Donella Meadows

Donella H. Meadows (1941-2001) was an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College and director of the Sustainability Institute in Hartland, Vt.

The state of the planet is grim. Should we give up hope?

Note: Donella Meadows died on 20 Feb. 2001. The following is excerpted from her story about writing The Limits to Growth in 1972. Limits was translated into 26 languages and sold more than 9 million copies.   COMPUTER PREDICTS WORLD COLLAPSE   I was one of the team of people at MIT who wrote a book that created a worldwide burst of media foreboding. It began as a small report. Within a few months we were reading headlines like the one above with complete astonishment. We didn’t think we had written a prediction of doom. We had intended to issue …

Climate change is threatening Arctic critters

The place to watch for global warming — the sensitive point, the canary in the coal mine — is the Arctic. If the planet as a whole warms by one degree, the poles will warm by about three degrees. Which is just what is happening. Polar bears are walking on thin ice. Ice now covers 15 percent less of the Arctic Ocean than it did 20 years ago. In the 1950s that ice averaged 10-feet thick; now it’s less than six-feet thick. At the current rate of melting, in 50 years the northern ocean could be ice-free all summer long. …

Are we losing touch with good, simple things?

Years ago, when I went out to my new chicken house and found the very first freshly laid egg, I stared at it in awe. “How did that hen do that?” I wondered. She takes in grain and bugs and kitchen scraps and turns them into an egg. Shell on the outside, white and yolk on the inside, all proper and perfect. Under the right conditions (or hen) that egg could even become a chick. Just amazing! I still think every egg is a miracle, though they appear on our farm by the dozen every day. Our leading-edge chemists are …

Deregulation in California didn't help consumers, or the environment

As blackouts roll through California, the New Hampshire Supreme Court cleared the way for electrical restructuring, while a Vermont utility assured legislators that what is happening out West can’t happen here. Why not? The powers that don’t have to be. As I hear people try to explain California’s electricity problem, I wonder whether anyone really understands the market system. We discuss it endlessly, we have whole university departments to study it, we nearly worship it. But when we say things like “competition will bring down rates,” I wonder if we know what we are talking about. I’m not sure I …

Let's hope campaign finance reform saves the day

I will never believe he won. I’ll always think he got a minority of both the popular and the electoral vote. To me he’ll always be President-Under-False-Pretense. The president-elect prepares to step up to the plate. Well, but you know, the Rs would feel the same way if a few hundred Florida votes had tipped the other way. Only worse. If the tables were turned, the Rs would be whipping up their talk radio attack dogs, organizing more threatening mobs, turning over rocks looking for grounds for the next impeachment. At least for the next four years we will be …

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

What do you do when you want to move fast but the way ahead is dark, possibly dangerous, and almost entirely unknown? Accelerate? Proceed with moderation? Slow way down? Stop? Don’t spray it. That question underlies most environmental regulations. We are not sure what pesticides are doing to soils, waters, other creatures, or ourselves. We have only a vague idea what our rising greenhouse gas output will do to the climate. We’re in the dark about the consequences of genetic engineering. So should we go ahead? How fast? U.S. policy, and that of most other countries, has ranged from acceleration …

Sea lions escape with protections for now

The drama of the presidential election, they say, has awakened the interest of the public, and especially of young people, in the democratic process. So welcome, young people, to the entertainment that never ends. Once the question “who won?” is settled, other questions begin. What are the people who won up to? For whose benefit? At whose expense? Mufasa, Steller sea lion. Photo: NOAA Take, for example, the epic battle between Bill Clinton and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee. (The standard media title is “the POWERFUL head of the Appropriations Committee.” This guy controls the …

Sweden takes big steps to ban chemicals

However environmentally permissive a Republican-controlled U.S. may be, other parts of the world are pioneering attitudes, technologies, and laws that could carry us safely through the 21st century. As this week’s happy example, I offer the new global agreement on POPs, plus Sweden’s even better policy on the same topic. All-natural breast milk — now fortified with POPs! Photo: Art Wolfe, Inc. POPs is the hot new acronym for persistent organic pollutants. These chemicals are immediately toxic or cause cancer or reproductive difficulties or birth defects (or all of the above) and are almost immortal in the environment. They are …

Will election 2000 lead to reform or not?

The crowds demonstrating outside Florida courtrooms and counting rooms have been reminding me of the historical opera “Boris Godounov.” It opens with peasants milling about, waiting to find out who will be their next czar. Every now and then a handler comes out and whips them up to yell for Boris, who is not the rightful successor. The music reinforces the ominous tone of corruption. Noisy crowds should not influence vote counts or court decisions. The constantly repeated query “are Americans getting tired of this yet?” is ominous, when the real question is “for whom did Americans really vote?” There …

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