Scientist-activist Commoner dies at 95
FILE - In this May 13, 1970 file photo, Dr. Barry Commoner, right, listens to Secretary of the Interior Walter J. Hickel, left, address a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in San Francisco. Commoner, a scientist and activist who raised early concerns about the effects of radioactive fallout and was one of the pioneers of the environmental movement, has died in New York. He was 95. (AP Photo, File) Purchase photo reprints »
Barry Commoner, a scientist-activist whose ability to identify and explain complex ecological crises and advocate radical solutions made him a pillar of the environmental movement, died of natural causes Sunday in New York City. He was 95.
His death was confirmed by his wife, Lisa Feiner.
Commoner was a biologist and author whose seminal 1971 book, “The Closing Circle: Man, Nature and Technology,” argued for the connectedness of humans and the natural world. It said environmental problems were related to technological advances and had a role in social and economic injustice. He conducted research that helped propel a successful campaign for a nuclear test ban treaty in the early 1960s and drew early attention to the dangers of dioxins, the potential of solar energy and recycling as a practical means of reducing waste.
Historians of the environmental movement often name Commoner as one of the country’s most influential ecologists, along with scientist-author Aldo Leopold, “Silent Spring” author Rachel Carson and the Sierra Club’s John Muir and David Brower. Time magazine featured him in 1970 as the “Paul Revere of Ecology.”
“Together with Rachel Carson he was the most important person in catalyzing the modern environmental movement,” said Occidental College historian Peter Dreier, who named Commoner in his recent book “The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.”
“He was a best-selling writer, a scholar who understood how to translate science into everyday language. His analysis of the environmental crisis that was considered radical in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s is pretty much now taken for granted,” Dreier said Monday.
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.”