How many dumb things do you think this country could stop doing? Donella Meadows can think of plenty: "Take Take the CIA, for instance... . CIA higher-ups seem to be constantly leaking secrets to the Russians. It's not clear why we even have secrets any more, nor why the Russians would care... So why have it? Secrets don't mix well with democracy, anyway. I nominate the CIA as a dumb thing we could stop doing."
Few people realize how important it is to use less water. Even the environmentally conscience among us don't think about tracing tap water back to the source to see just how harmful wasting water can be. If we thought about it more, Meadows writes, "we'd treat water with as much reverence as our own blood, because that's actually what it is -- the lifeblood of the planet and of all the creatures that live here, including ourselves."
Donella Meadows writes, "Every time I write about campaign reform, I get a flood of letters, some from experts who have thought hard about how to do it, and some from furious citizens who have come up with wonderful, radical, mostly impossible ideas.One of my favorites is the suggestion that we just send our tax payments to the agencies we want to fund."
"'Our city is considering cluster zoning. Is this a good idea or isn't it?' my friend asked me 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."
Meadows writes: "'I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.' Children and environmentalists can recite that Dr. Seuss classic by heart. They would be furious if they could see what an alert reader just sent me."
Meadows writes: "Like many Americans, I snapped last week. Snapped off the TV. And the radio, even venerable NPR ... I stomped around delivering my own gloomy state of the union address to myself. Then I realized that I was not the one who needed to hear it ... So I wrote down my state of the union message, addressed to them all in that august hall -- president, Congress, the press, the cabinet -- all the perpetrators -- and this is my way of delivering it to them."
Meadows writes, "If the EPA carries out its plan to strengthen the Clean Air Act, that will be the end of Fourth of July fireworks. Backyard barbecues will be banned. You will probably lose your job. The economy will crash. All for a few asthmatic kids, who should just stay inside on smoggy days. So industry ads and spokespersons are saying. It's astonishing. They still hire public relations firms at high prices to try to make us believe stuff like this."
The Queen Charlotte Islands, off the Pacific coast of Canada, are a heavily forested archipelago -- or were. The controversy over jobs versus trees is one that has pitted natives of the island (the Haida) and small businesses against the larger logging companies. Massive amounts of timber were being collected, leaving the islands bare; so a group called Global Links formed and brought loggers, timber companies, the Haida, sharecroppers, enviros and others together and asked them the question: What do you want the future of these islands to be? With the answer, a series of resolutions were made including the reduction of logging.
Let's face it. The precious national lands, God's creation, nature's magnificence, our common birthright, have to be managed by human beings, who are fallible alone or in any combination. The management job gets ever harder, because the world is filling up. The human population is huge, still growing, full of honest aspiration and greedy schemes. On all sorts of lands forests are disappearing, mines are depleting, grasslands are overgrazed, nature is disappearing. Our national lands contain some of the few remnants of intact ecosystems in the world. Those remnants depend on us -- not to manage them, but to manage ourselves so we keep them glorious and productive and whole.
In town drought may be a nuisance; you can't wash your car or water your lawn. In the country your livelihood and food supply and consciousness are intertwined with the land, and drought is sheer agony. Months and months of agony, as clouds roll in, thunderstorms play around us, and nothing falls from the sky.
Meadows writes: "Together the world's 225 billionaires are worth $1 trillion, equal to the annual incomes of just under half (2.7 billion) of the global population... Statistics like these make me mad twice over. My heart gets mad at the gross inequity they convey. My mind gets mad at the glaring error of equating wealth with income. Surely the people who put out these numbers know better."
Meadows writes: "When I got off the plane in Amsterdam last Saturday, I walked across the terminal to a clean, efficient train system that could take me to anywhere in Europe ... Why don't we have a rail system like that? Two main reasons, I'd guess. The auto and oil industries are against it. And we won't let ourselves think of paying for it the way the Dutch do -- partly through ticket sales, but largely through (gasp!) taxes."
Meadows writes, "If you have a negative bias toward Cuba, you could say that it still has a precarious food supply. If you have a positive bias, you could say that Cuba, suddenly deprived of half its food and most of its agricultural inputs, has not only maintained but increased its food supply in a way that creates jobs and improves the environment."
