Edward Abbey famously wrote that growth for growth's sake is the ideology of a cancer cell -- a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.
But lately I've been hearing a lot of people take that a step further -- suggesting that humans are a cancer on the Earth.
I don't know what Ed Abbey would have thought of that -- by all accounts he could be cantankerous and misanthropic and may well have echoed the sentiment. But to me it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem.
Cancer is a mutation of the DNA of formerly healthy cells that causes them to multiply out of control to the point where the organs and tissues that contain them can no longer perform their functions as part of a whole human body.
Human history is full of communities and people who functioned as what Aldo Leopold called plain members of the land-community. Nothing in the way of life of traditional nomadic hunter-gatherer communities resembles a cancer in any way, shape, or form. They provide us a picture of what "health cells" look like.
The true cancer is the idea of civilization -- the establishment of permanent settlements carved out from the rest of the world that feed on and spread into surrounding territories in order to perpetuate their existence at the expense of the species and the planet. The spread of this mutation of human survival instincts to formerly healthy communities speeds the devastation.
Cancer is stopped by stopping the growth of cancer cells and encouraging the regrowth of the various types of healthy cells that once made up the damaged tissues and organs.
The cancer of civilization can be stopped in the same way -- by reversing the spread of the philosophy of unlimited growth, reproducing healthy cultural models, and restoring other species in the areas we inhabit.
Will it be fast enough? I don't know. The outcomes are seldom clear when dealing with cancer. But the prognosis is grim if we don't begin treatment. And its equally grim if we administer a treatment that destroys the healthy cells along with the cancer cells. We need to be clear in our analysis and intent. And we need to get to work now.