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Environmental Scientist Barry Commoner Dies at 95

One of the men I admired most in the early environmental movement, Dr. Barry Commoner, has died at 95 at his home in Brooklyn Heights, and I think the world experiences a great loss. He was an early champion of recycling, organic food and reducing fossil fuel use… and, of course, he took a firm stand against nuclear testing.

Commoner was trained as a biologist at Columbia and Harvard and combined scientific expertise and leftist zeal. His work on the global effects of radioactive fallout, which included documenting concentrations of strontium 90 in the baby teeth of thousands of children, contributed materially to the adoption of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

He was a popular speaker and author 1n the 1960s and ’70s, and even campaigned for president in 1980.

Time Magazine called Commoner the Paul Revere of Ecology on the first Earth Day in 1970.

His four informal rules of ecology were:

1. Everything Is Connected to Everything Else

2. Everything Must Go Somewhere

3. Nature Knows Best

4. There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.

Dr. Commoner’s was both concerned with ecology  and an ideal of social justice in which everything was indeed connected to everything else. Like some other leftist dissenters of his time, he believed that environmental pollution, war, and racial and sexual inequality needed to be addressed as related issues of a central problem.

Commoner insisted that the future of the planet depended on industry’s learning not to make messes in the first place, rather than on trying to clean them up after they were made. He thought scientists in the service of industry could not just create some new process or product and then remove themselves from a moral responsibility for the potential results. He was a lifelong opponent of nuclear power because of its radioactive waste and scorned the idea of pollution credit swaps because an industry would have to be fouling the environment in the first place to be rewarded by such a program.

He saw that social needs were tied up with environmental ones… for instance:

“I don’t believe in environmentalism as the solution to anything. What I believe is that environmentalism illuminates the things that need to be done to solve all of the problems together. For example, if you’re going to revise the productive system to make cars or anything else in such a way as to suit the environmental necessities, at the same time why not see to it that women earn as much as men for the same work?”

Harvard paleontologist Steven J. Gould’s summary of Barry Commoner’s work and achievements is clear:

“Although he has been branded by many as a maverick, I regard him as right and compassionate on nearly every major issue.” says Mistakes find a way of happening…

… and they are talking about Fracking. Let’s look at their little animation… then you can go to their SITE:

Part of our continuing concern with Fracking and the dangerous pollution it brings.

How has Fracking affected life in Pennsylvania (and how will it affect us)?

The Marcellus Shale

If you didn’t hear This American Life with Ira Glass this weekend, or if you don’t subscribe to its podcast, then you missed an excellent piece on the development of natural gas drilling on the Marcellus Shale. Don’t worry, though. Would Under The LobsterScope not pass on an important program like this?

Here’s the lead-in:

A professor in Pennsylvania makes a calculation, to discover that his state is sitting atop a massive reserve of natural gas—enough to revolutionize how America gets its energy. But another professor in Pennsylvania does a different calculation and reaches a troubling conclusion: that getting natural gas out of the ground poses a risk to public health. Two men, two calculations, and two very different consequences.

Now, to play the program entitled Game Changer, with excellent narration by Sarah Koenig, click HERE.

This is part of our continuing serious of articles and information on Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking” and the effect it will have on our water and land right here in West Virginia (and New York State, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio – all sitting on the Marcellus Shale and all targeted by the unregulated natural gas industry.

I dislike living in West Virginia… but I’m stuck!

I have to admit I’m not crazy about living in West Virginia (although, fortunately, the Eastern Panhandle is so little like most of West Virginia that it makes being here almost tolerable.) We have, yes, two Democratic Senators… one a Rockefeller (which means more like a Progressive Republican like brother Nelson was) and the other, just elected, was a “conservative” Democrat Governor and got elected by advertising his conservativeness, his NRA alliance, his opposition to Cap and Trade and his remarkable connection with the coal industry (fortunately his opponent was a loony who really lives in Florida.) When people ash what kind of state WV is, to comment is usually a “Republican State.”

I mentioned that the Eastern Panhandle was somewhat different. It is fairly Progressive and has a population with a higher academic background than most of the state. It often carries for Democrats when the rest of the state goes Republicans… and it has a fairly large number of long-distance commuters who work in Washington DC.

We are a distinctly polluted state… between coal pollution from blowing the tops off our mountains, to Chemical Pollution from big DuPont plants which are, essentially, unregulated… and avoid stopping the large corporations (whose officers do not live in the state for the most part) from polluting us further.

