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."
Meadows writes on the implications of becoming part of the "cultural creatives" crowd: "According to anthropologist Paul Ray, who seems to have named us, 'this group has no established leaders, no professed ideology and no cohesive sense of community. Its members loosely adhere to humanistic/spiritual ideals and life-styles that are eco-friendly.' ... Our numbers have grown from less than 5 percent of the population a generation ago to nearly 25 percent now. Well, it's nice to feel part of a crowd. Hard to get used to, though."
Mount Graham is a 10,000 foot "sky island" in the middle of the Arizona dessert, a refuge for endangered species and virgin forest. Now the University of Arizona wants to build a telescope on Mount Graham, and Clinton has given the go-ahead as a small concession to Republicans. Franklin Stanley, a San Carlos Apache spiritual leader says, "Why do you come and try to take my church away and treat the mountain as if it was about money instead of respect? Nowhere else in the world stands another mountain like the mountain you are trying to disturb. On this mountain is a great life-giving force. You have no knowledge of the place you are about to destroy."
Whether our main concern is environment, civil rights, taxes, jobs, farms, labor, health, science, or the deficit, what we need first is democracy. We can argue later about our other problems; first we need a fair arena within which to argue, an arena without an admission charge. We need to define campaign reform for ourselves, so the politicians don't define it for themselves. Donella Meadows offers a simple, strong agenda, taken from David Korten's new book, When Corporations Rule the World.
Meadows writes: "I was in Bangkok in 1994, stuck in a bus in one of that city's classic traffic jams with 20 environmentalists from 12 Asian countries. We could see around us at least 50 huge construction cranes hovering over high-rises on their way up. 'Who is going to occupy all those offices and condos?' we asked our Thai colleagues, who shrugged helplessly. Now Bangkok has $20 billion worth of unsold office towers and residential complexes."
Though we humans grandly call ourselves Homo sapiens, "man the wise," we also carry on a constant debate about how smart we really are. The argument goes on, because the answer isn't obvious. There's plenty of evidence of our brilliance and of our enduring foolishness. The ultimate intelligence test is coming from the environment. Are we smart enough to stop destroying our own support systems?
Donella H. Meadows heard Don Imus' radio show for the first time in her own back yard. As painters were working on her house, the radio blared for their entertainment. From out of the speakers came a catchy folksy tune, spewing anti-Semitism. She writes, "My jaw dropped. They can't really broadcast stuff like this, can they? Apparently they can," and she's none too happy about it.
Donella Meadows writes: "We the American people are the most generous landowners in the world. We sell gold mines for $5 per acre. We pay people to take from our national forests 800-year-old trees worth $5000 each. And we subsidize ranchers to overgraze our rangelands....If you'd like fair, rational, sustainable, and economic land management -- you and I have the immediate job of stopping the works of people like Hansen and Domenici and stiffening the rubbery backbones of Babbitt and Clinton. Then we have the long-term job of electing managers who aren't so eager to give our resources away to whoever waves the biggest gun or biggest check.
"A congressional rider is a small parasite hooked onto a big bill. It would never pass on its own, but maybe, if no one notices, if the president wants the money badly enough, if there's a back-room deal, maybe it can ride through on a must-pass funding measure."
Meadows writes: "I keep running into scary Y2K discussions. I suppose that's because they're happening more frequently and will continue to do so right up to December 31, 1999, when the year 2000 (Y2K) computer bug will kick in and End The World As We Know It."
Meadows writes: "Nearly everyone who has been to the solar village Gaviotas, east of the Andes in Colombia, calls it a utopia. But it isn't, says Paolo Lugari, its founder. That word means in Greek 'no place.' Gaviotas has existed, however improbably, for more than 30 years now. Lugari says it's a 'topia' -- simply a place."
Meadows writes: "Well, folks, now we know. Nature is worth $33 trillion dollars a year. That's a medium estimate. The real value could be as low as $16 trillion or as high as $54 trillion. To put those numbers in perspective, the value of the entire output of the world economy each year is $18 trillion. That comes to $3,000 a year, on average, for each human on the planet. Nature provides goods and services worth somewhere between $2,600 and $9,000 per person per year. The calculation was made by a team of ecologists, economists, and geographers from twelve prestigious universities and laboratories in three countries. It was published this week in the journal Nature."
