The idea that the human race as a whole can be looked upon as a cancerous disease is nothing new. In fact, the idea was originally coined by Dr. Alan Gregg, an official working for the Rockefeller Foundation whose job was to recommend funding strategies on improving public health and medical education.
He travelled extensively in the years following World War II, during which he witnessed a global population boom. Observing such staggering population growth, propelled Gregg to deliver a short paper during a symposium on “Population problems”, held in Berkley, California, in 1954; the paper was later published in Science.
In it, he compared the world to a living organism and the explosion in human numbers to a proliferation of cancer cells (Gregg, 1955). He also described how humans are having a cancer-like impact on the world and hinted at an underlying problem with “human self-restraint”.
Gaia was the primordial Earth-goddess in ancient Greek religion, the great mother of all: the heavenly gods and Titans were descended from her union with Uranus (the sky), the sea-gods from her union with Pontus (the sea), the Giants from her mating with Tartarus (the hell-pit) and mortal creatures were sprung or born from her earthy flesh.
Accepting the humans-as-cancer concept comes easier if one also accepts the Gaia hypothesis that the planet functions as a single living organism (MacDougall).
Although Gregg was the primary instigator in this line of thinking, it wasn’t until Warren M. Hern wrote a paper titled “Why Are There So Many of Us?: Description and Diagnosis of a Planetary Ecopathological Process”, that more people took notice.
In his paper, Hern stated that cancers “spread by two means: extensive invasion and by metastasis, or distant colonization. Human communities, once established, tend to invade and destroy all adjacent ecosystems without limits” (Hern W. M., 1990).
Studies from population biology repeatedly show that species whose populations are increasing rapidly are subject to severe fluctuations in population size and viability.
In the animal world, prey-predator relationships show linked oscillations of population levels. That is, the population of the predator is directly linked to the availability of food.
Humans have thus far circumvented these stresses through “group fission, emigration, and colonization of unexploited new territories”. These have resulted in “the permanent colonization of virtually every part of the terrestrial global ecosystem” and “the development of colossal and rapidly growing human settlements that envelop and engulf the adjacent ecosystems” (Hern W. M., 1990).
Human population has, of course, responded to population pressures with a variety of strategies other than migration, including predation and agricultural intensification. But by and large, these too, exhibit unhealthy practices in the form of feedlots and mass-scale monocropping.
The human species is a rapacious, predatory, omniecophagic species engaged in a global pattern of converting all available plant, animal, organic, and inorganic matter into either human biomass or into adaptive adjuncts of human biomass. This is an epiecopathological process that is both immediately and ultimately ecocidal.
In this respect, the human species is an example of a malignant ecotumor, an uncontrolled proliferation of a single species that threatens the existence of other species in their habitats.
— W. M. Hern
The human population is doubling every 35 to 40 years and the growth curve for the past few thousand years is “similar to those seen in other populations just before they collapse” — currently estimated to be 6.94 billion as of July 1, 2011.
The population has experienced continuous growth since the end of the Bubonic Plague, Great Famine and Hundred Years Wars in 1350, when it was about 300 million.
The highest rates of growth–increases above 1.8% per year–were seen briefly during the 1950s, for a longer period during the 1960s and 1970s; the growth rate peaked at 2.2% in 1963, and declined to 1.1% by 2009 (there is hope for us yet).
His paper also included aerial photographs of various cities in the US and Europe juxtaposed with photos of brain and lung tumors.
A malignant tumor develops its own blood vessels as it grows. Similarly, cities vascularize with aqueducts, electric power lines, highways, railroads, canals and other conduits. A tumor uses its circulation network to pirate nutrients from the body.
Similarly, cities parasitically tap the countryside and beyond to bring in food, fuel, water, and other supplies. However, just as a tumor eventually outgrows its blood supply, causing a part of it, often at the center, to die, inner city neighborhoods and even older suburbs often atrophy.
Alan Gregg (1955) noted this parallel 40 years ago, observing “how nearly the slums of our great cities resemble the necrosis of tumors.”
— A. Kent MacDougall
These mega-cities are a stark contrast to the semi-nomadic bands of humans from days gone by, who lived in harmony with the environment and limited their numbers so as not to exceed the food supply. The number of offspring was also limited to that which could easily be carried between seasonal camps.
Contraception was also widely practiced and included: coitus interruptus (withdrawal), pessaries, and prolonged breastfeeding to depress the hormones that trigger ovulation. Failing these precautions, they resorted to abortion and infanticide.
Societies in the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome preferred small families and are known to have practiced a variety of birth control methods. After the decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, contraceptive practices fell out of use in Europe. During the Middle Ages in Christian Europe, population issues were rarely discussed in isolation. Attitudes were generally pro-natalist in line with the Biblical command, “Be ye fruitful and multiply.”
Aristotle concluded that a large increase in population would bring, “certain poverty on the citizenry, and poverty is the cause of sedition and evil.” To halt rapid population increase, Aristotle advocated the use of abortion and the exposure of newborns.
A recent study by Pimentel and colleagues (2010) suggests that the Earth can support a population of two billion individuals, but only if all individuals are willing to live at a European standard of living and use natural resources sustainably. These researchers state that reducing population from today’s level of over 6.8 billion to the suggested 2 billion would take slightly longer than 100 years if every couple, worldwide, agrees to produce an average of only one child.
What are you doing to help out the world?