Running from the Flames

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Late in the afternoon earlier this month Charles Worth was hiking with his dog, Brownie, down Deep Creek Trail in Montana, toward the Yellowstone River, when he noticed a churning column of smoke in front of him. Only a mile from the trailhead and his truck, he stopped to weigh his chances.

The fire was heading toward him up the drainage. A thick stand of dry timber stood between him and the smoke. He retreated to a boulder field and watched. The fire moved fast. Suddenly it was burning in the close timber. Worth had to make a move. He decided to run for it, back up the trail, hoping to gain the high divide before the fire did.

Driven towards panic by adrenalin, he knew he had to pace himself, conserving his strength. He had already spent eight hours bushwhacking through the backcountry. Now, to make the divide he had to climb another 2,000 feet in three miles. He could hear what came to be known as the Pine Creek Fire behind him, a roar whooshing through lodgepole forest, relentlessly climbing, driven by winds, fed by drought-parched fuels. Worth switchbacked steeply uphill, gaining altitude and perspective on the flames below. The mile head start he began with steadily evaporated. The divide loomed above him, agonizingly far. His legs burned with fatigue. Terror numbed his mind.

"It was not looking like a good outcome," he told me. "It became very simple. I was just another animal running for safety. Whether I'd make it was very much in question."

You can read the rest of the story at Daily

It is a striking image, running for your life just like all the rest of the animals.  It is easy to forget for us humans that we actually are just another animal in the most basic and fundamental ways.  In intense moments of danger such as described here, we run just like the rest of them and when our environment can no longer support us, we try to migrate, running from starvation.  True enough, that we are supremely adaptive and have higher reason and technology to help us, but eco-system services are very real albeit ignored and taken for granted, and we are still nowhere near the terraforming, geo-engineering, omnipotent and indestructible super heroes we only find in our own movies.  Climate change is destroying our own planetary life support system.

People have limits.  Societies have limits. When we reach them, we will end up running, just like the rest.

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This happened to a guy I went to school with. He was in a group of 7. He tried to lead them *downhill* through the fire to safety. 3 of them followed him and they lived (months in hospital in the burns unit though). The other 3 tried to run uphill. They died. Never try to outrun a fire uphill.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 20 Sep 2012 #permalink

Very true - fires tend to travel faster burning uphill - there is a formula for wind speed/ slope reason for not living in a huose surrounded by trees over here.....

There is indeed JonL.
The rule of thumb is the rate of spread will double for every 10 degrees of slope.
As Charles had to climb 2000 ft in 3 miles, the hill he had to climb had an average slope of approximately 10 degrees, so the speed of the fire up the hill would have been double what it would have been on flat ground.

Yes, fires burn faster uphill. They can burn very fast downhill too. (I was amazed at how quickly a fire here a couple of years ago raced down a hill after coming over the ridge - thinking it should have slowed down but it didn't appear to.)

Running through a grass fire is fine (well, the preferred option to trying to outrace it). If a fire is in the forest, best avoid it altogether . Forest fires generate a lot of heat - running through a fiercely burning forest or trying to outrun an uphill fire? Not a choice I'd want to make.

It's not just the speed the fire is moving you have to think about - if you're running through thick smoke, you're not going to be able to get much (if any) oxygen in your lungs. Try to run *uphill* in those circumstances and you will very, very quickly lose all ability to continue moving. Run downhill without breathing and you will be able to go many times the distance.
My schoolmate and his team were in a coastal dry sclerophyll forest at the time - it was no grass fire - and their burns injuries were extreme, but 4 of them did survive, because they realised that 400 metres downhill was much safer than 150metres uphill.

I suspect that anybody not familar with wildfire fuelled by Eucalyptus would find it very hard to appreciate just how bad it is...

But I guess Coby's point wasn't so much about the fire, but about how - despite all our technology etc - we are still just animals. We react like animals, and we are subject to the same influences.

And I could not agree more. I have posted comments to that effect on numerous occasions. The one that concerns me most is how the current rate of exponential growth in the human population is unsustainable. The elephant in the room regarding climate change is population. We are using resources at an unsustainable rate, and our waste products are 'fouling' our ecosystem.

