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Author Barry Commoner is a biologist, ecologist, educator (a professor with a class of millions he's been called) is regarded as America's best informed & most articulated spokesman for the safegurding of earth's envionment. The environmental crisis The ecosphere Nuclear fire Los Angeles air Illinois earth Lake Erie water Man in the ecosphere Population and "affluence" The tech Author Barry Commoner is a biologist, ecologist, educator (a professor with a class of millions he's been called) is regarded as America's best informed & most articulated spokesman for the safegurding of earth's envionment. The environmental crisis The ecosphere Nuclear fire Los Angeles air Illinois earth Lake Erie water Man in the ecosphere Population and "affluence" The technological flaw The social issues The question of survival The economic meaning of ecology The closing circle Notes Acknowledgments Index


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Author Barry Commoner is a biologist, ecologist, educator (a professor with a class of millions he's been called) is regarded as America's best informed & most articulated spokesman for the safegurding of earth's envionment. The environmental crisis The ecosphere Nuclear fire Los Angeles air Illinois earth Lake Erie water Man in the ecosphere Population and "affluence" The tech Author Barry Commoner is a biologist, ecologist, educator (a professor with a class of millions he's been called) is regarded as America's best informed & most articulated spokesman for the safegurding of earth's envionment. The environmental crisis The ecosphere Nuclear fire Los Angeles air Illinois earth Lake Erie water Man in the ecosphere Population and "affluence" The technological flaw The social issues The question of survival The economic meaning of ecology The closing circle Notes Acknowledgments Index

57 review for The Closing Circle: Nature, Man and Technology

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    The insane argument over the environment seems to stem from the thought this is somehow a new fad and not established science. The timely reissue of Barry Commoner's The Closing Circle (1971) puts the lie to that nonsense. Reading it today is stunning. Commoner carefully proves his cases in meticulous scientific fashion. He researches for facts, working around obstacles. His analyses are prescient. His worries have borne fruit. Very little has changed in the intervening 50 years. Mostly, he was The insane argument over the environment seems to stem from the thought this is somehow a new fad and not established science. The timely reissue of Barry Commoner's The Closing Circle (1971) puts the lie to that nonsense. Reading it today is stunning. Commoner carefully proves his cases in meticulous scientific fashion. He researches for facts, working around obstacles. His analyses are prescient. His worries have borne fruit. Very little has changed in the intervening 50 years. Mostly, he was right and it has gotten far worse. For Commoner, the circle of life is a network where everything is useful (if not essential) to something else. Compare this to Man's way, he says, where machine A makes object B endlessly, and when object B's usefulness is at end, he throws it away. The endless circle becomes a (manmade) linear event. That conflicts with the global model. It is simply wrong. The results are quite obvious. Already by the early 70s, feedlots produced more waste than all US municipalities combined. And failed to deal with it. And in countless ways, technology was busy adding complexity to life. And this was long before Facebook and Google, consuming more electricity than many countries, producing a surveillance society for all. His arguments go as far as economics and philosophy. Capitalism encourages any innovation to be implemented, whether it is beneficial or not. If it can be invented and manufactured, it will be. This approach negates the value of social goods in favor of capital goods. Social goods like clean water, places to dump waste chemicals, raw metals in the ground and cheap fuels to transport products anywhere, are never accounted for in their production. They are assumed to be free for any entrepreneur to consume for himself. But for capitalists to destroy social goods for their personal profit again takes Man out of the ecology network, placing him above it all. Commoner calls it suicidal. Complexity is a point he keeps coming back to. Man has abandoned the natural for the complex. Simple cotton has been replaced by petroleum-based manmade fibres, for example, that don't require textile skills. They require giant factories, lots of water and electricity, and shipping between factories globally. Real food has been supplanted by manufactured processed foods. Commoner cites an early example: the non-returnable soda or beer bottle. This one change caused the manufacture of glass to skyrocket. So with non-rubber tires, plastic cloth, and everything else that used to be sane. Each so-called improvement caused new industries to emerge, consuming vast quantities of natural resources to produce what was already sufficiently supplied - by natural sources. The smartphone is only just the latest in a long line of complex solutions that scour the earth for rare metals and minerals, employ slave labor, and further complicate the lives of consumers. He says there are four basic rules of ecology: 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. This how the world works, even if Man declines to participate. When the systems clash, Nature takes a beating, but Man will lose the war. Commoner was wrong about a few things. He assumed things would steadily worsen in all cases. Every body of water would become a Lake Erie, unable to sustain life, becoming a stinking mess that would catch fire from time to time. He did not count on activists, pressuring government to stop the madness. So there have been some spectacular turnabouts. Unfortunately, the current federal administration is working to roll back all that progress and return the country to the early 1960s. Commoner could not have been expected to foresee things like gigantic plastic depots in the center of the oceans, microplastics infiltrating every living thing, or trash compacters - $200 marvels that turn ten pounds of trash into ten pounds of trash. On the other hand, he learned smog like no one else before. The sources, the processes, the results and the unintended consequences, as well as the political inability to deal with it are all documented here. Commoner nailed it 50 years ago. The way forward involves a compete mindset change: "To resolve the environmental crisis, we shall need to forego, at last, the luxury of tolerating poverty, racial discrimination, and war. [...] Now that the bill for the environmental debt has been presented, our options have been reduced to two: either the rational, social organization of the use and distribution of the earth's resources, or a new barbarism." The world desperately needs a new Barry Commoner right now. Kudos and thanks to Dover Books once again. They have made a business of reissuing important books that have mostly, if not totally, been forgotten, and put them in bookstores at accessible prices. Their tastes are impeccable. David Wineberg

