Monday, November 2, 2009

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

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 agrees is a controversial note: healthcare. Or, more exactly, the lack of healthcare when we all go back to the land. He feels that that we don’t need modern medicine. In this, he is showing his youth. I grew up listening to the stories of my grandparents’ generation (his great-grandparents) of what life was like before the advent of modern medicine, i.e. before antibiotics and most vaccines. When all that doctors could offer was palliative care. When a simple cut could mean death from infection. When epidemics of childhood diseases raged, killing and maiming hundreds, sometimes thousands of children.

I find it difficult to believe that the author would rather that doctors spend their time gathering herbs for poultices rather than in laboratories working on vaccines for scourges like the Swine Flu that could very possibly kill his own children.

Review copy courtesy of Chelsea Green Publishing

No comments: