Time's Up!: An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis

Time's Up!: An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis

by Keith Farnish

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This is not an environmental book, even though it is concerned with the environment, nor is it a book to save the world, even though the world is clearly in trouble. Ultimately, Time's Up! is a book about survival and about ensuring that every individual human has the means to save herself or himself from the global crisis that is unfolding. People know that the climate is changing, species are being removed from the Earth at a rapidly increasing rate, and entire ecosystems are becoming shadows of their former richness; they know, but they do not understand. The global environmental crisis is closing in on humanity from all directions, yet the crisis barely registers on this culture's list of problems. As we stand, humanity is doomed to a collapse that will leave only a few nomads, and a toxic, barely survivable Earth in its wake. So why is nothing being done beyond changing light bulbs, recycling and buying organic food? It's certainly not for a lack of good reasons. Humans have no motivation stronger than survival, yet the culture that dominates "the culture we call Industrial Civilization" has created a set of priorities that value financial wealth, the possession of superfluous goods and short, cheap thrills, above that most basic need. In short, we are prepared to die in order to live a life that is killing us. Time's Up! is all about changing this. It describes what our actions are doing to the very things on Earth that we depend on for survival, at scales that we rarely contemplate. It arms us with the tools to free us from the culture that has blinded us for centuries, and which will allow us to live lives that will give the Earth, and ourselves, a future. This call-to-action proposes something radical, fundamental, frightening, longterm, exhilarating, and absolutely necessary—something totally uncivilized.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781907448591
Publisher: UIT Cambridge
Publication date: 02/01/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 916,681
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Keith Farnish is an environmental writer, philosopher, and activist. He founded The Earth Blog, and writes the Unsuitablog. He is also a guest author on the Sietch Blog.

Keith Farnish is an environmental writer, philosopher, and activist. He founded The Earth Blog, and writes the Unsuitablog. He is also a guest author on the Sietch Blog.

Read an Excerpt

Time's Up!

An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis

By Keith Farnish

Green Books Ltd

Copyright © 2009 Keith Farnish
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-907448-59-1


One Ten-Millionth of a Metre

Breathe in, and your body starts a battle. Countless micro-organisms hitch a lift on every stream of air being pulled into your lungs, seeking out a place where they can embed themselves and multiply. Once inside, every potential form of nutrition is fair game: blood cells, fat cells, skin, bone marrow, lymphatic fluid – all hosts for the army of invaders that just want to find a way of increasing their numbers. You are alive because your body has evolved ways of fighting them off. No medicine can match the efficiency of your own army of defenders across such a vast range of attackers, without killing off its host as well.

HIV, the virus responsible for AIDS, is a beautiful thing to look at; rather like a three-dimensional cog with rounded buds spread across its spherical surface. In cross-section the central capsid, which contains the genetic material responsible for allowing HIV to fight off all but the most sophisticated drugs, is coffinshaped. So beautiful, so appropriate, but so terrible that it is able to cut through an entire country in just a few years, leaving a scarred, distressed and dying landscape of human beings in its wake.

In South Africa, 19% of the population of 44 million are infected with HIV. In Lesotho, 23% of the two million inhabitants have HIV. In Botswana, 24% of the population of just under two million – that's nearly a quarter of every person in this tiny country; adults, children, even new-born babies – have a virus that will eventually kill most of them. Over a million of these tiny viral entities could fit, side by side, on this full stop. We may have evolved defences against the oldest and most common viruses, but human evolution is a slow process; we have no natural defences against HIV.

Here is another statistic. The World Health Organization estimate that Dengue Fever, caused by four types of closely related virus, is a risk for around two-fifths of the world's population. Without treatment, Dengue Fever is deadly in 20% of cases, and there are around 50 million cases of the disease every year. Dengue Fever is spread by mosquitoes, as is Yellow Fever, which kills 30,000 people a year. Japanese Encephalitis is also spread by mosquitoes, but develops in pigs and birds before being passed to humans by the same species of mosquito that infected these other animals. This kills around 15,000 people a year and leaves another 25,000 permanently paralyzed.

Influenza is not spread by mosquitoes; it is spread by birds, humans and many other mammals, including domestic dogs and cats – in fact any warmblooded animal can potentially harbour and pass on influenza in its many forms. The worry about the potential for a catastrophic influenza pandemic (global infection), quite rightly expressed by epidemiologists and other health professionals, is not based on some abstract idea that bears no resemblance to reality; it is a genuine fear that echoes fiction in so many ways. Compare this quotation:

By midnight the barriers were set up, and by dawn the next morning, the morning of the twenty-fifth, several people had been shot at the barriers, most just wounded, but three or four killed. Almost all of them were people coming north, streaming out of Boston, stricken with fear, panic-stupid. They were dealt with.