  2. 4 out of 5

    Devin

    The Closing Circle (published in 1971) is one of the best books on the environmental crisis that I have read. Barry Commoner explains the complex ecological situation with startling clarity. I'm really happy to see that this book was reprinted in 2020, but I read the original version. Although I think many of the details have changed, his main argument remains compelling. In the first few chapters Commoner goes through the basic history of the environmental crisis at the time. He covers such top The Closing Circle (published in 1971) is one of the best books on the environmental crisis that I have read. Barry Commoner explains the complex ecological situation with startling clarity. I'm really happy to see that this book was reprinted in 2020, but I read the original version. Although I think many of the details have changed, his main argument remains compelling. In the first few chapters Commoner goes through the basic history of the environmental crisis at the time. He covers such topics as radiation pollution, water pollution, air pollution, and soil degradation using specific historical examples. I found these chapters to be interesting and informative, the more so because Commoner dates these crises to the aftermath of WWII. As he puts it: "...most pollution problems made their first appearance, or became very much worse, in the years following WWII." The pollution of the environment is uncomfortably recent - it's well within a single lifetime. Commoner's project is to educate the public about ecology, so that they can make informed choices. Obviously, this looks a bit naïve 50 years later. But let's return to his assessment of the situation. Surprisingly, Commoner finds no evidence to pin the blame on population or affluence. "While the two factors frequently blamed for the environmental crisis, population and affluence, have intensified in that time, these increases are much too small to account for the 200 to 2000 percent rise in pollution levels since 1946." There must be a third factor: technology. Generally, new technologies replaced older ones during that time period. For instance, soap was replaced by detergent, organic farming by agribusiness, small cars with heavy high-powered ones, train freight by trucking, steel and lumber by aluminum and concrete, synthetic fibers for natural fibers, disposable bottles for returnable ones, and plastics for paper products (and anything else that could be imagined). The newer technologies were far more wasteful than the ones they replaced. Commoner places the blame for the short-sightedness of these new technologies at the feet of scientific reductionism, or the specialization of science which leads to ignorance of the bigger picture. "The reason for this failure is clear: the technologist defined his problem too narrowly, taking into his field of vision only one segment of what in nature is an endless cycle that will collapse if stressed anywhere. This same fault lies behind every ecological failure of modern technology: attention to a single facet of what in nature is a complex whole." He concludes that "Ecological survival does not mean the abandonment of technology. Rather, it requires that technology be derived from a scientific analysis that is appropriate to the natural world on which technology intrudes." He spend a decent amount of time debunking the population myth (which has been done thoroughly elsewhere yet continues to grip many people emotionally). Commoner notes that "There is a curious parallel between the import of an overinflated view of the power of technology and that of the pressure of population growth. Both technology and population growth take on the aspect of an autonomous, uncontrollable juggernaut, threatening to crush humanity under its weight. Understandably, the reaction is fear and panic; self-preservation becomes paramount; humanism is an early victim. One moves from a 'war on crime' and a 'war on poverty' to a war on people." That is to say, war. The author also writes at length about the economic origin of environmental collapse, and it's inevitable results: "...the biological capital may eventually be driven to the point of total destruction. Since the usefulness of conventional capital in turn depends on the existence of the biological capital - the ecosystem - when the latter is destroyed, the usefulness of the former is also destroyed. Thus despite its apparent prosperity, in reality the system is being driven to bankruptcy." In other words, money will be worth less the less biological capital it can command. Or, money will lose it's value over time as the services originally provided by the ecosystem for free disappear and cannot be replaced. No one can buy what no longer exists - not at any price. Because of these interconnections, "...the emergence of a full-blown crisis