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.

Ethnic Cleansing in the Chicken Coop

I didn’t plan it this way, but I have birds of three different sizes in my chicken coop, which is a bad idea. The coop has a floor-to-ceiling chicken-wire divider down the middle. On one side are 40 full-grown layers plus a handsome Buff Orpington rooster. All is peaceful there, except for a constant low level of sexual harassment. The other side is for growing chicks. You can’t put chicks in with adult chickens. The big ones peck at the little ones. If they draw blood, they go into a shark-like frenzy and keep pecking until they kill. Once they’ve …

A Climate Scientist Takes His Computer Model Seriously

At the University of Wisconsin’s program on Climate, People, and Environment, Dr. Jonathan Foley makes computer models to study what might happen if the human economy continues to emit greenhouse gases. Like hundreds of other climate scientists, he is deeply worried about global warming. Unlike most scientists I know, he carries that worry into his personal life. Jonathan Foley, cool guy.   For some time, Jonathan and his wife Andrea and their three-year-old daughter Hannah have been cutting down the amount of carbon dioxide they produce — which means the amount of coal, oil, and gas they burn. They used …

Clustering — Good Idea, Hard to Do

“Our city is considering cluster zoning. Is this a good idea or isn’t it?” came a question from a friend the other day. I think clustering is a good idea. I’m about to live in a housing cluster myself. But, like many good ideas, it’s easier to say than do. Let me back off a minute and consider first the merits of zoning of any kind. In some towns around me zoning is still hotly denounced and regularly defeated at the polls. In other towns it is practiced calmly without producing the disasters foretold by the denouncers. The experience of …

There's Farming and Then There's Farming

A while ago, Beth Sawin and Phil Rice, researchers at the Sustainability Institute, put together a graph that I can’t get out of my mind. It shows Midwest corn yields doubling from about 60 bushels per acre in 1950 to 120 bushels on average today. Despite the doubled yield, gross earnings per acre have stayed essentially constant. The net return to the farmer, after the costs of growing the corn, has also stayed constant, right around zero. If it weren’t for government farm payments, the average corn farmer would have been working for decades for free. My first question on …

What's the President Worth? For Doing What?

Driving home the other night, I heard a snatch of radio discussion about whether we’re paying the president enough. If I understood the argument while dodging traffic, it seems that corporate executive salaries have soared so high that the president’s salary is puny by comparison. Company CEOs earn millions. Michael Eisner of Disney earns in the mid nine figures ($589,000,000 per year), while the poor president is mired in the low six ($200,000, plus $50,000 for personal expenses). One radio guy said such a low income can’t attract top talent. I thought at least it weeds out candidates who are …

Never Mind Paper Vs. Plastic Bags. How Did You Get to the Grocery Store?

Finally! A sensible list of things we can do to save the planet! Discussion on this topic has been muddled since the 50 Simple Things book came out years ago. It was a well-meant list and a very popular one. Its sales showed that millions of folks, especially young folks, are willing to change their ways in order to preserve their life support systems. If only someone would explain how our ways need to change! Wanna buy the book?   Starting with 50 Simple Things, on through endless debates over paper versus plastic grocery bags and washable versus disposable diapers, …

A Tale of Two Fisheries

At the beginning of this millennium, the Norse began to fish what is now called the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland. In 1501, the Company of Adventurers to the New Found Lands was chartered in England to make summer expeditions to that rich fishing ground. For the next 500 years, the Grand Banks yielded up vast wealth. In 1981, the fishery brought in 779,000 metric tons of groundfish, mostly cod, worth $705 million. East-coast Canada boasted 29,000 registered fishing vessels and over 1,000 fish-processing plants. The fishery employed 62,000 people in 1,300 communities, 20 percent of all the …

Amory Lovins Sees the Future and It Is Hydrogen

For 25 years, energy guru Amory Lovins has been seeing farther and farther into the energy future. He has been labeled a dreamer, but by now he’s accumulated enough of a record to qualify as an oracle. At a recent meeting of the National Hydrogen Association, he (with colleague Brett Williams of Rocky Mountain Institute) put together some new pieces of the energy puzzle to picture an exciting economy, not far out of reach, based on hydrogen. Amory Lovins(not Gene Shalit). To understand it, you have to follow the trail Lovins has already blazed. He started by pointing out the …

The Great North American Carbon Sink — Maybe

“Aha! We knew it!” a number of conservative columnists have been crowing lately. “Greenhouse, schmeenhouse, go right on driving those sports utility vehicles.” The cause of their excitement is an article published in Science magazine, one of the most prestigious places a scientific article can be published, claiming that the North American continent is a huge carbon sink. The authors found, essentially, that the carbon dioxide content of air blowing onto our west coast is higher than that of air blowing out to sea from our east coast. (Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas.) Somehow, the authors conclude, in …