When the forest burns

Quand la forêt brûle - Penser la nouvelle catastrophe écologique by Joëlle Zask - Edition Premier Parallèle, July 2019 - 158 Pages

How can we understand this new and extremely worrying ecological phenomenon that is the "mega-fires", these gigantic and uncontrollable fires that current technical means cannot contain?

Fires in California, Greece, Portugal... Forest fires, a phenomenon that has been known for a few years now, are now on such a scale that their nature is changing: we are now dealing, almost everywhere in the world, with "mega-fires". On the scale of the human species, they are cataclysmic. Their violence is such that it is legitimate to fear that, of all the scenarios of natural disasters linked to climate change that we have imagined, that of destruction by fire is the most imminent.

However, whether they are intentional, accidental or linked to global warming, man bears responsibility for them.

This new phenomenon is symptomatic, as Joëlle Zask's thesis states, of the fundamental ambiguity of our relationship with nature at a time of ecological crisis. A nature that is at once idealized, good in itself, which should not be touched in order to leave it as virgin and pure as possible; and, on the other hand, a well-known will to dominate, leading to destruction. On the one hand, forests are managed industrially, even if this means increasing the risk and seriousness of fires, to which the response is an equally industrial and, more often than not, futile "fire war". On the other hand, fantasizing about a return to our roots, we build huts in the woods without clearings that will burn at the first spark.

This leaves no room for the idea of "maintenance", for a regulated, pragmatic, partnership-based relationship.

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In this respect, the phenomenon of big fires, the "mega-fires", an extremely worrying phenomenon, is the symptom of a sick society, shedding more light than any other ecological catastrophe on the impasse in which we seem to find ourselves; the only catastrophe born of man's hand, a weapon of pure destruction accessible to everyone, it also brings to light the enjoyment of destruction that seems to be gaining ground every day.

A symptom whose severity can help us to rethink our interactions with "nature", which is only ever the result of the attentive care that human beings have been giving to their environment for millennia. It is this care that is urgently needed.

Joëlle Zask teaches philosophy at the University of Aix-Marseille. Specialist of John DeweyIt is interested in the conditions of a shared democratic culture. Her reflections lead her to look at fields as different as education, agriculture, art, cultural policies and of course ecology. She is the author of several books, including Democracy in the Fields (Edition La Découverte, 2016).

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