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.

Americans dragged their heels at The Hague, but others are acting to stop climate change

The most earth-shaking event of the past two weeks had to do with leadership, or lack thereof, but it did not unfold in Florida. It happened in the Netherlands. The stunning lack of leadership came from the Clinton-Gore administration. The meeting in The Hague was the sixth attempt since the Kyoto conference of 1997 to forge an international agreement that could actually do something about climate change. At Kyoto the industrial countries made solemn promises to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Europe promised to cut back 8 percent from its 1990 level, Japan by 6 percent, the U.S. by 7 …

Reading tea leaves for the environment

Every month I get a kind of Reader’s Digest for people interested in the future. It’s called Future Survey, issued by the World Future Society. Each month it contains about 50 extended summaries of recent publications about the paths — economic, environmental, social — we seem to be following. The November 2000 issue, for example, starts with a review of a Cato Institute book called It’s Getting Better All the Time. American average life span rose from 47 years in 1900 to 77 in 1998. Median household wealth has doubled since 1965. The fraction of the population living in poverty …

The endless campaign shows it's time to change the electoral system

What is it we are learning in the aftermath of this crazy election? How powerful a single vote can be? Or how worthless a single vote can be, when 19,000 of them can be tossed out in one county? When boxes of ballots get lost? When recounts are demanded or stopped depending on their expected outcome? Such a plunge, from the sublimity of voting day to the ridiculousness that followed! No matter how far down the candidates have dragged the campaign, voting day still seems sublime to me. I feel I am participating in a sacred ritual. At the polling …

The key is learning to learn

During the weekend before Election Day, as midgets battled furiously on warped playing fields, two giants fell, both yielding their lives peacefully, knowingly, with dignity, to cancer. The better-known one was David Brower, the great outdoorsman and thunderer for the environment. Even in his 70s and 80s he was still shaking up the Sierra Club, inspiring Friends of the Earth, galvanizing college students with his passionate message about the inconceivably ancient, living, evolving earth and the blind arrogance of the upstart Industrial Man. I always thought of David as a reincarnation of the fiery founder of our national parks, John …

Two brothers talk carbon sequestration

A while ago I wrote about Jonathan Foley, an environmental scientist at the University of Wisconsin, who is so appalled at the lack of government action on global warming that he has taken matters into his own hands. Through energy efficiency and solar energy, he and his family have greatly reduced their use of gas, oil, or coal (whose burning produces the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide). When they do burn fossil fuel, they see that a tree is planted or a patch of prairie restored to take the carbon dioxide they’ve generated back out of the atmosphere. Jon Foley has …

The dumbing and demeaning of politics is not a minor matter

In the spirit of celebrating good news wherever it appears, I would like to point out one excellent development in the presidential campaign. The candidates have flailed at each other so much about numbers — how much of that tax cut really goes to the top 1 percent? how much surplus is there really? — that the press has wakened to its proper role. Even the TV networks are trying, however feebly, to check out what the numbers really might be. Think how much deception and grief we would have been saved, if the press had always done that. So, …

Questions that should have been asked in the presidential debates

Well, the “debates,” carefully controlled by the major political parties, are over. I guess it was too much to expect that hard or important questions would be asked. But the candidates are still on the road, where they might be queried by an unscripted citizen. Or by a reporter who believes that fitness to lead a nation rests upon criteria more stringent than whether a person sighs or smirks, what color tie he’s wearing, whether he’s tanned or pale, whether he makes a “gaffe.” Here’s what I keep hoping someone will ask:   Both candidates: You have defined your campaigns …

Should we be fluoridating our drinking water?

Back when I was a chemistry major, my professors told me in no uncertain terms that water fluoridation is a boon. It prevents millions of children from getting cavities. People who oppose it are hysterical know-nothings. We budding chemists absorbed both the specific lesson and the general lesson. Fluoride is good. Scientists know best. What would you do to protect his teeth? At just that time Rachel Carson was questioning scientific wisdom with regard to another issue: pesticides. I was taught that she was hysterical too. However, as I read more widely and went beyond chemistry to ecology, I decided …

This is not what democracy looks like

I wish everyone would stop calling them “debates.” Even back when the League of Women Voters first televised confrontations between presidential candidates, they weren’t debates. At best they were stiff, unnatural political discussions. Now that the two major political parties run them, they are carefully controlled soundbite gotcha matches. Like most everything about our campaign process, they insult the voters and undermine democracy. Debates ought to inform. I doubt that anyone listening to this year’s first presidential “debate” could say what the two candidates actually propose to do about medicine for seniors or education or social security. Put it in …

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