Meadows writes, "Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when an election is over. This year my sigh is more heartfelt than usual. While one presidential contender was ranting about 'character' and the other was studiously ignoring the subject, I was teaching an ethics course. The daily contradiction between real ethics and the rhetoric of the politicians was hard to take."
Donella Meadows writes, "I had to endure many New Hampshire presidential primaries before I thought of lying to the pollsters. In the week or two before the primary they call almost every night. You can tell immediately that it's a poll by the bored voice. 'Hello, Ms. Meadows?,' they drone. 'Would you say you are very likely, fairly likely, or not at all likely to vote in the coming Republican primary?' When I was new to this game I felt honored, as most of us do when our opinion is solicited. 'Hey, they're calling ME! They want to know what I think! When they report this tomorrow on TV, they'll be reporting on ME!' Let me tell you, that thrill wears off real fast."
Meadows doesn't believe that the voters who put the Newtsies in power last fall intended to sell off our national lands and gut our environmental laws. She can't remember any politician running on a promise to devastate the natural assets of the nation. So we better wake up, folks, because that's what's happening.
"When, within one short, dark month, you have to lift, focus on, and decide the future of every piece of stuff you have accumulated, you get a visceral sense of the material excess of the American lifestyle. "
Meadows writes: "The other day a friend sent me a brochure put out by an organization called Responsible Wealth. I could hardly believe the name. Reading on, I could hardly believe what it stands for. 'We are business leaders and wealthy individuals, among the top five percent of income earners and asset holders in the US,' the brochure leads off. 'We are concerned about the rise in power of large corporations and the growing gap between the rich and everyone else.'"
Meadows writes, "We are finally getting it. The politicians don't serve us, they serve whoever gives them money. Money screens what we learn about candidates. We are losing our democracy. The only way to get it back is campaign reform. Even the politicians are saying it, which is dangerous. Any 'reform' invented by those who gained power in the present system will be a sham. We should know; we've been through this before."
In honor of National TV-Turnoff Week, Donella Meadows offers some alarming American TV watching statistics. She offers a Harper's-style round-up of TV fodder, including the fact that the average person spends 12 years, or nearly one-quarter, of her life in front of the tube.
The atrocity in the Balkans is often blamed on the violent history of the area. Donella Meadows offers an explanation, and a solution, based on the four men who lead the various factions in the conflict.
"The Grand Banks of Newfoundland have been fished in by humans for over a thousand years -- until 1992, when their destruction was completed by overzealous trawlers and factory boats. The exact same thing almost happened to the Barents Sea -- except that the Norweigan government stepped in to stop the extinctions."
Meadows writes: "The more I hear about electricity restructuring, the more skeptical I get. This is an enormous change in a vital service, driven not by the public but by a few people who expect to profit. What seems to be in it for us? Avalanches of advertising, companies swallowing each other up, prices dropping, then rising, while services erode, complex rate structures, distant management and fraud."
Meadows writes: "A new computer model of the long-term future of the world does something hardly any model -- computer or mental -- ever does. It explores the fact that we all see the world through biases ... Like most computer models, this one is used not to predict the future but to test possibilities. What if great new solar energy technologies are invented (or not)? What if the climate is way more (or less) sensitive than scientists think it is? What if birth rates go on dropping (or don't)?"
"Biosolids" is what they call it now. It used to be called "sludge." By any name, it comes out of a sewage treatment plant, and it can cause raging battles. Wastewater treatment managers, who have tons and tons of the stuff to get rid of, like to spread it on forests or fields. But many raise safety concerns about the practice. So who's right, the sludge spreaders or the sludge opponents? Well, actually, both.
While out in her garden, Donella Meadows begins wondering what it would be like if all politicians in the coming election began telling the truth. Addressing the politicians, she writes, "Maybe if you let go of that graspiness, that combativeness, that fear, maybe if all you Washington folk of both parties, stopped walling yourself from the world with piles of money and power, maybe you'd discover that out here things are more kindly than you think. Maybe there's even enough for everyone."