Every other animal population in the same circumstances eventually undergoes a catastrophic collapse when the resources run out. We are no different - it is just a matter of when, not if.

I think Europe demonstrates that we are perfectly capable of managing our affairs without a catastrophic collapse: population growth of nil, ever-falling carbon emissions, and ever-increasing efficiency in the use of resources.

Of course, Europe continues to be inundated with no-hopers migrating illegally from elsewhere in the world where they have none of this under control.

There *will* be a catastrophic collapse, however, because the West is far to coy about discussing the population-control that will be required in the 3rd-world (including India) to bring their populations down to a level sustainable within their meagre material and cultural means. If they don't do it, then we will have to do it for them, if the collapse is to be avoided. Basic ecology.

As for China and the USA - there are plenty of signs the Chinese "get" it - massive investment in renewables, population growth under control, not much tolerance for illegal immigration.
The USA on the other hand, run as it is by a bunch of religious fundamentalist fruitloops who believe that either a) God will take care of them, and/or b) the End Times will be here soon, is showing no signs of doing anything much to avert the collapse, and as it is the single country most responsible for growing CO2 levels, this is not a good sign.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 26 Sep 2012 #permalink

Vinny unless you are going to actually kill people, controlling the population is NOT an answer. China's one child per family has only recently, after over fifty (50) years started to reduce the number of people.

Obsessing over someone else giving up a future so you don't have to change as much is bollocks.

If the USA went down to the EU average, then that would be saving the same carbon output as if 1/4 of the Indian continent dying off. and shouldn't take anywhere near 50 yers to do.

Yours is merely another way of saying "You wogs are destroying the planet!".

I.e. colonialist bollocks with a hint of death cult over it.

whirlpool, how many people do you want on the planet? 4 billion? how do you want to get rid of more than 2 billion? which kind of material reduction do you favor?

Let me respond to kai's question.

My choice would be to shoot people like you. Then we grind your body up and use it as fertliser.

That solves several problems. It reduces over population and reduces the demand for stressed resources. It removes deniers and allows rational people to make judgements on tackling climate change. It improves degraded soils. And it raises the average IQ of the world population by several points.

Win. Win.

Wow, I thought the point of this post is that, like other animal populations in different times and places, humans are an animal whose population has exploded beyond the capacity of its environment.

Therefore, population control *is* absolutely what is needed.

And which populations would you control?

a/ Europe's? A population that is stable and doing more to conform to its environment's limits than any other?

b/ (For example) India's? A population that is exploding out of control and far, far beyond the capacity of its material, technological and environmental limits?

Obviously, this much-needed debate over some nation's excessive population increases is taboo, and hence avoided.
Where I work, I constantly see people avoiding the application of Occam's Razor to their problem and therefore working along a path that does not and can never lead to the solution for their problem.
The problem of the human animal's excessive demand from its environment is being mis-addressed in exactly the same way.
Like the Easter-Islanders, we are working our way towards a population crash.
To avoid that crash, we control population now.
To control population we need to
a/ Stop population growth.
or, if that doesn't work
b/ carry out population reduction

b/ is obviously going to be rather unpopular - the limp-wristed vegterian lefties can't even handle the necessary culling of several thousand kangaroos that occurs near me every couple of years, so they're not going to agree to any human cull in a hurry.

That leaves
a/ - stop population growth.
India, Yemen and all those other countries with runaway population growth need to be the focus this urgent requirement. Foreign aid needs to stop being a tool to create over-population problems and become a tool for population control.

Otherwise, the poorest 1/2 of the world will all die anyway, amid growing violent conflict over dwindling resources and the drastic changes to the environment which are now unavoidable..

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 27 Sep 2012 #permalink

Coby's blog article points out that humans are animals and we need to recognise that the same principles and pressures apply to us as with populations more generally.

It brought out the pseudo-elite and the ugly side of rampant consumerist waste.

By my reckoning, it's not just the poorest 1/2 of the world who are going to die. The wealthiest 1/2 of the world are also going to die. But neither of those facts has much bearing on the survival of the human population. Nor on population growth, which is tied to birth rate (and rate of survival at birth) and mortality at different age groups.