in the ecosystem can be regarded, as well, as the signal of an emerging crisis in the economic system." This is only too true. Finally, "The real question is to discover what kind of economic and social order is best adapted to serve as a partner in the alliance with nature." Commoner invites us to close the circle of life by incorporating our wastes into the natural cycles of the ecosphere. This means the elimination of products which cannot be destroyed (i.e. plastics), and the cessation of pollution that is irrevocable: burning fossil fuels, dispersing toxic metals and radioactive elements, etc. What is depressing is that people have known about this for so long. The crisis of the environment is not a recent revelation. It may be for some people - especially for those who are young - but others really knew and did nothing! However I don't want to dwell on the past- I'm actually optimistic. Why do we want to live in current (U.S.) society anyway - why not create a better one? When we understand the ecological rules of nature, we can design ways to live comfortably within natural cycles. With that in mind, I will finish by quoting Commoner's Laws of Ecology: 1. Everything is connected to everything else: "The system is stabilized by its dynamic self-compensating properties; these same properties, if overstressed, can lead to a dramatic collapse; the complexity of the ecological network and its intrinsic rate of turnover determine how much it can be stressed, and for how long, without collapsing; the ecological network is an amplifier, so that a small perturbation in one place may have large, distant, long-delayed effects." 2. Everything must go somewhere: "Nothing 'goes away'; it is simply transferred from place to place, converted from one molecular form to another, acting on the life processes of any organism in which it becomes, for a time, lodged." 3. Nature knows best: "...the structure of a present living thing or the organization of a current natural ecosystem is likely to be 'best' in the sense that it has been so heavily screened for disadvantageous components that any new one is very likely to be worse than the present ones." 4. There is no such thing as a free lunch: "In a way, this ecological law embodies the previous three laws. Because the global ecosystem is a connected whole, in which nothing can be gained or lost and which is not subject to over-all improvement, anything extracted from it by human effort must be replaced. Payment of this price cannot be avoided; it can only be delayed." If we really understand these laws, our technology will be a success not only economically, but ecologically as well.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    This was an excellent book in many ways. The reasons why it only got 3 stars is because it is dated...published in 1971...and the author being a professor, it reads more like a textbook than to a general audience. I found it fascinating but the very long chapter discussing economic implications of an environmental crisis just about finished me off and came close to landing this book in the not able to finish category. Having said that, I am very glad I've read it. I have already quoted from this This was an excellent book in many ways. The reasons why it only got 3 stars is because it is dated...published in 1971...and the author being a professor, it reads more like a textbook than to a general audience. I found it fascinating but the very long chapter discussing economic implications of an environmental crisis just about finished me off and came close to landing this book in the not able to finish category. Having said that, I am very glad I've read it. I have already quoted from this book for a couple of purposes. I also found it a fascinating indication of scientific concern his throw away comment that climate change is a subject currently under intense discussion in scientific circles. Please remember this was published in 1971. I used this information to refute a comment that change resulting from global warming has been rapid and goes back a just few years. Not at all! A whole generation plus has gone by since this book was written. So this is a book I would only recommend to those with a really deep interest in climate change that want to understand the history leading up to the current situation.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    The father of environmental justice. If you have any interest in social justice or conservation concerns this is a must read book. It is as timely today, as it was in the 70's. We seem to have lost our way. The father of environmental justice. If you have any interest in social justice or conservation concerns this is a must read book. It is as timely today, as it was in the 70's. We seem to have lost our way.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lindie