Donella Meadows writes, "When we started farming in this valley in the 1970s, the first killing frost came like clockwork during the third week of September. Our year was adjusted to that date. It determined when we started the pepper seeds indoors in February and when we thought we could get away with the last corn planting in June. Lately though, global warming or something is playing havoc with the schedule. "
Donella Meadows on the limits of the free market: "The market is not a cure-all, not a religion, not endowed with wisdom or a conscience or a soul. It's just a social tool, good for limited purposes -- choosing, in the short term, the most efficient way of doing some things, stimulating entrepreneurial creativity in certain directions, rewarding those who do what people with money are willing to pay for. It is not good for -- it is, I submit, actively bad for -- ensuring fairness, transmitting culture, maintaining community, reinforcing values, protecting the environment, or making long-term choices."
If gene-modified foods cause problems, we Americans will be the first to find out. Now that the Europeans and Japanese are refusing to eat these Frankenfoods, they are being dumped almost exclusively on the American market.
Meadows writes: "The overwhelming response, especially impressive because there was no big money behind it, shows that people want 'organic' to mean more than pesticide-free. At a minimum it should mean food we trust, un-meddled-with, healthy to eat, raised in an environment healthy to live in."
Meadows writes, "Those of us who think the world needs saving keep busy crusading for our favorite remedies. School vouchers. Campaign finance reform. Strong regulation. No regulation. That long list of mutually inconsistent Holy Grails with which we like to hit each other over the head. There's one solution to the world's problems, however, that I never hear the frenzied activists suggest. Slowing down. Slowing down could be the single most effective solution to the particular save-the-world struggle I immerse myself in -- the struggle for sustainability, for living harmoniously and well within the limits and laws of the earth."
According to a report on last year's Congress just put out by the League of Conservation Voters, the first Congress in decades with Republican majorities in both houses could not be assessed by its pro-environment votes -- it created NO pro-environment measures to vote on. Rather, there was a steady stream of attempts to tear down environmental laws. The LCV could rate members only by the extent to which they refused to go along with the pillaging and sacking. By this standard about one-fourth of the members -- 111 in the House and 24 in the Senate -- achieved an LCV rating of zero -- a perfect anti-environmental record.
"It's unsettling to run into someone who is truly free. It makes you see all the ways in which you yourself are bound." That's what's been happening to Donella Meadows since Marcia Meyer, a woman who has achieved financial independance through wise "life energy" management, came to live on Donella's farm.
"What do the Internet, Alcoholics Anonymous and VISA International, the organization that brings us the VISA card, all have in common? They are all "chaordic" organizations -- self-organizing and self-governing, with no glittering center of power, no central headquarters and no one owns any of them."
Surprised citizens are flooding Congress with calls asking how this Kosovo mess came about and why we're involved in it. I feel a surge of annoyance at the American people for paying so little attention to the world, followed by a surge of annoyance at the American media for informing us so well about trivial things and so poorly about crucial things. Then comes a wave of understanding toward my fellow citizens. If I hadn't spent much of my foolish youth in Yugoslavia, I wouldn't know its history either. I wouldn't be overwhelmed with grief as such a beautiful place descends into barbarism.
Meadows writes: "Resilience is the ability of a system to absorb blows, repair itself, weather hard times, adapt, adjust, evolve.... Resilience has its costs, which sane people are willing to pay, because doing so is a matter of survival."
Meadows writes, "There were plenty of bad reasons why Congress turned down President Clinton's 'fast track' trade bill ... But there were good reasons, too, strengthened by the fact that NAFTA, the free trade agreement with Mexico, has failed to fulfill the grandiose promises made for it on either side of the border. Since NAFTA Americans are beginning to hear the pro-trade drumbeat -- globalization is inevitable, we'll be left in the competitive dust, trade grows the economy, trade creates jobs -- as so much bunkum."
Meadows writes, "Retaining ethically challenged Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House makes little difference to the environment. Much more important were the congressional committee chairmanships handed out last month. Despite Republican assurances to the contrary, those appointments indicate an ongoing disdain for the natural resources of our nation and the people who care about them."