When you look for a job in this state you find that there is not the kind of availabilty you find in the DC area, or the NYC area, or even in the Hartford, CT, area. Oh, there are some construction jobs that won’t last given the economy. There are some retail slots, if you can afford to work for Wal-Mart. There are a few Federal Jobs (National Parks, NCSC and others) which have hard-to-get-into rules. And there are some teaching jobs… but these don’t turn over quickly and are fairly low paying. I suppose, given the outrageous number of churches, there are some religious jobs too… just found your own church and hold your hand out for dough. Not sure how, as an atheist, I could do that in good conscience.

I’m here, however, and it doesn’t look like I have a way out, given the economy, my age and my general health. It’s a good thing I can escape to the Internet.


If you can get HBO, then you have to see Gasland, a documentary film by Josh Fox about the natural gas industry and especially how “frac” mining in porous shale with highly toxic chemicals is polluting the water supply (air supply, too) in many places around the country. If you can’t get HBO, go to the Gasland web site at and get the information… and write your congressfolk after you do.

Elly and I got very upset watching the movie as most of West Virginia is built on the Marcellus Shale, one of the prime areas where Fracing is making the water undrinkable (and flammable). Shepherdstown is slightly removed from the area, but shale is porous and this could spread from New York state into the south with us in the middle.

The film goes into related natural gas drilling problems in Texas, the far west, the mid west and other areas… so much of the US is affected that it is amazing this is the first time a film like this has been made.

New York State is working on an anti-fracing measure and it is hoped that Charles Shumer is going to bring it national. Like the oil industry, however, there are a handful of high-paid lobbyists for each and every lawmaker and the industry has extreme power (and tight relations, it appears, with Dick Cheney.)

Anyway… I’ll get more out on this later. What we needed was one more miserable issue to get into… but this one hits me at home.

Quote of the Day for you BP Fans…

“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”

– BP CEO Tony Hayward


Oil Spill has Reached the Louisiana Coast

The spill in the Gulf is now expected to be bigger than the Exxon Valdez disaster. The current expectation according to the EPA is 5000 barrels a day leaking from the  destroyed well. Sky Truth, an organization which has been providing the aerial images, thinks it is closer to 6000 barrels a day leaking (if you want to figure out how much oil that is, 1000 barrels equals 42,000 gallons).

British Petroleum, the responsible party here, is not yet able to stop the leak and has not determined what cause the original explosion from which 11 men are still missing.

Henry Waxman, whose Congressional committee is responsible for offshore drilling, is calling for more information and this could get in the way of the decision which President Obama made a short time ago to get back into offshore drilling.

Whatever the case, the spill has overwhelmed current methods of control.

Earth Day

Good Morning on Earth Day #40. Here we are contemplating the state of our poor planet as it more and more apparently breaks down. When whole stretches of ocean are polluted enough to eliminate small life forms, when the sky is up in pollutants, when the global temperature is up a degree, when even things you thought were part of the natural balance, like frogs, are rapidly disappearing due to a worldwide fungus (thanks for showing this one PBS!), we may be past the point of real recovery in my lifetime, if at all.

I’m watching Morning Joe as we watch this and they are commenting on taking a microwave stove when you go camping and what happens with all the used cell phones and computer parts ending up in landfills. It makes me wonder what is really wrong with all of us. Lazy? Stupid? Trapped in the all-to-human inability to actually believe something is wrong with the world.

This afternoon I’ll go to a movie at Shepherd on Earth Day subject matter and do my bit for understanding. Will it matter? Don’t Think so.

Happy Earth Day.

Chasing Clean Air, the Video…

Donna Barnett sent me a comment on this morning’s article about The Age Of Stupid, which led me to visit ner wonderful blog Chasing Clean Air

There, among a great deal of other great pieces about climate and pollution and what we have to do about the situation, you will find her video, also called Chasing Clean Air. Fom the Info:

Chasing Clean Air: Climate Change features Donna Barnett’s journey out of Los Angeles and into clean air where climate change markers were found along the way.

Athabasca glacier in Alberta, Canada: Accelerating ice melt is going to the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans.

Central British Columbia: The mountain pine beetle is destroying forests and salmon runs are smaller than in cooler times.

Also featured solutions and positive changes happening now!

Beautiful original photographs and video from Southwest, Los Angeles, Yosemite, and Pacific Northwest.

New music “Turn It Around” by Paul Malysa.

The video was shot, produced and edited by Donna Barnett for the blog

Here it is:

I’ve also added her blog to my blogroll so you can check in regularly.