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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Remembering Barry Commoner

Air Date: Week of

Barry Commoner

Biologist and early environmentalist Barry Commoner has died at the age of 95. Host Steve Curwood has this appreciation.


CURWOOD: This week we mark the passing, at age 95, of Barry Commoner. Biologist, social and environmental activist, and presidential candidate. Because he lived so long, many people may not know about his heyday – how, for example by studying baby’s teeth he demonstrated that radioactive fallout from atomic weapons testing was getting into our food supply and endangering our health.

This discovery was instrumental in spurring President Kennedy to negotiate an atomic test ban treaty, back in the nineteen-sixties. Along with Rachel Carson, Commoner called out the dangers of DDT and dioxins, and he was active in launching the massive teach-in known as the first Earth Day. He championed solar energy and recycling, and boiled his philosophy down to four basic truths: everything is connected to everything else; everything must go somewhere; nature knows best; and there is no free lunch.

In 1980 Commoner ran for president on the Citizen’s party ticket. He got few votes but championed the idea that people should use the ballot box to demand a restructuring of our political economy. He aged, but his fire did not dim. Six years ago Barry Commoner gave some final words to the New York Times. He warned, “Regardless of anything else about the environment, if nothing is done - beginning now - to cut back strongly on the use of fossil fuels we’re headed for a disaster.”



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