There's a virulent movement in the West and now in the Congress to give federal lands "back" to the states -- as if the states had ever owned them. Our lands are being managed more for the good of a few people over the short term than for the good of all the people over the long term. As with other issues, the Congress has done the right thing to bring this problem to public attention. As with other issues, most of the solutions Congress is coming up with will make the problem not just a little worse, but much worse.
"What does it mean to forest management, to selective harvesting, to clear-cutting? What does it mean when acid rain falls, when drought comes, when herbicide is sprayed, when we try to fight off tree diseases? What does it mean to our cultural notion that the world runs on competition, not cooperation? Are we biased toward seeing only collections of individuals rather than interconnected systems? Have we literally been failing to see the forest for the trees?"
Meadows writes: "In the din of canned political phrases, stump speeches and angry ads, I keep waiting for some small part of the democratic discourse to address the issues I care about. I keep waiting for some politician to give even slightly honest-sounding answers to the questions I most want to ask."
Meadows writes: "A new book [Downsizing the U.S.A.] says we are so ticked off because things -- from cities to corporations to governments to schools to the whole economy -- are too big. We pursue quantity instead of quality, go for more and lose sight of enough. Our unthinking devotion to growth drive us to create economic and social monsters that drive us, instead of serving us."
Television is so much a part of our lives that we rarely step back and reflect on what it does to us. A new organization called TV-Free America offers us an annual opportunity to do that. Inspired by the Smoke-Out Days that give cigarette addicts a boost toward kicking their habit, TV-Free America holds a National TV-Turnoff week every April. This year it runs from April 24 through April 30.
Donella Meadows thinks that two parties are not nearly enough choices for 263 billion Americans to express their beliefs. She writes, "What meaning, underneath the heated rhetoric, does either party have? What is there to get enthusiastic about? Both parties are riddled with corruption. They have no principles; they huddle as close as they can get to what they think is the middle of the political spectrum. They deceive and double cross us. They are for sale to the highest bidder. The media report political campaigns as if they were ball games. I wish they'd quit doing that and remind us that what we cheer and vote for is supposed to have something to do with the way we want to be governed. Whichever party we elect DOES determine how we are governed, but it has little to do with how we WANT to be governed, mainly, I think, because the two huge, meaningless parties offer us no true choices."
Donella Meadows writes, "Those lobbyists never sleep, I fumed. This Congress knows no shame when it comes to cutting services to the weak and taxes of the powerful. And this president will sign just about anything. It's hard, waking up every morning to news that makes my soul sick. Especially when I have fallen asleep, as I have been doing lately, to the soul-stirring writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi."
"For decades, scientists have been telling us with clarity and urgency that the earth cannot sustain our prolonged tampering. Short of yelling and screaming, which scientists are trained not to do, I don't see how these august people could be more clear."
Meadows writes: "They led her off to the aggressive skis, the aggressive boots, the aggressive bindings. These are made of supermetals and superplastics and superfabrics, bonded in layers with superglues. 'Imagine all the toxics,' I thought. 'And that layered stuff can never be recycled. And it will last in a landfill for a million years.' I must have been the only person in the store with such thoughts."
Meadows writes: "A booklet called 'Tax Shift,' which handily arrived on my desk just before April 15, tells how we could replace existing taxes and improve both the economy and the environment in the process. As the title 'Tax Shift' indicates, this is not a tract about having no government and no taxes. It accepts that we have to tax SOMETHING and makes an impeccable economic argument for taxing not goods, such as income or capital. but bads, such as tobacco or alcohol or -- this is the main point -- resource use."
Meadows writes, "So the cigarette companies have negotiated a deal that would limit public control of their product and limit their liability for the millions of people who have died using that product. As the nation debates their offer, I hear people branding tobacco executives as somehow uniquely evil. I've just read a book that leads me to believe they are neither unique nor evil. Just trapped in a system that forces them and many others to do evil things. The book is 'Toxic Deception' by Dan Fagin and Marianne Lavelle. Its subtitle is: 'How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law, and Endangers Your Health.'"
