University Of Tasmania

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The pyrohealth transition: How combustion emissions have shaped health through human history

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 19:54 authored by Fay JohnstonFay Johnston, Melody, S, David BowmanDavid Bowman
Air pollution from landscape fires, domestic fires and fossil fuel combustion is recognized as the single most important global environmental risk factor for human mortality and is associated with a global burden of disease almost as large as that of tobacco smoking. The shift from a reliance on biomass to fossil fuels for powering economies, broadly described as the pyric transition, frames key patterns in human fire usage and landscape fire activity. These have produced distinct patters of human exposure to air pollution associated with the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions and post-industrial the Earth global system-wide changes increasingly known as the Anthropocene. Changes in patterns of human fertility, mortality and morbidity associated with economic development have been previously described in terms of demographic, epidemiological and nutrition transitions, yet these frameworks have not explicitly considered the direct consequences of combustion emissions for human health. To address this gap, we propose a pyrohealth transition and use data from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) collaboration to compare direct mortality impacts of emissions from landscape fires, domestic fires, fossil fuel combustion and the global epidemic of tobacco smoking. Improving human health and reducing the environmental impacts on the Earth system will require a considerable reduction in biomass and fossil fuel combustion. This article is part of the themed issue 'The interaction of fire and mankind'.


Publication title

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences





Article number









Menzies Institute for Medical Research


The Royal Society Publishing

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

Copyright 2016 The Author(s)

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Public health (excl. specific population health) not elsewhere classified