Environmental Activist Dr. Barry Commoner Dead At 95—Commoner Understood That The Work Of Freedom And Hope Is Up To Each Of Us
The great environmental activist Dr. Barry Commoner has died at the age of 95.
Above is Dr. Commoner on the cover of Time Magazine in 1970.
“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….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….. 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.” Describing himself as “a visionary gadfly — I’m right but intransigent,” Commoner often took his arguments into the lion’s den, telling autoworkers that their industry put profits before public health and delivering a blistering critique of Environmental Protection Agency policies and practices before an audience of agency employees….While serving in the Navy during World War II, he was assigned to spray a naval facility on the Jersey shore with DDT to rid it of mosquitoes. To his dismay, the mosquito population ballooned and the fish that normally ate them died. He would recall the experience in later years when he reflected on the development of his ideas about the worlds of men and nature sharing one ecosystem.”
Dr. Commoner was an individual who took responsibility for our collective future. Such acts are a defining characteristic of the hopeful progressive or person of the left. He understood that the work of freedom and of defining our society and culture in ways other than by the accumulation of wealth is up to each of us.
The are many ways in which individuals can work to expand the range of ideas and paths open to all of us. These things can be accomplished by taking part in politics and in debating the issues of the day, by working in the arts to expand the cultural choices open to all, or by simply working hard to remain open and accessible on a personal level to folks we encounter in life and to the struggles of everyday life.
Open and hopeful acts by individuals help our society become open and hopeful. Dr. Commoner was right that all things are connected. This is so in the ecology of the Earth and in the ecology of our everyday lives.
There are many options open to us other than just dividing the nation into freeloaders and allegedly more productive people and saying that there is a large portion of the nation that can be ignored.
Please consider reading Dr. Commoner’s obituary I link to above. The work of freedom and hope is truly up to each of us. Taking individual responsibility for our shared future is the only way we will make progress in a society that each day is more and more rigged for the benefit of the few.
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