis of fire is both danger and opportunity.

The constant passage of energy through a biological system enables it to increase its order and complexity over time. Rainforests evolved into such an incredibly complex, self-sustatining, wealth-producing ecosystem, diverse in fauna and flora, rich in information, wisdom and beauty, because of the huge amount of energy invested in its construction over eons of time. Burn a patch down, and all you have left is a nearly barren plot with some ash suitable for raising a few crops for a few years, before it too is used up or washed away by water. For personal gain, it seems that a few individuals, located in faraway places, are making decisions causing this very scenario to take place countless times, leading to the world wide destruction of an enormously valuable resource, which really should be owned and shared equally by all creatures of this planet earth. This is called the tragedy of the commons. It is ironic that the individuals responsible for the destruction of such wealth and knowledge, are looked up to as being "rich and educated." Such is the power and illusion of fire.

Last updated 23 October 1998

Copyright © 1996-8 by Duen Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.


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