Parallel Causation in Oncogenic and Anthropogenic Degradation and Extinction

Biological Theory 15 (1):12-24 (2020)

We propose that the onset and progressive destructive action of cancer within an individual bears a profound and striking similarity to the onset and progressive human-engendered destruction of global ecosystems and the extinction of entire species. Cancer in the human body and our human role in planetary, especially biotic, degradation are uncannily similar systems. For starters, they are the only two known complex systems where a discrete component changes its normal ecological role and function—turning on and potentially killing its host, and in so doing, itself. Both are “hostile takeovers.” Clearly, humans are integral to both systems. With cancer we are the host and victims of the rogue behavior of what starts out as a normal, healthy, and functionally important part of our bodies. With the biodiversity crisis, we are the part of the system that has changed, expanded, and proven so destructive to the system in which we live. We argue that given that these threats to our bodies and Earth are both essentially ecological diseases, understanding the critical role of ecological interdependencies for avoiding both cancer’s and humankind’s destruction of their respective homes should hopefully promote better stewardship of both by the only animal capable of recognizing the problems—us.
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DOI 10.1007/s13752-019-00331-9
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