In a new book, a doctor sees humanity devouring itself and the planet

In a new book, a doctor sees humanity devouring itself and the planet

Earth Doctor's Diagnosis: Terminal Human Malignant Tumor

Credit: Routledge

“Right now,” writes Warren Hern, “we are the most misnamed species on the planet: Homo sapiens sapiens – ‘wise, wise’. Not.”

Hern, 84, a doctor, longtime abortion rights advocate and assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, thinks the name he coined for his new book provides a much better description. precision of humanity in the 21st century.

“I propose that the new scientific name for the human species should be Homo ecophagus… ‘the man who devours the ecosystem'”, he writes in “Homo Ecophagus: A Deep Diagnosis to Save the Earth” (Routledge, 2022) . “Homo ecophagus is a raptorous, ubiquitous, predatory, omni-ecophagous species that is a malignant epicopathological process engaged in the conversion of all plant, animal, organic and inorganic planetary material into human biomass or its adaptive complements and support systems. “

Hern traces the book’s roots back to 1952, when he worked as a 14-year-old gravedigger in Englewood, south of Denver.

“I was standing on the hill, doing my thing and looking north from the cemetery. Something was wrong. All I could see was the Capitol and the (Montgomery) Ward building through the brown cloud” smog, he recalls.

Throughout his long and varied career, from his work with the Peace Corps in Brazil to public health work in Washington, D.C., to graduate school in North Carolina and medical school at CU, he slowly came to see humanity’s unfettered population growth and voracious demand for resources as some kind of global blight, an affliction that unwittingly and inexorably kills its host, and thus, itself.

“Maybe we are not God’s gift to creation, the flower of the universe,” Hern muses. “Maybe we are something much, much worse: an evil process on Earth.”

Homo Ecophagus is vast, deeply researched, full of quotes – not to mention beautiful color photographs – passionate and, despite its austere thesis, persuasive.

The first third of the book serves as a sort of mini-autobiography and roadmap for Hern’s eventual identification of what he sees as a real existential problem. In the second third, he describes example after example of the kind of destruction that is happening on the planet from pole to pole.

Finally, he makes his dark diagnosis: humanity is a cancer, and this is neither hyperbole, nor a metaphor, nor an analogy, he argues. Hern notes, for example, that cities, like Cancer:

  • Invade and destroy adjacent normal tissues (i.e. ecosystems);
  • Metastasize to more and more distant places;
  • Are progressive (i.e. growing); and
  • Resistant to death.

Citing several other similarities, he concludes that “human communities and human activities in general are ecophagous: they devour the ecosystem”.

“Rapid and uncontrolled growth is the sine qua non of cancer. As long as the human population grows, there is no hope of solving these major ecological problems,” he says. “Everything else is secondary. »

He notes that while the rate of world population growth has fallen from about 2% per year in the middle of the 20th century to 1% per year in the third decade of the 21st century, even at half the rate, humanity continues to grow along a “logistic or asymptotic curve, which is the same growth curve as seen in malignant tumors” and that (italics in original) “the decreasing growth rate of cancer occurs just before death of the host organism.

“We are leading the Anthropocene Extinction Event, and we are about to become its victims. Soon,” he wrote. “Is this our goal? »

What should we do then? Hern admits he’s not optimistic.

“As a physician, I would say the prognosis is not good, at least for the biosphere and the web of life as we know it, and that means extinction for us,” he writes.

But he notes that there is a key difference between humanity and cancer: “We can think and decide not to be cancer,” he says. “Right now we are choosing extinction. But we can change what we do and no longer be a cancer on the planet.”

In line with his longstanding advocacy for reproductive choice and population control, Hern suggests those concerned about human destruction of the planet vote for candidates who “don’t force women to have babies.” they don’t want,” that promote an “economy based on good ecological principles, resource conservation instead of the next guy who wants to drill oil in national parks,” and take climate change seriously.

“We have choices to make,” he said. “We can choose to change what we do and not be a cancer on the planet, stop changing the biosphere irreversibly. But the longer we wait, the harder that choice is to make.”

Provided by the University of Colorado at Boulder

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