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."
The holiday shopping season has gotten off to a bad start, they say. They don't say it, actually, they moan it, as if no worse tragedy can be imagined. The problem is, they say, that too many of us have maxed out our credit cards. The solution is to send out more credit cards. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that a description of mass insanity? We take a holiday that celebrates the birth of one of the gentlest spirits ever known, one who told us to store up treasure not on earth but in heaven, and we turn the occasion into an orgy of eating, drinking, and buying gifts people don't need with money we don't have.
The folks who bring us gene-spliced soybeans, corn, potatoes, and other foods like to make a point of the U.S. government's approval of their products. The feds OK'd it. That must mean biotech foods are safe, right?
Meadows writes: "On average, 65 cents out of every dollar you spend for food at the supermarket go for packaging, delivery and marketing. Thirty cents go to chemical companies that make fertilizers, pesticides and genetically altered organisms. That leaves five cents for the farmer. If you wonder why farms are failing (over 20,000 a year go under in the U.S.), that's why."
Meadows writes, "You would think that if any publication would NOT receive letters enflamed with political opinion, it would be 'Hemmings Motor News.' But there, in last December's issue, is a letter that sounds like a replay from the Rush Limbaugh show. 'From what I've read, the theory of ozone depletion is a hoax,' it starts. 'When the US signed the so-called Montreal Accord, pop science won out over common sense.'"
Meadows writes, "I've recently read John Wargo's book, Our Children's Toxic Legacy, and I'm worried about what pesticides may be doing to people. The book says that of the 325 pesticides that are legally allowed to remain as residues in food, one-third are suspected of causing cancer. One-third are known to disrupt the nervous system. A bunch [are] under investigation for disrupting hormonal signals that guide the development of fetuses, the growth of children, and the ability to reproduce. The damage they do may not show up until the next generation."
Over the past two generations sperm counts in many parts of the world have fallen by half, and a higher percent of sperm are deformed and unfunctional. Testicular cancer is on the rise, as are birth defects such as undescended testicles. Many kinds of animals are suffering from hormone derangements that produce -- how could the media resist this one? -- masculinized females and feminized males. These unsettling phenomena are caused by chemicals we throw into the environment, quite a few different kinds of them, which happen, so it seems, to behave like hormones.
Donella Meadows shares some thoughts of life on her farm: "In the month of June on this organic farm where we try to work with the forces of nature, we expend all the energy and cleverness we can summon, trying to keep things from eating things. And nature laughs."
Meadows writes: "So now I'm taking Y2K seriously. I don't plan to spend December 1999 panicking and hoarding (which, if everyone did it, would create a Y2K problem even if the computers work fine). I'm just going to plant more potatoes and squash and dry beans than usual and lay in extra firewood."
Meadows writes: "My Dutch friend Wouter Biesiot (pronounced "Vowter Beesio") was diagnosed with colon cancer in December 1993. He was operated upon, he endured a year of chemotherapy, and for two years thereafter we hoped for the best. Then last spring they found a tumor near his liver, and the doctors told him he is beyond medical help. What can one do, when a friend receives a sentence like that? Wouter is only 46 years old."
Meadows writes, "The first commandment of economics is: grow. Grow forever. Companies must get bigger. National economies need to swell by a certain percent each year. People should want more -- make more, earn more, spend more, ever more. The first commandment of the Earth is: enough. Just so much and no more. Just so much soil. Just so much water. Just so much sunshine. Everything born of the earth grows to its appropriate size and then stops."
Human ingenuity produces a thousand or so new molecules of commercial value every year. Companies that hope to profit from them say, essentially, "Let us make them by the ton. We've tested them. They're OK. Trust us." We should not trust them, because neither they nor we can predict the fates or effects of their products. Planet Earth carries on enormously complex chemistry of its own. Dump strange substances into the mix, or increase the rate at which old ones move around, and the real surprise would be NOT to experience a continuous stream of surprises, as we turn nature and ourselves into guinea pigs for thousands of experiments running all at once.
