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Jul 11

'Framing Flammable Futures' pre-conference symposium

Date & Time
11 July 2018 9:30 AM - 4:00 PM

A one-day symposium prior to the NZGS-IAG Conference

at the Uni. Auckland

organised by the new Nature, Risk and Resilience study group.


While the presentation program is full, others are very welcome to participate as audience members and contribute to the discussion. For catering purposes, please email Tim Neale ( and Lauren Rickards ( if you would like to attend.



Climate change and the intersecting issues of the Anthropocene demand that questions of sustainability and disaster are thought together. This one day, participatory, pre-conference symposium will use the IAG/NZGS conference at the School of Environment, University of Auckland, 12-14 July, to bring together members of the new Environmental Sustainability-Hazards Risk and Disasters study group and others to discuss a key climate change challenge: our increasingly flammable future. 

The unprecedented 2017 Port Hills fires in Aotearoa New Zealand and other recent fire events in Australasia underline the need to explore how diverse groups currently manage their existing and potential engagement with fire, and may need to manage it in the future. As pointed out by scholars such as Nigel Clark, Kathryn Yusoff, Simon Dalby, Stephen Pyne and David Bowman, rethinking how humans relate to fire – from contained combustion of fossil fuels to the “wild” fires that sweep through landscapes and lives – is now a key intellectual and practical issue.

This pre-conference event will contribute to this task by bringing together diverse perspectives. Participants will discuss how the emergence of a more flammable future under climate change reflects and affects the ways in which fire is currently framed - whether as natural or unnatural presence, a social risk, a cultural resource, or something else. It will examine possible biases and injustices of contemporary fire management, including tensions and synergies between disaster risk reduction and longer-term sustainability.

Scholars and practitioners will speak to the following sort of questions: How is fire typically framed in your line of research or work, and why? What are strengths and weaknesses of this approach? How do issues around climate change, disasters and/or sustainability feature, or not feature? What will or should the human relation to fire look like in the future?

The symposium will kick off with a keynote lecture from Prof. John Handmer (RMIT University). Abstract below:

Can fire governance adapt to a more flammable world? Risk creation, resilience and development 

Governance of fire, and all forms of disaster, is under intense strain in Australia (and elsewhere) as state fire monopolies are confronted by a rapidly changing environmental, demographic and settlement context. There are also contradictions within the governance system. Climate change is increasing the hazard, in some cases dramatically; rapid urban edge growth is escalating exposure to this hazard; and high hazard areas are increasingly characterised by older people in rural areas, and recent immigrants on the urban interface who are less likely to be aware of the fire risk. These state entities are changing, but they seem to be changing to become more controlling, and more separate from the people at risk, through among other things increasing securitisation. Some agencies and groups assert the naturalness of fire, but as a society – at least in Southern Australia - we treat fire disasters as anthropogenic and seem determined to identify and punish the imagined guilty.  

The Australian National Strategy for Disaster Resilience, which is receiving ever more attention as a fundamental part of risk governance, now with a new national task force, is quite different.  It is not without its issues, but emphasises community responsibility, co-existence with fire and indirectly, sustainability. However, even if the resilience strategy came to dominate fire governance, it ignores one of the main creators of fire risk:  the development sector.  Globally, risk creators are largely absent from active hazard governance, and mostly escape scrutiny in post-event enquiries.  The large seemingly powerful fire and emergency management agencies have very little influence over the pattern of settlement or hazard related building regulations.  Our fire governance is concerned with the allocation of responsibility for response, rather than with how risk is created, thereby creating incentives to increase risk.  Business as usual will see escalating risk. Drawing on ideas of good governance, some suggestions are made on what should ideally change, and what might be possible.   





Event Type
Event Location
Uni. Auckland
Contact Details
Lauren Rickards

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