Columbians Ahead of Their Time
Barry Commoner

Barry Commoner

"The first law of ecology is that everything is related to everything else."

Barry Commoner (1917– )
Columbia College 1937

A renowned cellular biologist, Barry Commoner helped initiate the modern environmental movement. In the early 1950s, Commoner—then a professor at Washington University in St. Louis—became concerned about radioactive fallout spreading from nuclear-weapons tests in the Nevada desert. Finding that much of the data from the tests remained classified, he saw the need for citizen access to information about the results' implications for the environment. This led to the formation of the St. Louis Committee for Nuclear Information (CNI). Disputing the official government position that nuclear testing posed little health risk to humans, a CNI analysis of children's baby teeth demonstrated that such testing caused radioactive buildup in humans. This determination was one of the factors that led to the 1963 nuclear test-ban treaty, which phased out atmospheric testing. As Commoner's concerns broadened, he studied issues such as pollution and ozone-layer depletion and advocated the use of solar and other types of renewable energy. In 1970, a Time magazine cover story dubbed him "the Paul Revere of Ecology" for his early leadership in the field.

Commoner received his degree in zoology with honors from Columbia in 1937 and earned his doctorate from Harvard in 1941. In 1966, he established at Washington University the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to study man's relationship with the environment. In 1981 the center moved to Queens College of the City University of New York, and Commoner now serves as a senior scientist and director emeritus. In 1980, he ran for president under the banner of the Citizens' Party. He has written nine books, including The Closing Circle (1971), one of the first books to point out the high environmental costs associated with American technological development.

Building a prosperous and sustainable future.

Seeking fundamental knowledge about the natural world.

A symposia on taming the climate.

Columbia's history, as seen by those who have studied, taught, and worked here.

Columbians have changed the world and how we see it.

C250 Celebrates | C250 Perspectives | C250 Forum | C250 Events | C250 To Go |
Contact C250 | Privacy Policy | About This Web Site | © Copyright 2004 Columbia University