By Jean English
Barry Commoner, biologist, ecologist, humanist, died in September 2012 at 95 years of age.
Commoner recommended, long before most others, natural products over synthetic, renewable resources over nonrenewable, organic agriculture over conventional, pollution prevention rather than remediation, social and technological development rather than population control. Development, he believed, would itself reduce population.
In his 1971 book The Closing Circle, Commoner listed four simply stated but profound laws of ecology:
Everything is connected to everything else.
Everything must go somewhere.
Nature knows best.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Commoner’s experiences with DDT while serving in the Navy, reports The Nation, prompted his ecological development. He was charged with creating a device to spray DDT from bomber planes onto beaches to kill disease-carrying flies. It worked – but the DDT also killed fish, and the dead fish attracted more flies. Everything is connected, and everything goes somewhere.
Those who attended the teach-in about Colony Collapse Disorder at the Common Ground Country Fair got a powerful lesson in Commoner’s laws. We learned that a neonicotinoid insecticide such as GrubEx, applied to control grubs in a lawn, can travel into a tree on that lawn, into the nectar and pollen of that tree’s flowers, and from there into bees – and back to the hive. That pesticide can remain in the tree for years, cycling toxic substances out into the world, into bees, into food, much like biological cycling of DDT sprayed from a bomber plane. That’s the high cost of lunch on a temporarily grub-free lawn.
So do we just lobby to ban neonicotinoids? That may be a partial, short-term solution, but beekeeper David Hackenberg told us that the insecticide industry has another class of chemicals in the pipeline, ready to unleash when the “neonics” are banned – or when patents on them expire, and the pesticide companies themselves tell us that they no longer work and we need the newer, “better” material.
Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides nailed it in his keynote speech at Common Ground: “Playing around with pesticide reduction in land or building systems that are inherently vulnerable to plant diseases or infestations may offer some temporary relief but is not sustainable,” said Feldman. “The chemical-intensive alternative is clearly no longer an option. The toxic pesticide experiment on humanity has failed. Organic is the only option.”