It's a dismal reflection on a culture in which such an opinion could flourish - firstly that anyone has to 'be killed' and secondly that if anyone is to 'be killed' it's got to be the people who are putting the least pressure on resources.

There is more than one way to ensure the long term survival of humans. (Killing off the more impoverished people in developing nations is not one of them by any stretch of the imagination.)

so, sou, you would first kill the rich like me. that's the reason why my rifle is always ready ....

The problem with over population is not so much with how many people there are, but how many resources they use. It wouldn’t matter if there were 20 billion people on Earth – if they all lived a sustainable lifestyle and conserved resources then so what?

The problem is that, even with only 7 billion, we are using resources unsustainably. An obvious example is fisheries. Fish stocks of every single commercial species are in serious decline – and when you use a resource at a greater rate than replacement, they will eventually run out.

And it is the affluent west which is having the greatest impact on resources. By some estimates (sorry, I don’t have an easily available reference) countries like the USA and Australia use resources at up to 10 times the rate of third world nations. What is making it worse, is that as we lift these countries ‘out of poverty’, they start to use resources at the same rate as us, making the situation far worse than would be the case for population growth alone.

Take the example of carbon pollution. To stabilise CO2 emissions, we generally need to reduce our global consumption by some 20% by some estimates. However, if the population was to increase to 9 billion (a 28% increase), and half the developing world lifted their standards of living to close to that of the west, we would actually need to reduce our per capita emissions of CO2 by some 80 – 85% over current usage rates. Driving hybrids and using low emission light globes just won’t cut it.

So what do we do?

Given our complete inability to initiate global action to do something as simple as reduce carbon emissions, what hope do you think we have for global action to reduce not just population growth, but to actually reduce the total number of people in the world?

I hate to sound pessimistic, but I suggest that there is none. We are stuck with our own stupidity. The only way that human numbers are going to decline to sustainable levels is for some major disaster or war. A pandemic which kills of half the population or a global nuclear war might just do it.

Alternatively, the consequences of climate change are almost upon us anyway and that might just do the trick. Collapse of the ocean ecosystem from acidification and coral death will kill off a lot. But then, as the resources get scarcer, those that remain will start to fight over the remainder. That just might be the correction that is needed.

Do I sound like a catastrophist? You bet I do. But the only alternative I can see to this scenario is for humans to completely change our culture of resource use. And I just don’t see that happening any time soon.

mandas you are a plain green socialist fool in a misguided mental state. everything you said is ridiculous and wrong. man, go to work and try to get your money decently

Mandas, I'd agree in part: The problem with over population is not so much with how many people there are, but how many resources they use

and add - and the rate at which we use them, where those resources come from and the extent to which they can be replaced or re-used.

If we use up irreplaceable resources and then find those resources were essential to survival then we'll have blown it. On the other hand, one has to question whether:
a) 'irreplaceable' resources are essential to our survival
b) the extent to which we can re-use resources
c) whether we will persist in changing the earth system such that it gets to the extent that we can no longer survive in it.

I'm very concerned about the risks we are taking with earth now but question whether we have got to the point of no return.

sou, i envy you that you have to take such a heavy burden on your shoulder "I’m very concerned about the risks we are taking with earth". isn't it rather the question whether we should manipulate the milky way in order to avoid catastrophic harm to our poor solar system, stupid

"Therefore, population control *is* absolutely what is needed."

And it's going to do fuck (pardon the pun) all to solve the problem in the short term.

Population control is, at this moment, irrelevant.

The USA and EU countries can get down to the EU average and that would save more than if India decided to commit suicide en masse.

Not having sprogs won't change a damn thing until two generations have passed.

Unless you want to cull off the population yourself, sicko.

It's just another way of making it someone else's fault.

It is no more a solution to AGW than Fusion power is.

Here's an idea.

How about westerners reduce their CO2 output by half on average.

That will delay the problem for a good 20-40 years.

It also demonstrates that rather than demand they stop fucking then we'll stop fucking up the planet, that we have done our part and their part is just control their population.

You know, take responsibility FOR OUR OWN ACTIONS.

Or are you against that?

"The problem is that, even with only 7 billion, we are using resources unsustainably."

Nost of that unsustainable use is in the western world.