But by that evening, most of the men manning the barricades were sick themselves, glowing bright with fever, constantly propping their shotguns between their feet so they could blow their noses. Some ... simply fell down unconscious and were later driven back to the jackleg infirmary that had been set up over the town hall, and there they died.

with this one:

The Boston Globe reported that in the twenty-four hours preceding 7:00 am of September 23, 66 men, all of them probably in the peak years of physical prowess, had died.

The statistics boggled Welch's mind: the sight of the lines of sick men shuffling through the cold, penetrating rain to the hospital gave him no encouragement about the immediate future. He needed no stethoscope to conclude that the problem for many of them was lung failure. He could see that at a dozen paces: some of them, stumbling along, the blankets over their shoulders soaking up the fine drizzle, were turning blue and even purple.

It would take a brave person to tell which of the two reports is fictional: it is actually the first one, from Stephen King's doomsday epic The Stand. The second quotation is from an American study of the 1918 'Spanish Flu' pandemic, which took 25 million lives globally, or 1.5% of the world's population. The general public seem to have only recently grasped the deadly potential of the seemingly innocuous flu virus. A healthy person can catch one of the more benign and common strains of flu and spend a few days in bed, albeit with considerable discomfort, before making a full recovery.

Up to a billion people worldwide may be infected every year with influenza, of which half a million will die. Such is the population of the Earth (6.6 billion and counting) that half a million people is a global 'hiccup' – a mere 0.008% of humanity; yet the Indian Ocean tsunami, which took 300,000 lives in December 2004, is still remembered as a world-changing event. Less than 1% of the annual global toll from influenza died in the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. Nineteen hijackers in four aircraft making a co-ordinated attack on the military and financial centres of the USA are tangible targets upon whom we can conveniently pile our collective wrath. Unknowably vast numbers of sub-microscopic viruses do not a tangible target make.

What is a Virus?

With an irony that speaks volumes about the direction we are heading as a species, the simplest description for a virus comes from the world of computers. Such is the extent to which we have substituted our ancient love of nature for the modern love of technology, that we often have problems seeing the real world without a technological analogy to help us along the way. So, for the uninitiated in technology, a computer virus is a small, simple piece of computer code (a program) that attaches itself to a larger piece of code in order to duplicate itself and spread. At the time of writing, there were about 74,000 computer viruses in the 'wild'(now there's a bizarre use of the term 'wild', if ever there was one). For the uninitiated in biology, a natural virus is an organism that has no means of reproducing other than by using another organism as a host; generally that organism is a cell within a larger organism, such as a person, plant or fungus. Viruses reproduce by convincing a cell, by use of its protein coating, that it is a desirable object to welcome into the cell's interior. Once inside, the virus loses its protective coating, revealing the genetic code, which is then copied by the cell's nucleus, just as though the cell is copying its own genetic material. The cell then ejects the newly replicated viral material through its walls and voilà!, replication is complete. This is clever stuff, especially considering that a virus may not, in fact, be a living thing.

Obviously something that is less than a micron (a millionth of a metre) across couldn't be considered an animal even by the most imaginative biologist; but whether something that is not even capable of reproducing on its own or with another virus, let alone being able to move, excrete or grow, should be considered 'living' is another matter. Scientists cannot agree with each other on this, largely because the definition of 'life' is unclear: is it the ability to be self-aware – in which case things could get very complicated due to the limited ways in which this can be tested (try holding a mirror in front of a sightless creature to understand the problem); is it the ability to grow, move, excrete, respire, reproduce and all those good things; or is it simply "the ability to move a genetic blueprint into future generations, thereby regenerating your likeness"? We do know that there are probably more different viruses than all (other) types of life, and that there are certainly more individual viruses than all (other) individual life forms put together; so, if viruses are living then they are most certainly the most successful life forms that there have ever been.

The thought that my entire body is teeming with viruses that my own defence systems are having to constantly fight off, and that if I find my immune system to be compromised in any way – whether from lack of nutrients, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus – I could fall foul of them, is not the kind of thing that makes for a restful state of mind. Most people only knowingly come into contact with a virus when they have a cold or other minor infection, so have little reason to be aware of their existence. Our ignorance of viruses, though (and we are tremendously ignorant, despite the great strides that have been taken in bringing immunization to the masses) is something that could be our undoing.

Take the polio virus, the cause of Poliomyelitis. I have some home movies of my sister and me happily playing on the beach at Margate, a middle-sized seaside resort in England, during the hot summer of 1976. Dutifully we would stack up lumps of chalk into makeshift dams in the shade of the Victorian sundeck and then fill the resulting inundations with handfuls of the white foam that gathered in lines at the water's edge. The source of the foam was a short sewage outfall not half a mile away, which also deposited partially-treated human excrement a few metres out to sea, only to be washed back inshore with the foam by the rising tide.

