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Donella Meadows' Posts

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Why do we compete even though we know it hurts us?

Not beary funny. Photo: Art Wolfe, Inc. I've heard the joke about the bear before, and so, probably, have you. Two guys are sitting outside their tent in a forest campsite when they see a huge angry bear charging toward them. One starts lacing up his running shoes. The other says, "Are you crazy? You'll never outrun that bear!" The first says, "I don't have to outrun the bear. I only have to outrun you." Ha ha -- kind of sick humor, really, down the memory hole it goes with all the other jokes. But recently it came back up …

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Reality Bites

Linda Harrar is an independent filmmaker, based in Boston but usually traveling the world producing documentaries for NOVA and other PBS programs. Through the lens of the camera, she sees a lot. In the editing room she sees it over and over. It sinks in deep. So she had a strong reaction to the CBS "reality TV" series Survivor. A "survivor" in Haiti. Photo: U.N. Photos. "I have searing memories of true struggles to survive," she wrote on the web last week. "In Mexico City we filmed people living in cardboard houses in a dump, recycling the garbage they slept …

Read more: Politics

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The Gambler

"If I gamble, I usually gamble at high-stakes, high-payoff games." That's a boast not from James Bond, but from a chemist speaking to the prestigious journal Science (the July 14 issue, from which all quotes but the last one in this column are taken). His name is Peter Schultz. He works at Scripps Research Institute and at a new Genomics Institute created by Novartis, a company deep into genetic engineering. What he's gambling with is the chemistry of life. Image: Courtesy DOE Human Genome Project. To understand his bold scheme, we need to take a short detour here to remind …

Read more: Food

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Take the World Food Quiz

Gathering grain in Sudan. In some ways the world food situation hasn't changed for decades. There are still millions of starving people. There are still places where so much food is grown that it has to be thrown away. Fertilizers and pesticides pollute the countryside; soil erodes; groundwater tables drop. Every year when the new statistics come out, I flip through and think, "Ho hum." It's easy to become inured to tragedy if it goes on long enough on a big enough scale. This year, though, I took time to read the fine print in the food and agriculture section …

Read more: Food

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Your Friends and Nader's

Right on, Ralph. The complaints continue to pour in: "Why are you writing columns supporting Ralph Nader? How can you actively aid and abet the election of that dolt Bush? You can think better than that." And so does the applause: "I believe that you will never regret voting on the basis of your conscience, and neither will I." On the letters page of Grist, folks are attacking not just me but each other, with gusto: "Whoever is elected gets to call the shots for the next four years, and I don't think the environment can take four years of …

Read more: Politics

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It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (known familiarly as CJD) is something you do not want to get. Your brain degenerates, piece by piece. First you feel depressed, then you have trouble coordinating. You lose sight, speech, motor control, as the disease travels through the brain. When it reaches the control centers for breathing or heartbeat, you die. Medical science has no idea how to cure or even slow it. Don't get mad. CJD used to appear mainly in people over 50, progress slowly, and be rare -- though it can be misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's disease, so it may always have been more common …

Read more: Food

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Republican Riders in the Saddle Again

I don't get it. Why are the 24-hour news media, always desperate for gripping stories, reporting every hour on the Camp David summit, though, as I write this column, they have no access to what's really going on? Why don't some of those eager reporters move over to Capitol Hill to cover the constantly changing, fully public, ludicrous, horrifying, astounding, comical, fascinating, and, I would argue, far more important Annual Battle of the Environmental Riders? Which is more important to Americans, anyway -- the governance of East Jerusalem or the purity of the air we breathe? Who is more pig-headed …

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The Roquefort Files

José Bové milks 250 sheep in the Larzac region of France, a rocky, windswept place where you would think no farmer could produce anything. But Bové turns sheep milk into one of the gastronomical treasures of the world, Roquefort cheese. Bové is a leader of the local Roquefort producers association and of the second largest farmers organization in France. So he was well-known locally before he and nine friends drove their tractors to the nearby town of Millau last year and pulled down an under-construction McDonald's restaurant. Now he is well-known globally. Sheep up or sheep out. Bové's beef with …

Read more: Food, Politics

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I've Got Good News, and I've Got Bad News

In the spirit of celebrating every success, but only to the extent the success deserves, I would like to celebrate something that is kind of hard to describe. The rate at which things are getting worse is slowing down. We're not going downhill as fast as we once were. The fever is high, but rising more slowly. We're still headed for the iceberg, but our speed is declining. The most striking example of this positive-negative phenomenon is world population growth. We humans have more than doubled our numbers since 1950 and will add 77 million more of ourselves this year. …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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I Have a New Dream

It's so hard to do right in a world that expects you, rewards you, encourages you to do wrong. As when the Sierra Club, fighting off a Disney mountain development, discovered that it owned shares in Disney. Ever wonder what happens to all that junk mail? Photo: Philip Shepherd, NREL/PIX. As when environmentalists jet to global climate change conferences, emitting greenhouse gases all the way. As when green groups send out mass mailings pleading for the preservation of forests -- mailings printed on proper post-consumer recycled paper, which is, nevertheless, made from ground-up trees, cut from a forest, about to …

Read more: Living