Donella Meadows explains why corporations should not help fund our national parks. She writes, "Generations of Americans poorer than we are somehow managed to maintain the parks, commonly owned, commonly supported."
Back a decade or two ago when we weren't paying much attention, the advertising industry took over American politics, reducing debates to soundbites, using polls to tell politicians what to say, polishing image while banishing ideas. Worst of all, advertisers taught government leaders their central trick. Say any fool thing over and over and over, and it will start sounding plausible, or at least comfortably familiar. Repetition eats into peoples' brains. "You deserve a break today. No new taxes. Progress is our most important product. We stand for family values.
Many people, including the New York Times, are deriding the book, Our Stolen Future, which is fast becoming known as the book on sperm. However, opponents of the book are missing the authors' main point: That chemicals in our environment are possibly having a negative effect on our health. Meadows writes, "It would be amazing if those chemicals, individually or acting together, do no harm. Therefore the important questions are not about scientific doubt but about risk and ethics. Given some sobering evidence here, while we do more studies, while we argue about sperm, while we malign the authors of Our Stolen Future, should we, or should we not, go on releasing hormone-mimicking chemicals with abandon into our environment?"
"The United Nations decided to pick an arbitrary date -- October 12 -- and declare it the Day of Six Billion, when the Earth's population hit that astounding number. But what kind of event should this be? A day of repentance? A celebration?"
Meadows writes: "In 1949 a small book was published shortly after its author, Aldo Leopold, died of a heart attack while fighting a forest fire near his homestead in rural Wisconsin. The book was a collection of his nature writings, crotchety writings, lyrical writings, praise for nature and manifestos for people from a man who spent his life in some of the wildest parts of America."
Meadows writes: "Gas station counters are always littered with strange products. I wouldn't have given this one a second thought, if I hadn't just been talking about the carrying capacity of the earth. 'Can you give a lecture to my students on the carrying capacity of the earth?' my colleague had asked. 'You know that topic so well, you won't even have to think about it.' Right."
Donella Meadows looks at how the popular concept of the "American Dream Home" has mutated over the years. The purpose of articles like "The New American Dream Home" in the Sunday magazine section of Meadow's daily newspaper is, of course, to practice the great American art of making us dissatisfied with what we've got. This particular piece even tells us, without the slightest hesitation, what we want.
Meadows writes, "You have to be well trained by a forestry school or well paid by a lumber company to see beauty in a clearcut. If you haven't been so trained or paid, if you're just an ordinary bloke looking at an expanse of slashed, rutted ground where recently a forest stood, you feel slightly sick. You know violence has been done. Whatever your logical mind tells you about jobs and profits and cheap wood, your conscience whispers that this is no way to treat a forest."
The title of David Korten's new book -- When Corporations Rule the World -- does not refer to some theoretical future state. Korten's point is that corporations already rule much of the world, and that the consequences aren't good, not even for corporations. Donella Meadows lists some of Korten's measures to keep corporate activity in its place. She writes, "I have heard people warn him never to put out the whole list at once, because any single item is shocking, and all together are simply unthinkable."
Suppose we all woke up one fine morning and decided, as a nation, to solve our problems instead of beating each other up over them. Suppose we quit twisting ourselves into knots trying to put all blame on one party and all credit on the other. What if we chose instead to move forward together?
Meadows writes: "The growing number of endangered species, the fires burning out of control in Indonesia and Mexico and Florida, the changing climate. Population growth is not the single cause of any of these happenings. But it is an inexorable driving factor behind all of them."
Meadows writes, "David Orr, head of the environmental studies program at Oberlin College, understands that young people learn from everything they do and everything around them. Even buildings. So he started thinking about the structure in which he conducts his classes ... David Orr decided that he wanted to teach in a building that did not undo his curriculum. His students worked with a dozen architects, visited all kinds of buildings, read the literature, considered retrofitting an old building and finally drew up design criteria for a new one."