Barry Commoner: pillar of the environmental movement


On September 30, 2012, the pillar of the Environmental Movement dies. Barry Commoner, the scientist-activist was the man behind the successful campaign of a nuclear test ban treaty in the early 1960s.  He fought against nuclear power because he rightfully knew the negative impact of radioactive waste. He conducted significant researches on the issue and his findings on the global effects of radioactive fallout, which included documentations of strontium 90 concentration in baby teeth of several children, eventually led to the adoption of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

Barry Commner 2

Barry Commoner was well known to have the ability to identify and explain complex ecological crises, and for advocating radical solutions; thus, earning for himself the “pillar of the environmental movement” and founder of modern ecology.  His philosophy was boiled down on four simple principles, namely:

  • Everything is connected to everything else
  • Everything must go somewhere
  • Nature knows best
  • There is no such thing as a free lunch

Commoner was among the scientist-activists who pinpointed the toxic aftereffect of technology development in post-World War II, asserting that environmental problems have something to do with technological advances.  He recalled that he discovered one of his most valuable lessons during World War II.  At the time, he was serving in the Navy and was designated to spray a naval facility on the Jersey shore with DDT to kill mosquitoes, only to find out that the more he attempted to exterminate the insects the more that they increased in number.  Unfortunately still, the fish that normally eat those mosquitoes died. Because of this incident, Commoner became even more determined that humans and nature are, indeed, co-related.

The scientist-activist also exposed the threats of dioxins, put forward the idea of solar energy, and suggested that recycling is a viable way to reduce waste.  Commoner also campaigned for an end to pollution even before it is generated, proposing that this can be done by “ending the taboo against social intervention in the production system.”  But because of his radical stance on certain issues, like population control,  Commoner got into conflict with some of his contemporaries and other environmental leaders, particularly with population expert Paul Ehrlich.

Despite being unpopular, Commoner pursued his candidacy for the presidency in the 1980 American elections to expose environmental issues.  He particularly castigated corporate greed as the primary culprit in the declining condition of the environment.

Historians of the environmental movement, however, acknowledged Barry Commoner as one of America’s most influential ecologists.

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