Remembering Barry Commoner

Barry Commoner, an American biologist, leading ecologist and one of the founders of the modern environmental movement, would’ve turned 98 today.

In his 1971 book, The Closing Circle, he was one of first thinkers to bring the idea of sustainability to a mass audience, suggesting an eco-socialist response to the poverty vs. population growth debate, and in 1990, he published Making Peace With the Planet, an analysis of the ongoing environmental crisis, pointing out that the way human society produces goods needs to be revised.

He formulated the so-called Four Laws of Ecology, which remain relevant even today and will still be relevant for a long time to come. Here they are:

  1. Everything is connected to everything else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.
  2. Everything must go somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.
  3. Nature knows best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is likely to be detrimental to that system. We need to be closer to nature, but we need to learn to co-exist with it, using natural resources sustainably.
  4. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.

Read more on Barry Commoner here:

Commoner’s biography on HowStuffWorks:

Jeff Hogan’s review of Michael Egan, “Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival: The Remaking of American Environmentalism” (MIT Press, 2007), online version:

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