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Undisciplined: The Environmental Engineer

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Stephen J. Otero
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This week on Undisciplined, in the wake of the devastating wildfires in Australia, we’re talking about setting fires to avoid fires. And if that sounds counterintuitive and even dangerous to you, then you’re not alone. Because even though prescribed burning has been shown to be very effective at reducing wildfire risks, it remains an underutilized tactic, in part because of the perceived risks.  

A recent paper in the journal Nature Sustainability outlines a range of approaches for prescribed burns — fires purposefully set to clear ground fuels — and we’re joined today by the study’s lead author, Rebecca Miller, who is with us by phone from Stanford University, where she is a PhD student in the school of earth, energy and environmental sciences.

Matthew LaPlante has reported on ritual infanticide in Northern Africa, insurgent warfare in the Middle East, the legacy of genocide in Southeast Asia, and gang violence in Central America. But a few years back, something donned on him: Maybe the news doesn't have to be brutally depressing all the time. Today, he balances his continuing work on more heartbreaking subjects by writing books about the intersection of science, human health and society, including Inheritance with geneticist Sharon Moalem and the Nautilus Award-winning Longevity Plan with cardiologist John Day. His forthcoming book, Superlative, will look at what scientists are learning by studying organisms that have evolved in record-setting ways.