When a spot on a person’s skin changes color, becomes tough or rough and elevated or ulcerated, bleeds, scales, scabs over and fails to heal, it’s time to consult a doctor. For these are early signs of skin cancer.
As seen by astronauts and photographed from space by satellites, millions of manmade patterns on the land surface of Earth resemble nothing so much as the skin conditions of cancer patients. The transformation of the natural contours of the land into the geometric patterns of farm fields, the straightening of meandering rivers into canal-like channels, and the logging of forests into checkerboard clearcuts all have their counterparts in the loss of normal skin markings in cancer victims. Green forests logged into brown scrub and overgrazed grasslands bleached into white wasteland are among the changes in Earth’s color. Highways, streets, parking lots and other paved surfaces have toughened Earth’s surface, while cities have roughened it. Slag heaps and garbage dumps can be compared to raised skin lesions. Open-pit mines, quarries and bomb craters, including the 30 million left by US forces in Indochina, resemble skin ulcerations. Saline seeps in inappropriately irrigated farm fields look like scaly, festering sores. Signs of bleeding include the discharge of human sewage, factory effluents and acid mine drainage into adjacent waterways, and the erosion of topsoil from deforested hillsides to turn rivers, lakes and coastal waters yellow, brown and red. The red ring around much of Madagascar that is visible from space strikes some observers as a symptom that the island is bleeding to death.