Commoner, Barry

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Commoner, Barry

Barry Commoner, 1917–2012, American biologist, educator, and activist, one of the founders of the modern environmental movement, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., grad. Columbia (B.A., 1937), Harvard (Ph.D., 1941). He began teaching at Washington Univ. in 1947 and founded the multidisciplinary Center for the Biology of Natural Systems. In 1981 he moved the center to Queens College, heading it there until 2000. In the 1950s, radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear testing precipitated his environmental concerns; his study of concentrations of strontium-90 in babies' teeth helped lead to the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Above all, Commoner stressed the interconnectedness of everyone and everything on earth, and emphasized the public's need to be informed concerning environmental hazards. A political leftist, he criticized capitalism for ecologically unsound techniques that produced profit at a cost to the health of the public and the planet. His political concerns led to his founding of the Citizens party and his 1980 presidential bid.

See his Closing Circle (1971) and Making Peace with the Planet (1990); M. Egan, Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival (2007).

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