Meadows writes, "If you are a purist who would just as soon not have any harmful chemicals in your food, you will not feel protected by the new 'Food Quality Protection Act of 1996.' If you're a political realist, though, you might say, 'Well, heck, it's better than the law we had before. It's probably the best we're gonna get, given the crew we've got in Washington.' In some ways, the new law may indeed turn out to be an improvement."
Donella Meadows on the mood of America: "The voices of intolerance, cruelty, and greed are increasingly fashionable. The voices of community and compassion grow quieter and quieter. It takes courage to face the ridicule that comes with speaking in public of reason, sharing, love and trust. In such a time, for the sake of civilization, we need not only leaders, but ordinary folks by the millions to keep speaking in public of reason, sharing, love and trust -- and meaning it, and acting on it."
"Almost thirty years ago I returned from a long stay in India with my mind, body, and senses full of dust and color, peace and violence, holiness and crassness, all the contradictions of a land so different from my own. The messy, mind-boggling, raw REALITY of India receded into memories -- until last week when I got an e-mail message from my friend Vicki Robin, just back from her first trip to India."
"During previous outbreaks of concern about America's spreading cities it was 'strip development' or 'slurbs' or simply 'the growth problem.' This time around the hot term is 'sprawl' -- and we aren't even close to effectively controlling it."
Meadows writes: "A rider is a last-minute amendment to one of those necessary bills, usually slipped into the 154th paragraph or so where no one will notice. The rider will have nothing to do with the bill. ... It will do a major favor at public expense to some campaign contributor somewhere, but the damage will be finely calibrated to look insignificant relative to the billion-dollar bill it's riding on."
Meadows writes: "In one of those strange juxtapositions of life, a sane little book arrived in my mail this week as if it were meant to be contrasted with the insane debate our senators were holding on campaign reform. 'The Technique of Consensus' the book is called, its author is Richard H. Graff, he published it himself."
Meadows on Paul Hawken's book, "The Ecology of Commerce." She writes, "Hawken's book opens with a description of the night he stood up to receive an award for his own company's environmental excellence. Looking at the impact of his business on the earth, Hawken realized that he deserved no such award -- and no company did. The book goes on to list the many ways in which the human economy violates the laws of the planet."
The book Our Stolen Future pulls together an astounding number of research findings about industrial chemicals that act like hormones. Called "endocrine disrupters," they can either block or falsely stimulate cell-wall receptors, turning secretion, metabolism or replication on or off. The evidence suggests that endocrine disrupters are the cause of falling human sperm counts, female birds that act like males, male alligators with shrunken penises, and birth defects or reproductive failures in everything from polar bears to Great Lakes fish.
The myth prevails that renewable, solar kinds of energy are exotic, unworkable, expensive and undependable. Meanwhile people across the country are banding together and breaking the fossil-fuel habit by using working, affordable, and renewable energy systems. Seventy of these systems are described in a new book by Nancy Cole and P.J. Skerrett called Renewables are Ready.
"'Campaign reform is much too polite a phrase. 'Ending corruption' is more like it. Today's example of how campaign contributions corrupt our government, destroy our public assets and rob taxpayers is industrial hog farming."
Meadows writes: "Science journals report that each of the first five months of 1998 was the warmest in recorded history. Now that's news. But it didn't make the news. The Texas heat wave made the news, but without context. How is it related to those five months of record-breaking temperature, to fossil-fuel burning, to global warming?"
Meadows writes, "Windows is taking over the world, not because it's better, just because it's bigger. It started with IBM marketing muscle. Computer users, especially in the business world, adopted it simply because everyone else did. More software was written for DOS, because the market was bigger. Mac users regretfully switched over, needing to be compatible with co-workers. The more they did that, the more others had to do it. The market is full of inferior products that dominate simply because they're first or biggest."