An endangered species story that does not show a mindless bureaucracy squashing an honest entrepreneur just to save some slimy creature no one ever heard of. In this case the creature is a cuddly squirrel. It is threatened not by a greedy developer but by a public university. What gets squashed is the Endangered Species Act.
"Campaign reform is number one on McCain's list and on mine. In fact it's the only item on my list, because everything else depends on it. Without it the will of the people means nothing. Without it we have no democracy; we have a plutocracy, a nation ruled by those with money."
"Carl Safina takes you out in the boats with commercial fleets. He takes you to Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, where a large fraction of the world's catch ends up. He takes you to national and international meetings, where your jaw drops at the utter ineptness of fishing regulatory bodies. Best of all, Safina takes you into the astounding life of the fish."
Meadows writes: " What would it have meant if President Clinton had, as he was urged to do, "taken responsibility" for slavery while he was in Africa. What does it mean when a crazed Northern Ireland splinter group eagerly "takes responsibility" for blowing innocent civilians to smithereens? What does the president mean when he says he takes responsibility for lying repeatedly about a mindless sexual dalliance?"
Meadows writes: "The CO2 in the air has been going down and down and down, with a lot of short-term variation. During the last few hundreds of thousands of years it's been as low as 180 ppm in ice ages and as high as 280 ppm in warm spells ... Then, just a couple hundred years ago, an eyeblink by my reckoning, the big-brainers figured out how to burn oil and coal and gas."
Feelings, like knowledge, don't directly change anything. But if we don't rush past the feelings or stuff them down, if we take time to admit even the most uncomfortable ones, to accept them, share them, and couple them with knowledge of what is wrong and how it might be fixed, then feelings and knowledge together are motors for change. The feelings make the doings of a technological, cultural, economic and political revolution inevitable.
Donella Meadows takes a look at the continuous dumbing-down of television, lamenting the loss of ABC's resident geographer, Harm de Blij. She writes, "De Blij was ready with his maps when Operation Desert Storm moved into the Persian Gulf. In fact he saw the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait coming, just by watching maps. 'Iraq had been publishing maps for years showing Kuwait as Iraq's 19th province,' he says. 'I call it cartographic aggression. U.S. embassies used to have geographic attaches looking for that sort of thing. If they still had such people, they'd see that the Chinese are doing maps right now showing parts of Russia as Chinese.' One can speculate that ABC's sudden loss of interest in geography is just one more shift in the short attention span of television; as quirky and accidental as the shift eight years ago that put de Blij on the screen in the first place."
There is so much skullduggery going on in Washington these days that no one can keep track of it. One bill would give away to the states the federal lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. This legacy of 270 million acres, mostly in the West, includes 5.3 million acres of wilderness, vast expanses of grazing land, deposits of metal ores, oil, uranium, and one-third of the nation's coal. Why we should divest ourselves of $500 billion worth of land to is hard to fathom. You have to watch this Congress every minute.
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.
Meadows writes: "This year is the 200th anniversary of a small pamphlet that people are still arguing about. In 1798 the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus said forcefully that the human population tends to grow to the point where it impoverishes itself and starves... A new publication by the Worldwatch Institute is full of facts that show Malthus to be not dead and not wrong -- but maybe not right either."
Meadows writes: "The label 'veggie libel law' makes the whole affair sound silly. But Oprah Winfrey is being sued for insulting beef, not beans. And the case is not trivial. If Oprah loses, we all lose some free speech and food safety protections."
Meadows writes: "On April 6 it will be 1000 DAYS TILL THE YEAR 2000!!! There will be press conferences and a global sing-along. Countdown clocks will be set ticking, aimed for the turning of the millennium ... It's already impossible, I hear, to get a reservation for December 31, 1999 at the world's hot party spots. I have to say, I'm dreading the hype."