Culling them would be the biggest bang for the bullet.

Almost all Southenrn USA and the UK are depleting groundwater far far faster than it can be replenished.

It is obvious where a cull needs to happen and it isn't Africa or India.

And note that these developing countries are making more of renewable energy than the developed world ensuring that their productivity at western standards will be producing less CO2 per capita than the west does.

It's pretty obvious that the western world, kicking and screaming about how they will NOT use renewables "because they look ugly" and will NOT move to CFLs "because I can heat my house with them" and NOT use electric cars "because I might want to drive across the country one day" are the ones who need to stop breeding.

If the western world just stopped breeding, the problem will be mostly solved by a much lower loss of life and potential life. And much quicker too.

wow, all complete bullshit. do better and learn

Mandas, you say Australians use up 10 times more resources than Indians.
I wonder if you can spot the vital flaw in your analysis?
Yes, you are considering this consumption as a "per capita" thing.
Why would you do that?
1 person living like a king is far more sustainable than 100 destitute people living in the gutter.
1 person living like a king can adjust to the changing environment and depleting resources.
100 destitute Indians do not have any buffer to absorb the negative consequences of the changes that are in progress.

The violent squabble over resources that is coming will be a direct result of the overpopulating countries' lack of any such buffer.

And Wow, you are completely wrong - the western world does not have a population problem, (except for the unwanted illegal immigration problem). Additionally, if there are solutions to resource depletion, those solutions are without question going to originate in the West. Eliminate the West and you guarantee the Easter Island scenario, because the rest of the world is demonstrating it is culturally incapable of successful planning and governance.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 28 Sep 2012 #permalink

Sou, have you ever been to India?

Please, do us all a favour - visit Delhi and *then* tell us who is putting "the least pressure on resources".

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 28 Sep 2012 #permalink

Yes, I've been to India. Vince can't do basic arithmetic.

He also thinks a profligate 'king' has more right to life than a person who steps lightly upon earth.

Maybe he and kai will duke it out one day :)

Vince, I think you need to go back and read my post again, and this time try to understand the point I was making.

I was very clear. When third world nations lift their standard of living to the same as us, and use resources at the same rate as us, then we will be in far more hurt than we are now. It won't be a matter of everyone reducing their carbon emissions by 20% - we (us AND them) will have to reduce it by 80%. And not just carbon emissions - everything.

But then, that was pretty clear the first time.

I know you have a problem with other races - you have made that clear here and on other sites like 'The Drum'. And I know from your posts that you blame the developing world for overpopulation - you have made that very clear.

But you need to understand - there is really no such thing as overpopulation - just overuse of resources. As I said, it wouldn't matter if there were 20 billion people if everyone used resources sustainably. But we aren't.

See if you can work out which parts of humanity are using resources sustainably, and which aren't (hint: the ones that are using them unsustainably are the ones who use the most per capita).

Vinny, for each child NOT born in the USA, 10 children in Africa would have to take their place to keep CO2 production to a minimum.

Indeed, with the insane push-back against renewables (despite common support for it, e.g. in the UK it is anout 60% want renewables, 12% don't, but NIMBYs and sockpuppets ensure that each step is not taken) in the "developed" world with solar power being used widely for local generation in Africa, it is likely that it would take more than 10 children to retain CO2 levels.

If no children were born in the USA alone then 25% of CO2 production would be gone in about 50 years. That's for less than a third of a billion people.

If Africa tried it, how much would it reduce? And how many people?

Mandas does it again:
" the ones that are using them unsustainably are the ones who use the most per capita"

This is utter nonsense. By your maths, if the population of AUstralia were to double, then our unsustainability will have halved.

*Obviously* you couldn't possibly actually believe that.

For example, Australia has one of the best-managed fisheries industries in the world - a small number of people use a large amount of marine resources in a sustainable manner. The coast of Indonesia isn't so lucky - a large amount of people uses a large amount of marine resources in an unsustainable manner.

All you have to do is compare the state of the environment in Europe - clean air, clean rivers, clean food, and a static or dwindling population with continued investment in resource efficiency - with that of India - shit and garbage everywhere, a population growing out of control, and nil efforts to reduce the mess they are creating.

