Commoner, Barry

Commoner, Barry,

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 falloutfallout,
minute particles of radioactive material produced by nuclear explosions (see atomic bomb; hydrogen bomb; Chernobyl) or by discharge from nuclear-power or atomic installations and scattered throughout the earth's atmosphere by winds and convection currents.
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 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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Commoner, Barry

(1917–  ) biologist, educator, environmental activist; born in New York City. A graduate of Columbia University, with a Ph.D. from Harvard (1941), he taught at Washington University (St. Louis) (1947–76) before becoming head of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, a New York City energy and environmental research center. Through lecturing and writing he had a wide influence as an environmentalist; Time magazine called him "a professor with a class of millions." He became increasingly more outspoken on behalf of environmental causes and ran for president of the U.S.A. in 1980 on the Citizen's Party ticket. His book Making Peace with the Planet appeared in 1990.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.