In 1980, Barry Commoner, a prominent biologist, environmentalist and author of Jewish parentage, ran as a candidate for the President of the United States. As the third party candidate for the Citizens Party (which he founded), Commoner garnered .25% of the vote. While a few hundred thousand votes may seem like nothing among the millions of potential votes, his true goal was to raise the nation’s consciousness to the need for societal reform to benefit the environment.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1917, Commoner held degrees from Columbia and Harvard. He served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II and began his professional academic career at Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

By the late 1950s, Commoner was a known activist in the anti-nuclear movement and was part of the scientific team that demonstrated the pernicious effects of nuclear fallout by highlighting the presence of Strontium 90 in children’s teeth.

By 1970, Commoner’s focus had shifted to the larger environmental movement, about which he authored several highly regarded books. Unique among the environmentalists of his time, Commoner believed that a restructuring of the country’s capitalist economy was the key to solving ecological issues (as opposed to controlling “over population”). Commoner’s philosophy is commonly summarized with his “Four Laws of Ecology:” Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. And there is no such thing as a free lunch (nothing comes without paying an environmental price).

After Commoner’s run for president, he moved his Center for the Biology of Natural Systems from St. Louis to Queens College in New York. He remained its director until 2000, when, at the age of 82, he chose to focus on new projects.

On September 30, 2012, Barry Commoner passed away at age 95.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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