A biologist, Commoner studied viruses. But he became concerned over the effect of toxic materials on the environment as the U.S. technology boom geared up after World War II. He thought the public had the right to know what was being dumped, and what the health effects might be. It was Commoner who went about measuring the build-up of radioactive “fallout” from nuclear weapons (and found that strontium 90 was building up in children’s teeth; that finding led to the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty). In 1970, Time magazine illustrated the first Earth Day by putting Commoner on its cover, calling him the “Paul Revere of Ecology”. (Commoner was a strong liberal, but plenty of conservatives thought he was right: Nixon was president in 1970, and commented in his State of the Union Address, “The great question of the 70s is, shall we surrender to our surroundings, or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land and to our water?” — and Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency that same year).
Commoner himself was more pithy, with his Four Rules of Ecology:
– Everything is connected to everything else.
– Everything must go somewhere.
– Nature knows best.
– There is no such thing as a free lunch.
He was also pragmatic: “I don’t believe in environmentalism as the solution to anything. What I believe is that environmentalism illuminates the things that need to be done to solve all of the problems together.”
Dr. Commoner died September 30, at 95.
From This is True for 30 September 2012