The Gnat Is Older Than Man: Global Environment and Human Agenda

By Christopher D. Stone | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
Diagnosis: The Earth Has Cancer,
and the Cancer Is Man

IN THE DOCTOR'S JUDGMENT

SOME THIRTY years ago in California, a symposium was convened on the state of the earth. Among the many speakers, who included eminent geochemists, botanists, and demographers, was an elderly physician. All that he could contribute, the doctor said almost apologetically, was a medical appraisal of the planet: how he would diagnose the earth were it a patient who had dropped by his office for a checkup. 1

Typically, the doctor explained, a checkup begins with a count of blood cells. If he should find, for example, that within the space of a month the white cell count had risen from 5,000 to 25,000, he would suspect that something was amiss: quite possibly an early stage of leukemia.

Now, he continued, suppose we were to regard, as well we might, the various features of the planet—the flora, the animal kingdom, and so on—as a federation or community of interdependent organs and tissues that go to make up the patient under review, the world as a whole.

If this planetary patient, sitting in his examining room, could recite its medical history, the most salient fact would be this: that the human component of the earth, its self-conscious tissue, had increased from 500 million in A.D. 1500 to 760 million in 1750 to 2 billion in 1954, the year of his speech. (Today, a mere four decades later, we have passed 5 billion.)

As a doctor he would therefore ask himself this question: “What if it became evident that within a very brief period in the history of the world some one type of its forms of life had increased in number and

-3-

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