    Commoner wrote this in 1971 and boldly told us what the "far left" were planning for us all along. Interesting, profits bad, military (defence) bad and socialism is good. Global governance is his focus and Bernie would be proud. Commoner wrote this in 1971 and boldly told us what the "far left" were planning for us all along. Interesting, profits bad, military (defence) bad and socialism is good. Global governance is his focus and Bernie would be proud.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Originally published on my blog: Nonstop Reader. The Closing Circle is a classic and sobering examination of the root causes of climate change, potential solutions (a window of opportunity which is closing or possibly closed), and a clarion call to action. Written by Barry Commoner and originally released in 1971, this reformat and re-release from Dover has 352 pages and will be available in paperback format. Other editions available in other formats. This is a sobering retrospective look at h Originally published on my blog: Nonstop Reader. The Closing Circle is a classic and sobering examination of the root causes of climate change, potential solutions (a window of opportunity which is closing or possibly closed), and a clarion call to action. Written by Barry Commoner and originally released in 1971, this reformat and re-release from Dover has 352 pages and will be available in paperback format. Other editions available in other formats. This is a sobering retrospective look at human induced climate change and the dystopian course our society has been hurtling along. Almost every one of the predictions he made and meticulously built up (in 1971) have come true (as bad as or worse than predicted). The book is layman accessible, the author has a clear and readable style which connect the lines and show the undeniable science based conclusions which are playing out in our world today. I found it very interesting that the author didn't just predicate the climate and ecology problem on people/population, but also shows the direct connections between greed and exploitation of uncontrolled capitalist systems as a primary driving force of the ecological crises facing us. His emphasis on compassionate and fair economic systems make so much sense. This is an important book, and Dover's decision to re-release this book and others, many of which were mostly forgotten for a generation (or more) does them credit and is to our benefit. This book belongs beside Muir, Carson, Colbert and others. I was unfamiliar with Commoner's work prior to this. Five stars. Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    One of the most important books on the environment… for its time. And maybe our time too. Whose to say? Did this help kick off the environmental movement, help to move it along, or something else? Reading it today, 46 years after it was first published, may be a bit behind the times. Some of the predictions didn’t come to pass, as one should always suspect, so is this a sign of progress or a poor reading on what the consequences of various actions were? Once cannot deny that we have made some he One of the most important books on the environment… for its time. And maybe our time too. Whose to say? Did this help kick off the environmental movement, help to move it along, or something else? Reading it today, 46 years after it was first published, may be a bit behind the times. Some of the predictions didn’t come to pass, as one should always suspect, so is this a sign of progress or a poor reading on what the consequences of various actions were? Once cannot deny that we have made some headway in some limited areas when it comes to the environment but there are also so many indicators that we haven’t learned a damned lesson – global climate change, mass extinction, plastic accumulation in the oceans… the list could go on. So what is the use of a book like this to current audiences? A reminder that the problem didn’t start with the current generation and that there were voices earlier warning of problems – maybe not the exact ones Commoner wrote about but problems nevertheless… A good read for a historical understanding of what was going on in the late 60s and early 70s but, as to what to do now, I guess the notion of using natural products instead of chemicals is always good but concerns have changed.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Moira Mackinnon

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    Adam Orford

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    Alina

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    Eric

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    Marc Breslow

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    Διόνυσος Ελευθέριος

  42. 4 out of 5

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    Henry DeBey

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    Joe Plummer

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    KA

  57. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

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