Doctor’s Diagnosis for the Earth

A terminal human malignancy

Eric Lee
6 min readApr 23, 2024

….[modern] humanity is a cancer, and that’s neither hyperbole, metaphor nor analogy…

Homo Ecophagus is a book by doctor Warren M. Hern. It is a look at the major problems for the survival of the human species and all other species on Earth due to modern human activities over the past tens of thousands years (last 75k years).

Hern’s new name for the human species translates: “the hominin who devours the ecosystem,” i.e. Earth’s life-support system aka biosphere. Over the course of its evolution, Hern observes, humans have evolved a metastatic culture/form of civilization that has now become global and that modern humans have all the major characteristics of a malignant neoplasm — converting all plant, animal, organic, and inorganic material into human biomass, mutualists (other domesticants) or its supporting techno-adjuncts and control systems (technosphere).

Hern notes that expansionistic modern humans are incompatible with continued survival of the human species and almost all other species on the planet apart from other domesticants, offering a diagnosis and prognosis of the current environmental impasse.

Dr. Hern notes that cities, like cancer:

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

“Rapid, uncontrolled growth is the sine qua non of cancer. As long as the human population is growing at all, there is no hope of solving these major ecological problems. All the rest is secondary stuff.”

Yes, our growth rate is declining, naturally, “the declining growth rate of cancer occurs just before death of the host organism.” Business as usual, death as usual (see last 7k years of regional empire building our global empire building may resemble).

Dr. Hern, however, is mostly a diagnostician like doctors in the late 19th century who had no viable interventions/treatments for many/most pathologies. They were at best able to tell you what was killing you (e.g. you have pancreatic cancer), and how you can expect to die, i.e. they could offer a likely etiology/prognosis with added palliative care.

A course of treatment having a potentially viable outcome (normal life expectancy, persistence as a viable subsystem of the Gaian system) is a potential intervention, but requires a cultural physician if our species is to persist longer than a few centuries/millennia.

“At the moment,” writes Warren Hern, “we are the most misnamed species on the planet: Homo sapiens sapiens — ‘wise, wise man’ — NOT!

Hern, an 84 year old physician and adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder, thinks his book’s name provides a much more accurate description of humanity in the 21st century.

“I propose that the new scientific name of the human species 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 rapacious, ubiquitous, predatory, omni-ecophagic species that is a malignant epiecopathologic process engaged in the conversion of all plant, animal, organic and inorganic planetary material into human biomass or its adaptive adjuncts and support systems.”

Dr. Hern sees modern humanity’s unfettered population growth and voracious demand for resources as a kind of global plague, an affliction that is mindlessly, inexorably killing its host, and thus, itself, because… how could he not?

“Maybe we are not god’s gift to creation, the flower of the universe… Maybe we are something much, much worse: a malignant process on the Earth.”

[Note: I think I first heard this diagnosis in a letter to the editor in Scientific American in the 1970s. Once the condition is noted, the truth ceases to seem strange/unthinkable. “Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got used to it.” H.L. Mencken 1916]

The good doctor’s best hope offering is to note that there is one 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 are doing and no longer be a cancer on the planet.” Would we 8 billion and counting modern humans agree to become non-metastatic humans and prevent the 8 modern humans who do not from rapidly growing to again become the 99.9999%?

In keeping with his long-time 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,” who promote an “efficient economy based on good ecological principles, resource conservation instead of the next guy who wants to drill for oil in national parks” and take climate change seriously.

“We have choices to make,” he says. “We can choose to change what we are doing 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.”

I’ve been hearing the same/similar calls to action since the first Earth Day in 1970. Meanwhile, the pace of planetary destruction… excuse me while I facepalm.

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As noted, we need a cultural physician. Maybe several… maybe 1,700 working in groups of 7–13. Imagine 170 groups of determined systemic doctors, working unpaid (for posterity’s sake, of course) to both diagnose and prescribe a viable course of treatment. Oh, but instead, 1,575 diagnosticians told us in 1992 to tell our politicians to do something because solutions are above their pay grade (not their job in service to the economy).

The situation is that the determined patient willfully lacks a grasp of reality. Steve Jobs was clearly, credibly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer whose etiology and prognosis is well known, as is that with rapid, aggressive treatment he could have maybe a 13% chance of living 5 years (instead of 3–6 months). But the too clever by half patient “chooses” to watch YouTube videos for change-in-diet cures and consults a psychic. The outcome is foreseeable.

Metastatic growth in an individual organism (e.g. Steve Jobs) does differ from our relationship as a metastatic subsystem to that of the Gaian system. Normal metastatic cancer terminates with the death of the somatic host it is a pathology of. That it also terminates is why its dynamic (and our modern techno-industrial dynamic/form of civilization) is non-evolvable.

We moderns will not terminate all life on the planet (but maybe all eucaryotic life if we try harder). The Gaian system/biosphere will persist. We humans will not — unless some can become non-r-acculturated humans who as K-acculturated humans can persist as evolvable animals/hominins again.

Such is the only cure, i.e. the ending of modernity, of modern humans in all forms, to thereby end the Anthropocene, the condition that will come anyway whether all modern humans “take up arms against a sea of troubles” to persist or not.

Posterity will pay our overshoot debt. Unknown is whether any humans will mutate into a viable form of human AND persist during the downslope phase (figure 8–20 generations long as usual) as 8+ billion decline to a viable population well below the carrying capacity of a severely degraded planetary life-support system (likely by chaotic descent as usual). Sorry about that.

We don’t have a climate change problem.

We have a pathological form of civilization condition.



Eric Lee

A know-nothing hu-man from the hood who just doesn't get it.