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Friday, 06 December 2019

Limelight: Nero fiddles while Rome is burning

Lubna Abdel Aziz, Saturday 7 Sep 2019
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The world is abuzz over multiple conflicts that the last thing needed was a blazing fire scorching the Amazon rainforest.

Environmentalists, the EU, the UN and the G7 summit are all highly alarmed leading President Emmanuel Macron of France to cry out: “Our home is burning.” He was promptly snapped at by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who retorted “to keep his colonial hands off the sovereign country of Brazil”, adding that they were perfectly able to deal with their problems.

Not really. Help is coming from many sources to quell the raging fires, threatening the world’s largest tropical forest, so vital to global warming theorists. It remains a theory as there are as many scientists against it as there are for it.
The Amazon basis spreads across 72,000,000 square miles of which 2,100,000 are covered with rainforest. So far, 640 million acres have been affected, more than half of Brazil. There seems no end in sight and the roaring flames are still roaring, blistering the lungs of the earth.

What causes these wildfires? Are they nature’s design for rejuvenating the earth? Many plant species depend on the effects of fire for growth reproduction. Wildfires are the cheapest and most ecologically appropriate policy, for many forests.

However, we are viewing an uncontrollable monster causing panic amongst climate-control theorists who blame fossil fuel and greenhouse gases, which in fact is not as bad as they claim. At present, accusations are tossed right and left mostly aiming at the environmental policies of Bolsonaro allowing farmers to deforest the land for cattle grazing. He is blaming the green groups of NGOs for starting the blaze after losing money, their intention being to attack Brazil while they are carrying cameras to record the fires.

Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country. Brazil alone is home to 200 million heads of cattle and the largest exporter in the world, supplying a quarter of the global market. Caught in the middle, Brazil’s president complained, “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw, now I am Nero setting the Amazon on fire.” He rightly claims that it is the queimada season, when farmers use fire to clear the land.

Whatever the cause wildfires have been a natural occurrence starting soon after the appearance of terrestrial plants 420 million years ago.
Earth is an intrinsically flammable planet owing to its cover of carbon-rich vegetation, seasonally dry climates, atmospheric oxygen, widespread lightning and volcanic eruptions.


History has recorded several legendary fires, no less devastating, considering there were few means to extinguish them. Even now their intensity is able to defy every technological device.

Both the old and new worlds have suffered the pain and destruction of devastating fires, but they are still here.
The Boston Fire of 1872 is arguably the most expansive of any fire in the US, though not necessarily the largest. California has seen its share of regular fires, including the third largest at the famous Yosemite National Park which burned 257,314 acres in 1871, but was outdone by the Wisconsin Pestigo Fire burning 1,200,000 acres, causing 1,500-2,500 deaths, in 1871.

The San Francisco Fire of 1906 was the result of an earthquake, the subject of a 1974 movie with Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner.
The year 1871 was not good for firefighters. The great fire of Chicago destroyed 77,000 structures, 90,000 people became homeless and 300 victims were burned to death.

An interesting tale is associated with the Chicago fire. If you are old enough to remember the movie Gilda, Rita Hayworth sings “Put the blame on Mame”, in which she cites the Chicago fire was caused by “Mame” and not Mrs O’Leary’s cow. The fire did indeed start in a barn on the O’Leary farm. and legend has it that a cow kicked a lantern that started the blaze. The truth is, a transient tossed his cigarette on the hay inside the barn that burned Chicago down. Cigarettes are indeed harmful.

The city of Chicago rose from the ashes to become the great metropolis it is today, and they have the best Fire Department in the country.
The great city of London was burned down numerous times. More fires occurred when people turned to wood instead of stone, making it easier for fires to glow and grow. One of the deadliest fires was in 1212 which brought down that famous London Bridge made of wood and waterproofed by tar, even more flammable.

The most famous London Fire of 1616 was caused by a forgetful baker’s maid who neglected to douse the fire before closing shop.
The fire ended by being a blessing as it cleaned out the filthy slum areas contaminated by the Great Plague of the previous summer, leaving London a clean fresh canvas for rebuilding.

Most famous of all legendary fires took place in 69 AD. It is said that while flames were gutting the heart of the Roman Empire, Emperor Nero played his fiddle.

That is indeed the stuff of legends.

The fiddle was not even invented then. Much was rumoured about the fiercely hated emperor, but he did not burn Rome, neither did he play the fiddle.


Fires are the result of human error but 15 per cent of wildfires occur naturally, with beneficial effects on eco-systems that have and continue to evolve with fires.
We pray the Amazon fire is one of them.

“Nature goes her own way, and all that to us seems an exception is really according to order.”
   Goethe, Johann von Wolfgang
   (1749-1842)

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