Environmental Animism

This is from an environmental writer who criticises climate skeptics as being anti-science:

I can't be the only one who thinks about how strange cancer is: It seems sometimes like a giant "dislike" button the heavens push when humans engage in behaviors we weren't built for, even seemingly natural things like sun-bathing — until you remember that Northern Europeans didn't, evolutionarily speaking, have a lot of sun to deal with.

This notion that somehow cancer is a punishment from Gaia for our high-technology and lifestyle choices and eating habits actually seems pretty prevalent among environmentalists.

The author, in reporting on some really interesting research about cancer as an independent parasitic lifeform rather than a disease, makes this statement:

The new view depicts cancer as a new species — one for whom our unhealthy lifestyles are a growth market. Humanity's radical manipulations of nature can create just this sort of unexpected power vacuum.

The first nine words of this graf do accurately reflect the gist of the article he is linking.  The rest is pure fantasy and supposition, his own biases applied to his reporting.  He pretends it came from the study, but of course no such thing can be found in the source.  But we don't need any proof, because we know that cancer and parasites and all other unhealthy things only began with the incorporation of Dupont. Thank God the black death did not come along today, or I am sure it would be blamed on Exxon.

PS- by the way, interestingly enough, there is a school of thought that the black death was made far worse by climate change, in this case global cooling and the end of the Medieval warm period.  In the 1330's, the end of the warm period brought wet and cold weather which killed crops and caused great famines, which may have weakened the population for the black death a decade later.

It is really, really funny sitting in on a Medieval history course and having the professor have to say things like, "I know this is not what you hear in the news, but in the Middle Ages, warmth brought prosperity and cold brought death."


  1. MJ:

    "Thank God the black death did not come along today, or I am sure it would be blamed on Exxon."

    Actually, it would be blamed on the Koch brothers.

  2. steve:

    I am surprised history profs are aloud to mention the medieval warming period.

  3. Elliot:

    Yet another bad argument to try to scare people into drinking the alarmist kool-aid. It is ironic that Cameron Scott ignorantly tries to link sunlight to health problems, when a lack of sunlight causes vitamin D deficiencies. Also, I'd be willing to wager that he, like many environmentalists, probably pushes the idea that cutting out meat and eating more grains is the way to fight cancer.

    Advocates of evolutionary fitness (paleo diet, caveman diet) make the case that the foods introduced in the neolithic era (grains) and the industrial era (sugars, processed ingredients, preservatives), along with a sedentary lifestyle, have led to a dramatic increase in the "diseases of civilization" (CV disease, diabetes, cancer) for genetic reasons. While a whole foods vegetarian diet is probably healthier than eating lots of junk food, I think it's less healthy than a whole foods diet which more closely matches that of our ancestors, who evolved most of the time as hunters, not farmers.

    So, if Scott wants to tell me Gaia is angry if I eat Twinkies and Fritos, I'll smile and nod. But the minute he tries to feed me "heart healthy" grains or tries to take away my steak, he's got a fight on his hands.

  4. Retardo:

    I recall an NYT (IIRC) thumbsucker during the Deepwater Horizon thing, saying that the blowout illustrated that carbon was just an evil, evil substance, wherever found. Except in the writer, presumably.

    On vitamin D, there's some thinking now that vitamin D actually prevents cancer, though I suspect the results are less definite than this article suggests:


    Insert standard disclaimer about reversion to the mean and all that.

  5. joshv:

    Aneuploidy as actually a very intersting theory. For years cancer researchers have basically ignored the fact that many cancer cells have bizarrely different chromosomal counts than their host species, thinking that this was just an effect related to cancerous behavior, not a cause of the behavior itself.

    We have billions of cells, constantly dividing. Trillions of chances for mutation. This is evolution in miniature. Most mutations are harmful and kill the host cell, some mutations allow the cell to ignore the biological signalling of the host, and even the cell's own genetic program. Those cells then propagate, competing for the resources consumed by the cells with the original host genome.

  6. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA):

    Utter bullshit.

    Historians of breast cancer agree that the disease and its treatment were discussed, often at length, and described as cancer by the most famous medical authorities of antiquity — Hippocrates, Celsus, and Galen — and by several prominent medieval authors, including Avicenna and Rolando da Parma. New England Journal of Medicine, 2000.

    My late father-in-law, an Hungarian pathologist, often referenced Michelangelo's sculpture "Night" as a classic example of advanced breast cancer, easily diagnosed by any competent pathologist. No biopsy necessary.

  7. spiro:

    1) nobody dies of "old age" or "natural causes" any more -- we always assign a cause of death now

    2) less and less people are dying so easily of infectious disease, metabolic diseases, and mayhem accidents in factories and on farms

    3) you have to die eventually, and as was pointed out, because cells are constantly replicating, your mathematical risk of cancer increases the longer you live. So, more people living 75+ years = higher incidence of cancer.

