Does the Earth Have Cancer?

Posted by Kyle Kramer on 9/6/19 7:00 AM

Photo by Dikaseva on UnsplashMy 71-year-old mom has stage IV non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and she is currently undergoing an aggressive chemotherapy regimen. Cancer has been a painful, difficult journey, both for her and for all of us who love her. In my environmental work, I’ve come across the idea that human beings, as a species, have become something like a global-scale cancer. I never agreed with this line of thought—and still don’t—but with cancer such a real and present concern in my family’s life right now, I find myself pondering it once again.

It’s a hard idea to dismiss; the personal and planetary parallels are very strong. Mom’s cancer is her own body turning on itself with uncontrolled cell growth. In his famous encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis observes that we humans are an integral part of the Earth (we’re of the Earth, not just on it), yet our influence seems to be growing with no limit—at the expense of other species and all of the planet’s interrelated ecosystems. That sounds a lot like cancer to me.

More than anything, I want my mom’s harsh chemo treatments to do their job well. But I don’t like that the way we treat and talk about cancer is rooted in violence: “fighting” it, “beating” it, and winning the “war” on it. If humans have indeed become something like a planetary cancer, as opposed to the Earth’s beneficial caretakers whom Pope Francis asks us to be, will we get the same kind of violent treatment?

It’s certainly possible. Mother Nature tends to show little mercy to any species that won’t follow her basic ecological laws. But as a species, we humans have a great advantage that could help us avoid such a fate. We can think and act consciously; we don’t need to be beaten. We can choose, collectively, to stop destroying the Earth—and with it, ourselves.

If we do, I think it would help heal more than just our planet. I know that Mom’s cancer has helped draw our family closer, keep our squabbles in perspective, and savor the preciousness of the time we have with her—however long that may be. Maybe something similar could happen on a global scale, too, as the human family finds ways to reverse our destructiveness. Maybe we’ll find more joy, more authenticity, and more appreciation for Creation, the Creator, and each other. Then maybe we will be healed, too.


Be a Part of the Healing

  1. Ask your electric utility provider if it provides options for purchasing renewable energy.
  2. Have your car tires filled with nitrogen, not air. Your tires will stay properly inflated without monthly pressure checks.
  3. Fall is fast approaching. Pope Francis asks us to wear warmer clothing so we can keep our houses cooler. Can you bump your thermostat down a degree or two come winter?

St. Anthony Messenger Magazine Subscription

Topics: care for creation, earth, At Home on Earth, Kyle Kramer, Global Warming