It would be nice to think that we are all friends, but I do have to be careful sometimes, after all there are always a few politicians, corporations and other assorted members of the elite who will do anything they can to ensure no cracks open into the real world. So I’m having to compromise a little with this series of articles, written to give readers a taste of the book Time’s Up! and also a little insight into the ideas behind it — you might not get all my innermost thoughts, but you will find out a bit more than it was possible to put into the narrative; just like DVD extras, sometimes they can be very interesting.
It all starts with the very smallest things…
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.
Why start so small? Ok, this is what happened originally: I wanted to do something different; rather than the immediate leap into the global scale that most books about environmental change tend to make, it actually seemed far more logical to choose a number of different scales (the origin of the online title, “A Matter Of Scale“) and try to show how, regardless of scale, civilized humans were changing it, and as a result causing a knock-on effect that was hitting our own species hard. Tempting as it was to go straight to bacteria, these being the smallest organism that is definitely living, it would have been terribly amiss of me to ignore something that might just be living, and might also be changing in such a way that the future of vast swathes of humanity were at stake.
It would be disingenuous to claim I predicted the H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic that began in Mexico in April 2009, but I most certainly had an inkling that we were in for something significant when I wrote the words above back in November 2007: HIV, SARS, H5N1, Ebola…you name it, we are due on the menu again at some point. What a tasty feast for these oh-so-tiny, so ancient, pieces of proto-life.
You might notice something hidden between the lines of that last sentence: the army of invaders, killing off its host…bring anything to mind? There is indeed a terrible parallel between the seemingly unstoppable march of Industrial Civilization, and the potential destructive power of a mutant viral strain, ready to latch onto the heaving, quivering, packed-in mass of flesh that the world’s cities are the domain of.
When you bring the kind of rich pathogenic soup that can be found in cities in close proximity to the kinds of bird farming described above [on page 20] then the likelihood of cross-species transmission is greatly increased. If a human influenza virus evolves sufficiently to infect a bird, and that bird is infected with H5N1 bird flu then the two viruses can mix and ‘swap’ genes. The resulting virus will then have enough common characteristics to both infect humans and create the kind of turmoil that H5N1 has caused in flocks of birds. It only takes one person in the vast genetic pool of our major cities to contract a transgenic virus for it then to become a human epidemic.
Yet we positively encourage the epidemics of the future, simply by the way that we try to squeeze every last ounce of meat from the sea of factory farmed animals, the way we have an insatiable desire to live in cities that are the crucibles of the economic dream, and the way we are urged to cross the globe at an ever accelerating pace, simply to fulfil a desire to be somewhere else. We are now in Wave 2 of the Swine Flu pandemic; it was inevitable, but it need never have happened had we not become so addicted to this way of life.