    4) people who insert their moral beliefs into science are small minded. be it the idea that Earth is only 6,000 years old, or the idea that Earth has a soul and humans do damage to her feelings.

  8. MagyarBowman:

    Is not science inherently a skeptical process?

  9. marco73:

    Gaia is angry at humans because of AGW? So she's giving us cancer? Why doesn't she just blow up North America with that volcano in Yellowstone?
    Since all weather is now blamed on AGW, it won't be too long before all natural disasters are Gaia getting back at pesky humans.
    IIRC, someone actually tried to blame the Haiti earthquake on American's driving SUVs.
    If a scientific authority such as Danny Glover says it, it must be true.

  10. jhc:

    1. Ditto spiro.

    2. From June, 2010: Annual Report: US Cancer Death Rates Still Declining.

    3. What a maroon.

  11. Rathtyen:

    “by the way, interestingly enough, there is a school of thought that the black death was made far worse by climate change, in this case global cooling and the end of the Medieval warm period. In the 1330′s, the end of the warm period brought wet and cold weather which killed crops and caused great famines, which may have weakened the population for the black death a decade later.”

    Like so many things, the Black death is multi-faceted. An yes, it appears climate change was a major contributing factor, but so also were war, witchcraft and religion.

    The fourteenth century appears to have been a period of disruptive weather, cooling from the Medieval Warming Period to the start of the little Ice Age. There appears to be ample evidence of conditions often being wetter and cooler than normal, with a devastating effect on crops, leading to periodic famines. Crop failures as a local issue are a problem, but when they are continent wide, they are catastrophic.

    Put together a combination of more frequent, and often more widespread crop failures with increased urbanization (the cities were getting bigger and more crowded) with accompanying sanitation issues and you have a weakened population (on average) less resistant to disease, but also often crowded closer together, spreading it further once something broke out.

    Then add to that war, and the consquences of commandeered food supplies, men taken for fighting rather than farming, and the usual pillaging etc by armies, and you have an added element during a period of agricultural difficulty.

    Then add sin: the sin of Vanity. Around this time some doofus came up with the idea that people only washed to look better, which was vanity, which was a sin, and therefore not allowed. At a time of poor nutrition, hunger and cooling weather, with more people increasingly huddled together in crowded towns, basic personal hygiene took a massive step backwards.

    And then of course there was witchcraft, with anti-witchcraft trials and executions happening on an amazing scale - the Monty Python skit in the Holy Grail isn’t quite as silly as it seems. One side effect was the issue of Familiars. Witches supposedly have Familiars, and often they are cats. Cats were regarded as creatures of evil, and during this period, were killed in large numbers. It was dangerous to keep one as it carried the risk of being accused of witchcraft.

    Of course cats are pretty handy for keeping vermin under control, and the plague was spread by fleas on the European Black Rat. The Black Rat spread throughout Europe during the Medieval Warming Period (they like warmer weather), and this may well have led to a concentration of them in city areas as the climate cooled – taking shelter in warmer houses and buildings. Normally cats would have been a major contributor to controlling numbers, but cats at that time were themselves becoming an endangered species.

    The Great Plague was absolutely devastating – it is my understanding it killed almost one in three people in Europe, which is extraordinarily high. One has to expect a death toll on this scale also meant a concurrent rise in other diseases from decaying bodies (“Bring out your dead”).

    Fortunately a mixture of continued cooling weather (Black rats like warmer weather, and are now confined to the Mediterranean shores) and the introduction of the Asian Brown Rat to Europe, helped eliminate the Black rat and its offending fleas from most of Europe.

    …..but to get back on track, I’m sure those rotten corporations had something to blame for in all of that!

  12. Gil:

    One interesting hypothesis is that the Black Death was caused by the Mongolians who would catapults corpses into the enemy's camp and those who fled spread it across Europe and Asia. One problem by the Medieval is whether or not the whole world benefitted from a warmer climate. Inevitably, cold places benefit but what about places that were already warm - did they suffer droughts during the same period and were actually worse off?

    Conversely, how many here are of the G. Reisman and L. Rockwell mentality that Mother Nature is the enemy and the untamed wild must be fully conquered to become city, farm, parks and gardens?

  13. Gil:

    I'm sure, Rathtyen, you would know that the Cat was becoming endangering because of people thinking they were evil and there was a bounty on cats? Then again, did the rat population really expand during those days or were rats already well spread? In other words, the rat population didn't change the Plague-carray flea did?

  14. caseyboy:

    Raytyen, me thinks you know far too much about the "black death". If I were you I might not go there as a party mingling subject.