Across the Thames Estuary, about 30 miles away, lies Southend-on-Sea. It was on the coast of this town in the late 1940s that the legendary songwriter and performer Ian Dury contracted polio, a life-threatening disease that is carried in faecal matter, and can be caught merely by swallowing a small amount of infected water. It was almost certainly from a poorly chlorinated swimming pool near the Spanish town of Altea that my own father contracted transverse myelitis, a related viral disease of the nervous system, which led to him being partially paralyzed from the waist down. All the time I happily played in the sewage-ridden waters of Margate no one thought to warn me that I should perhaps be careful.

Fortunately I am fit, healthy and (so far) free of disease, and that is thanks to my immune system working in the way it should. Whether it will keep up with changes that happen in the future is another matter.

A World of Change

The world is heating, and change is happening faster than expected. The signs are there for everyone to see: a polar icecap that opens up enough to allow icefree navigation for the first time since humans colonized North America; the accelerated calving of icebergs in the Southern Ocean; the early emergence of bulbs and other spring plants in temperate zones; even the wine trade is feeling the change, as southern Europe dries up and northern Europe warms. It doesn't take a big change in global temperature to make a difference – as of the end of 2007, the average global temperature had risen 0.7°C above the mean for the previous 200 years – because this is a planet of carefully balanced systems. Thresholds that are a hair's breadth from being breached are ready to tip like houses of cards in a breeze.

The British Antarctic Survey, about as sanguine and level-headed a body as you could find, reported this in 2006: "Adélie penguins, a species well adapted to sea ice conditions, have declined in numbers and been replaced by open-water species such as chinstrap penguins. Melting of perennial snow and ice covers has resulted in increased colonization by plants. A long-term decline in the abundance of Antarctic krill in the SW Atlantic sector of the southern ocean may be associated with reduced sea ice cover." Three separate findings, and a whole web of changes that spawn from them: webs that you will find everywhere, and many of which I will discuss in this book.

* * *

Come and visit Suffolk, England, on a warm day in September 2007:

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said last night that tests had confirmed bluetongue in a second cow at the Baylham House Rare Breeds Farm, near Ipswich, Suffolk. It was immediately slaughtered to limit the chances of the disease spreading. Bluetongue has already spread across the Continent to Britain. On Sunday, Debbie, a ruddy-haired Highland cow who was a favourite with visitors, was put down after being found to be suffering from the midge-borne disease.

While tests continue to see if more animals have been infected, Defra announced that from 3.30 pm today a huge bluetongue surveillance area restricting the movement of animals will be established over a 150km radius around the Suffolk farm where the disease was first found. This is the maximum distance that midges can fly, but if they have spread from Suffolk, biting animals as they go, the infection could be much more widespread. It has spread like wildfire across farms in Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, having originated in Africa. Thousands of animals have died or been destroyed, causing massive losses for Continental farmers.

Bluetongue is an arbovirus, short for 'arthropod-borne virus'. Arthropods include spiders, centipedes, shrimps and crabs; but most importantly they include insects, the most diverse group of animals on Earth. Anything that assists the spread of a disease is known as a 'vector', which essentially means the movement of something in a specific direction. Mosquitoes are notorious vectors for diseases, and not just those caused by viruses. Midges, which are closely related to mosquitoes, range from the harmless (to humans), nonbiting Cecidomyidae, to the painfully persistent Highland midge, which has been suggested as the reason for much of Scotland being undeveloped.

The midges that are responsible for the spread of the bluetongue virus are temperature-sensitive: based on the global 'temperature gradient', a tenth of a degree increase pushes breeding grounds north by at least ten kilometres. If there are anomalies in temperature caused by local warming, insects can be pushed far further. Temperature gradients also operate with height above sea level, with every ten metres in height causing a drop in temperature of 0.1°C. That means that with 0.7°C of additional heating midges, or any other temperature-sensitive organism, can range over land that is up to 70 metres higher than previously. That makes a lot of difference in hilly areas.

Fortunately for humans, midges can be easily killed off by frost, but as frosts have been starting later and later in the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the midges have been able to extend their breeding cycles into stormier times of the year. This effectively means that they can be blown across seas and into previously unaffected areas. If that wasn't bad enough, warmer temperatures also cause faster breeding.

A study carried out in 1999 found that mosquito larvae were extremely sensitive to temperature in determining how quickly they developed into adult mosquitoes. At 15°C the average development times for two types of mosquito were 44 and 61 days respectively. When the temperature was increased to 22°C this development time was reduced to 32 days for the first type and 24 days for the second type. At 30°C, the second type of mosquito was able to go from larva to adult in a mere 14 days. The significance of this is mind-boggling when you consider how quickly mosquitoes can breed. If a 7°C increase in temperature is able to reduce the breeding cycle of a mosquito by 37 days, then that means a mere 1°C increase in temperature could allow for one additional breeding cycle during the breeding season. Given that a female mosquito can lay hundreds of eggs in its short lifetime, one extra breeding cycle is a frightening prospect: one more generation of mosquitoes can mean a thousand-fold increase in numbers. A thousand-fold increase in West Nile Virus, Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever, and Japanese Encephalitis. Am I scaremongering?

