Tributes to Barry Commoner, radical ecologist

October 3, 2012 at 3:14 am 1 comment

Barry Commoner, “a powerful critic of capitalism”, “a leader among a generation of scientist-activists” and possibly “the greatest environmentalist of the 20th century”, died in New York on September 30, aged 95.

Below is a selection of recent tributes to Commoner, along with articles, films and radio broadcasts about his ideas, and key articles and book excerpts from Commoner himself.

* * *

Scientist, Candidate and Planet Earth’s Lifeguard, New York Times.
“Dr. Commoner was a leader among a generation of scientist-activists who recognized the toxic consequences of America’s post-World War II technology boom, and one of the first to stir the national debate over the public’s right to comprehend the risks and make decisions about them.”

Remembering Barry Commoner, The Nation.
” Commoner viewed the environmental crisis as a symptom of a fundamentally flawed economic and social system. A biologist and research scientist, he argued that corporate greed, misguided government priorities and the misuse of technology accounted for the undermining of “the finely sculptured fit between life and its surroundings.”

Barry Commoner, 1917-2012,
“His 1971 book The Closing Circle was a pioneering analysis of the economic and social causes of environmental destruction. At a time when most writers were blaming individual behaviour or overpopulation for pollution, Commoner exposed the role of capitalism and profit.”
Includes a excerpt from the 2011 book Too Many People?, by Ian Angus and myself, which describes how Commoner replied to the populationist arguments advanced by Paul Ehrlich in The Population Bomb.

Barry Commoner, scientist and influential environmentalist, dies at 95, Washington Post.
“Time magazine put Dr. Commoner on its cover in 1970, saying he ‘has probably done more than any other U.S. scientist to speak out and awaken a sense of urgency about the declining quality of life’.”

The greatest environmentalist of the 20th century, Greenpeace USA.
“Ralph Nader calls Barry Commoner “the greatest environmentalist of the 20th century.” It’s hard to argue with that.”

RIP, Barry Commoner: A scientist who wasn’t afraid to make some noise,
“In 1993, Commoner explained to the Chicago Tribune that “the Atomic Energy Commission turned me into an environmentalist.” He had raised alarms about the levels of radioactive material in the atmosphere after atomic bomb tests, but officials brushed him off. From that point on, he would become a vocal advocate for people’s right to know about toxins in the environment and in the products they bought.”

Barry Commoner’s Legacy, The American Prospect.
“Commoner believed in addressing multiple issues, such as racism, sexism, war, and—most importantly—the failings of capitalism at the same time as environmentalism because they were, and still are, all related issues of a larger central problem.”

Commoner in Context, Michael Egan.
“My instinct is that we will hear the same references over and over again in the coming days and weeks: Commoner introduced the Four Laws of Ecology, he ran for President in 1980, and he was called (by TIME magazine in 1970) “the Paul Revere of Ecology.” All true, but I should like to stress a much more fundamental point: Commoner invented the science information movement”

Barry Commoner: The Paul Revere of Ecology, Michael Egan.
“I submit that Commoner’s big contribution is not the Four Laws of Ecology or the Paul Revere of Ecology stuff. Rather he committed his entire career to the science information movement”

Barry Commoner’s Uncommon Life, Andrew Revkin, NTY/Dot Earth.
Quoting Michael Egan: “He should be in any top five list of American environmental leaders, up there with Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and Alice Hamilton. It may be heretical to say it, but I think he’s a more important figure in American environmentalism than Rachel Carson.”

Barry Commoner, pillar of environmental movement, dies at 95, Los Angeles Times.
‘Commoner was particularly known for boiling down his philosophy to four simple principles: “Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. There is no such thing as a free lunch,” he wrote in “The Closing Circle.”‘

Barry Commoner and Our Interconnected World, Legal Planet blog.
“You might say that, even when Commoner first wrote, it was clear that the world had a complex set of links. Today, however, we are beginning to have glimpses of the wiring diagram.”

VIDEO: Last Word, Barry Commoner, New York Times.
“Dr. Commoner, an early environmentalist, warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons testing. He was an early champion of recycling, organic food and reducing fossil fuel use.”

PODCAST:‘Paul Revere Of Ecology’ Sounded Alarms On Pollution, NPR.
“Melissa Block speaks with Michael Egan, environmental historian at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and author of the book, Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival: The Remaking of American Environmentalism.”

PODCAST: Saluting Barry Commoner, The Progressive.
Progessive Magazine editor Matthew Rothschild pays tribute to Commoner’s life and ideas.

ARTICLE: Barry Commoner: Ecology and Social Action,
“Thus, once we recognize that human beings are not bound to single ecological solutions, but can choose among several, social action – which is, after all, the process of choosing among such options-becomes a reality. It is encouraging that this view of the relation between ecology and social action is, in political terms, liberating; that it calls for societal arrangements which enable political choice; that it fosters democracy.”

ARTICLE: Barry Commoner: The Illusion of Consumer Sovereignty,
“Still, the issue always comes up: Isn’t it up to us? Isn’t it our fault that we buy the big cars, for instance? Well, no it isn’t.”

QUOTES: Barry Commoner: Pollution, affluence and class,
“The favorite statistic is that the U.S. contains 6 to 7% of the world population but consumes more than half the world’s resources and is responsible for that fraction of the total environmental pollution. But this statistic hides another vital fact: that not everyone in the U.S. is so affluent.”

QUOTES: Barry Commoner: Pollution and production,
“If the environment is polluted and the economy is sick, the virus that causes both will be found in the system of production. And that is where their cure can be found as well.”

QUOTES: Barry Commoner: Capitalism versus the environment,
“Thus, the energy crisis and the web of inter-related problems confront us with the need to explore the possibility of creating a production system that is consciously intended to serve social needs and that judges the value of its products by their use, and an economic system that is committed to these purposes. At least in principle, such a system is socialism.”


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Global carbon trade collapsing into hot air Barry Commoner: scientist, activist, radical ecologist

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