The Center for the Biology of Natural Systems (CBNS) is an environmental and occupational health research institute at Queens College, City University of New York, the nation's largest public university. The mission of CBNS is to identify and help rectify environmental and occupational threats to human health. CBNS uses real world occupational and environmental problems as its entry point for needed research, emphasizing a scientific approach that facilitates public participation in gathering information and developing solutions and interacting extensively with people and organizations that determine or are affected by these policy choices.
Barry Commoner, who founded our Center for the Biology of Natural Systems in 1966, passed away on September 30, 2012.
Barry was an exceptional scientist, teacher, and citizen. He first taught biology at Queens College in 1941 or so and then later returned in 1981, when he moved the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems from Washington University to Queens College. Barry has been rightly called the "father of the environmental movement," because his brilliant speeches, books, and writings beginning in the 1950's and 1960's influenced a generation and helped people understand the roots and expression of, as well as solutions to, environmental problems. He took on a succession of seminal issues – energy in the 1970's, solid waste and recycling in the 1980's, global dispersion of pollutants in the 1990's, and the use of genetic knowledge in the 2000's – harnessing whatever knowledge and creativity was needed to identify the core elements of the problem and the keys to its resolution.
Barry had enormous confidence in democracy, i.e., citizen participation, and spent much of his career empowering the public to have influence in social decision-making that affected their lives. Indeed, Barry deserves much credit for assisting in the formation of grass roots groups in the rise of environmentalism. The current pre-eminence of environmental issues in public discourse followed thereafter. Barry's approach of identifying, connecting and addressing inter-related issues and subsequently locating the need to act on the roots causes of the environmental crisis remains as true today as when he first developed this approach 50 years ago.
We at CBNS will miss Barry – his intellect, his fearlessness, his resolve, his optimism, his commitment to justice – but, more to the point, the world has lost an important citizen.
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