Valere Rommelaere, 82, survived the D-Day invasion in Normandy, but not a mosquito bite. Six decades after the war, the hardy Saskatchewan farmer was bitten by a bug carrying a disease that has spread from the equator to Canada as temperatures have risen. Within weeks, he died from West Nile virus.


Excerpted from Time's Up! by Keith Farnish. Copyright © 2009 Keith Farnish. Excerpted by permission of Green Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part One: The Scale of the Problem,
Chapter 1: One Ten-Millionth of a Metre,
Chapter 2: One Millionth of a Metre,
Chapter 3: One Thousandth of a Metre,
Chapter 4: One Hundredth of a Metre,
Chapter 5: One Metre,
Chapter 6: One Hundred Metres,
Chapter 7: Beneath and Beyond,
Part Two: Why It Matters,
Chapter 8: What Are We?,
Chapter 9: Who Are We?,
Chapter 10: Why Does It Matter?,
Part Three: Making The Connection,
Chapter 11: Why Connect?,
Chapter 12: How to Connect,
Chapter 13: Why Can't We Connect?,
Part Four: How to Survive,
Chapter 14: You Are the System,
Chapter 15: Making the Change,
Chapter 16: Being Ourselves,
References and Notes,

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Time's Up!: An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
OldRoses on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Almost everyone today agrees that Global Warming is real and is happening even faster than originally estimated. We can see the effects already in the melting of glaciers and sea ice, storms of increasing frequency and intensity and devastating droughts. Added to the ongoing degradation of the environment caused by industrial farming and fishing, the pollution from the burning of coal and gas to produce electricity and fuel our cars and you have the makings of an environmental catastrophe.Just how devastating this catastrophe will be if we continue on our current course comprises the first half of Keith Farnish¿s excellent book, ¿time¿s up!¿. His explanation of the complex food web and the adverse effects of climate change and pollution is the best I have ever read. It is detailed but easily grasped. Most amazing is that he makes what is normally a dry, academic subject, interesting.The second half of his book is about what he calls ¿Industrial Civilization¿, how it is holding us in thrall to consumerism while destroying the planet and how he thinks we can and should break free. I heartily agree with him about the ill effects of the so-called Industrial Civilization, but Mr. Farnish and I part company on the solution to our woes.He advocates the complete destruction of Industrial Civilization. Much like Communism, this is an idea that sounds good on paper, but doesn¿t work in real life. We have already had a taste of what total destruction of Industrial Civilization would be like in the ongoing global recession. Academically, it seems like a great idea to rid the world of greedy corporations, but as we have so painfully experienced, in the real world that means throwing millions of people out of work. The ripple effect can be seen in every town in the For Sale signs on front lawns and the empty storefronts previously filled with small businesses.The author uses his own life, going off-grid and growing his own food, as an example of how we should all live. Obviously, he has never seen Manhattan or Brooklyn or Queens or (insert the name of the megalopolis closest to you). There are not enough community gardens or local organic farms close enough to feed these huge population centers.He also advocates the elimination of motorized transportation. He gets around just fine on a bicycle. Mr. Farnish lives in southern England. The climate there is so warm that people work in their gardens in January. I suggest that he try bicycling during a frigid Minnesota winter. Or perhaps a jaunt through the Rockies (the Donner party comes to mind).He also loses sight of the fact that his book was grew out of his blog. If everyone quits their jobs and goes off grid as he so fervently advocates, then there will be no one to run the internet (hence, no blogs) or to publish books. They will all be in their backyards chopping wood and tending to their tomatoes.There is the germ of a different solution in part three of this book. That is the use of people power (my phrase, not his) to effect change. Instead of the destruction of Industrial Civilization, the grassroots efforts he promotes could aim for the evolution of Industrial Civilization towards a more benign effect on the planet. Prior to the recent financial meltdown shareholder revolts, trying to wrest control of companies from greedy Boards and CEO¿s, were growing more and more common. Farmers Markets are springing up all over. To keep them stocked with produce will require more organic farms which could eventually lead to fewer factory farms. Drivers are getting rid of their gas-guzzling SUVs and replacing them with smaller fuel-efficient or hybrid cars.Eastern Europeans, who successfully rebelled against a Superpower, can attest to the power of citizens to effect change. We should all be inspired by their example to make the changes in our lives and countries to slow down global warming and the destruction of our environment.Mr. Farnish ends his book on what even he