Human use of fire has led to mass extinction

4 March 2016

It compares to smoking. The atmosphere constitutes the lungs of the biosphere, facilitating the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that enables the development of plants and organisms.

A new book on human evolution and climate has found human mastery of fire is leading to mass extinction of species at a level not seen since the age of the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago.

The book, Climate, Fire and Human Evolution: The Deep Time Dimensions of the Anthropocene, was written by anthropologist Professor Colin Groves and visiting fellow Dr Andrew Glikson from The Australian National University (ANU) School of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Professor Groves said it was time for the world to take climate change seriously and for governments to stop paying lip service to climate science.

"It is irritating to see world governments including our own paying lip service to this because a climate change rise of as much as 2.5 degrees is absolutely inevitable," he said.

"We need to move as quickly as possible to non-carbon emitting energy production. The carbon we put in the air remains there for hundreds of years."

Co-author Dr Glikson said the human development of combustion in the 18th century led to a rapid change to the composition of the atmosphere, causing many species to die out.

"It compares to smoking. The atmosphere constitutes the lungs of the biosphere, facilitating the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that enables the development of plants and organisms," Dr Glikson said.

"Once you change the composition of the gases exchanged through the biosphere-atmosphere system, life suffers."

Dr Glikson has called on world leaders and policy makers to stop ignoring the facts and address climate change.

"The risks are very clear, they're happening right now. The rise in sea level and extreme weather events such as recently in Fiji are examples," Dr Glikson said.

"We are ignoring the signs and changing the composition at a rate faster than any I have been able to observe the last 65 million years."