Posts tagged “barry commoner”

"If we would know life, we must cherish it" - Barry Commoner (1917 - 2012)

Barry Commoner, public intellectual, scientist, hero, died September 30th at 95. Historian Michael Egan summarized his accolades nicely in a 2007 interview with Science Blogs:

Over his career, Commoner worked on nuclear fallout, pesticides, water contamination, air pollution, toxic metals, the petrochemical industry, population, energy and nuclear power, urban waste disposal, dioxin, recycling, and all manner of other environmental issues. To Commoner, these were not individual problems but rather parts of the same problem: American production choices were flawed. We developed synthetic chemicals because they were cheap without thinking about their health and environmental consequences. As a result, big petrochemical companies got rich by externalizing the real costs of their products. We pick up the tab for the dirty skies and waters, not the polluters. Commoner pointed this out and worked with a number of community and labor groups on community and occupational health problems. I think he understood-much earlier than most-that environmental problems were really social problems and needed to be recognized as such.

Commoner codified a simple philosophy at the end of his book The Closing Circle .

  • Everything Is Connected to Everything Else.

  • Everything Must Go Somewhere.

  • Nature Knows Best.

  • There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.

Four simple ideas (that aren’t so simple) and that, as a scientific and intellectual ethos, require thought, thoughtfulness, and a willingness of science to reach across the aisle into public realms biased by emotion. That the four tenets can’t be reduced and simplified enhances the power of their message.

Egan, again, this time in a piece called “Commoner in Context”:

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, a method of communicating technical information so that the public could better participate in complex social, political, and environmental debate. Commoner was a staunch believer in the public making the right decisions if armed with the necessary scientific information. Indeed, the better tagline followed “the Paul Revere of Ecology” on TIME read: “the scientist with a classroom of millions.” That’s really important. And I would argue that the science information movement has played a far more significant role in twentieth-century history that I think we fully appreciate.

Tributes across the web NYTimes - Barry Commoner Dies at 95 NYTimes - Barry Commoner, Last Word (video) History for a Sustainable Future - Commoner in Context The Nation - Remembering Barry Commoner

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