A little known rider written by logging lobbyists is creating environmental mayhem to our national forests, writes Donella Meadows. "The rider stipulates that the Forest Service MUST sell off 4-6 billion board feet of lumber over the next two years. It is supposed to be salvage lumber, trees damaged by fire or infested with insects. We are supposed to be suffering from a forest health crisis. If we don't get those dead and dying trees out of the woods, we will be consumed by forest fires. However, the salvage rider had nothing to do with reason or even with salvage. 'Salvage' is an Open Sesame chant by which forest companies can tread where they would otherwise be forbidden. Salvage sales are clearly not about jobs, not about forest health, not about balancing the budget, and not about states' rights, either. What they are about is a private grab of public resources, leaving behind lands and waters that will be damaged and unproductive for generations to come."
David Orr, professor of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, likes to tell the story of the entrance exam for the insane asylum. Candidates are led into a cement-lined room with a row of faucets on one wall, fully open, gushing water. Leaning against the opposite wall are dozens of buckets and mops. The insane run frantically for the buckets and mops. The sane turn off the faucets. If that's the test, we live in a land that's certifiably crazy. Name a problem. With astounding consistency we go for the mop-and-bucket solution.
"Americans have been inundated with (often contradictory) advice about greener ways to live. To the rescue, at last, comes a book called The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices. Here are the top things the book says consumers can do to help the environment..."
Meadows writes: "Public relations people have a funny way of arguing. You say something, and they answer with a change of subject. It's like a tennis game in which you hit a ball over the net and your opponent hits a different ball back. Confusing. Unfair. Not much of a game."
Meadows writes: "Until recently I couldn't have told you the square footage of anything. But for the first time in my life, I'm designing a house, and I've developed a sensitivity to built area ... As I took down my 1997 calendar, I discovered on every page a house with its square-foot measurement."
Meadows on Alar: "If the name Alar means anything to you, it probably means something related to apples and Meryl Streep and hysterical environmentalists. Those mental associations have been nurtured by industry-funded public relations groups, who repeat over and over the claim that the 'Alar scare' was deliberate hype, which alarmed the public unnecessarily and caused irreparable harm to apple growers. They have made Alar the poster child of maligned chemicals."
After reading an article explaining why the European Community is sure to fall apart, Donella Meadows contemplates the difficulties of building and keeping communities togethger. "Community is hard. Maybe Europe can't hold together, nor our cities, our families, our nation. And yet most of us, surrounded by increasing material wealth and failing human relationships, spend our lives longing for community. Being responsible, managing our differences, being committed, that all seems like a huge burden, unless you think about the benefits as well the costs. And unless you consider the alternatives."
Want to buy a gold mine for five bucks an acre? Actually you don't need to buy it. You and I already own it as part of our citizens' legacy of public land. We're the ones offering the land at that price, and we're getting lots of takers. We recently sold a gold deposit in northeast Nevada worth an estimated $10 billion to American Barrick Resources (a Canadian company) for $9,765. Why are we selling off fabulous resources at ridiculous prices? Because of a law written in 1872, intended to promote the settlement and enrichment of a poor and sparsely populated country.
"Electrolux vacuum cleaner bags have always been pricey, but they recently jacked them up to $1.25 each. I called my local distributor to ask why the steep rise. They're new improved bags, he pointed out. When I got around to reading the label, I discovered that they're new alright... but are the new, dangerous chemicals really an improvement?"
Meadows writes: "In this country not only do we hold people innocent until proven guilty, we do the same for chemicals. Their behavior may be suspect, they may be found regularly at the scenes of crimes, they may fail their lab tests, but still we let them go free -- indeed we multiply, spread and circulate them -- until someone proves beyond all doubt that they are harmful."
Meadows writes: "On the Sunday after Michael Dorris committed suicide, the news was announced, gently and sadly, in a church here in the valley where he lived. A bit of the story came out that Sunday morning. Our neighbor, teacher, favorite writer was separated from the woman we knew as the love of his life, the even more celebrated author Louise Erdrich. He was facing a charge that could have cost him all contact with their children. He had attempted suicide a few weeks before. Friends had been talking with him ever since, many times a day, trying to help him find his way back into the light. His desperation had finally outwitted their care and concern."
Donella Meadows writes, "Congress is in recess till after Labor Day so our representatives can attend conventions and take a break from the muggy Washington summer. It's a good time to collar them at home and tell them what we think of their assault on our natural resources. After negative public reaction last year, the politicians are talking nice and green. But their actions are as dirty and brown as ever."