09/09/2005 01:12 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is the Human Race a Planetary Cancer?

One of the more optimistic theories in ecology has been the Gaia hypothesis, which holds that the entire planet is a self-interacting system that balances itself and regulates the status of life everywhere. Gaia keeps life in a healthy state, just as the mechanism of homeostasis in the human body works to keep every cell healthy and in balance.

But bodies die from cancer, and one wonders if the human race is a cancer that the planet cannot correct for. If all of life constitutes a single "superorganism," how much adaptability is left in that organism?

Like a malignancy, the basic problem with Homo sapiens is that we want to take over everything. We want to expand without regard for other life forms. Eventually, like cancer, our destruction may be caused by our very success. In its insatiable urge to dominate, a cancer cell drives away all competition, but in so doing it wrecks the body's ecology and therefore is doomed.

Gaia, or the total ecosystem if you prefer, has accommodated human life as one species among many, but it is hard to see any planetary mechanism that can check the spread of humans in so many destructive areas. Of course, the fact that we may pollute ourselves out of existence can be accommodated ultimately. should the human race reach its end game, other life forms will persist and carry on without us.

Has the planet reached its limit as an ecosystem that can include us? If not, how close are we? The human body is so masterful at self-correction, I wonder if there is a similar self-correcting mechanism in the human mind that can be called upon, or that will assert itself in the coming generations.

I would be interested in opinions.