When the sea starts rising at a rate of cm per year, Europeans will be able to afford to drop everything else, fight sea level rise, and relocate those who lose their lands.

Indians will be able to do nothing for those made homeless by the rising seas, and misery and conflict will ensue.

You only have to look at East Africa - over 100 years of people sending famine assistance and yet the famines continue.

Unsustainable use of resources is about governance, not about per capita consumption.

As far as CO2 goes, the USA has the technology and the resources to cut net CO2 emissions to virtually zero right now.
Your 10 children in Africa will not in a thousand years have access to either technology or resources sufficient to do the same - but they *will* play their merry part in over-populating their corner of the world in a very unsustainable way.

The one thing African and USAian children do have in common is they live under corrupt systems of governance which are currently holding them back from constructive action to better their futures.
But, again, things will change for the better in the USA long, long before they ever will in Africa.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 01 Oct 2012 #permalink

"By your maths, if the population of Australia were to double, then our sustainability will have halved."

Only because you segue from one select info (Australia only) to another (global).

If the population doubled because Australia bred like rabbits then sustainability will have halved.

If China doubled their population, it would increase the world population by what, three billion? But the CO2 production would not have gone up by much more than if we'd had doubled the population of America.

The biggest change for the least intervention is to have Australia stop breeding along with Saudi, USA and the worst performing countries in the EU.

But yet again you seem to ignore the elephant in the room: unless you're talking about killing children, population controls will not act quickly enough even if EVERY SINGLE PERSON got sterlilised.

Unsustainable use of resources is about governance, not about per capita consumption

And Vince just lost all semblence of credibility with that statement. It's really simple Vince. The resources don't care about human governance, they only care how much they are being used.

And the more we use, the quicker they decline. But the, that's just basic maths.

Mandas, Australia's fisheries industry or the state of the Ganges proves you are wrong.

"How much they are being used" is not correct. It's the sustainability of their use that counts.

The stunning and rapid success of Australia's Marine Reserves is proof that good governance is more important than a mere question of consumption.

And the Liberals' threat to end the Marine Reserves - in the face of all the evidence of their effectiveness - demonstrates that poor governance has more potential for harm than just any measure of gross consumption

And Wow, stabilising the World population at today's level would be far better than having a world population of 10 billion to look forward to within 30 years, *especially* considering virtually all of that increase will be occurring in places that are unable to cater for their populations' current needs, let alone any emergency needs caused by climate changes and sea level rise.

The countries *most* able to cater for their populations are by and large the ones that currently have the lowest rate of population growth.
Imagining that these countries' (extremely modest) population growth should be focussed on is extremely poor thinking when the vast majority of population growth is occurring elsewhere and remains unaddressed by your proposal.

As far as *reducing* population goes - we are well on the way to an Easter Island scenario anyway, but it goes without saying that if anybody has to be reduced, it has to be "Them", not "Us", and that's what conflict over resources always boils down to anyway. The strongest tribes with the best technologies will eliminate their competition. While I believe our technology makes us competitive, I also see that our culture's streak of defeatism, self-loathing, and limp-wristed woolly-headed leftie thinking makes "Them" look competitive. I guess we'll see if you get your way and our civilisation goes under, or if our society has enough balls to ensure its survival by doing what is necessary. You can't avoid conflict by delusionally pretending it won't happen. It will happen to us whether we want it or not.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 02 Oct 2012 #permalink

"“How much they are being used” is not correct. It’s the sustainability of their use that counts."

Given mandas's definition of sustainability is "how much they are being used", was there a point to that "counter"?

You're still missing the elephant in the room. Unless you are promoting mass slaughter and genocide, population control will have no effect for the next 50 years.


I don't think that anyone would disagree with the fact that population growth is a problem. But the growth rate in India has been declining steadily for the past 35 years, from a peak of 2.4% in 1978, to less that 1.4% now.…

Of course, when you start at a high base, that is still a large increase in the total number of people, but it is actually about the same growth rate as Australia (click on Australia on that page and check it out for yourself).

China's growth rate is even lower (0.5%), and is less than the USA (0.7%). Some of the highest growth rates are occuring in Sub Saharan Africa (2.5%).

A few facts in this debate would not go astray.