Meadows writes, "I believe there is a real moral majority in this country that is alarmed by the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The moral majority is silenced by the politicians, the corporate leaders, the loud and savvy, who have developed many clever ways to scoff at the compassionate. Magnified by microphones and satellite beams, they perpetuate new scriptures, which assert that the rich deserve every penny they accumulate and the poor deserve despair."
TV-Free America held its first National TV-Turnoff Week last year. Organizer Henry Labalme expected the idea of life without television to be met with resistance. Instead he found himself riding a wave of enthusiasm. "I can't believe you exist," people told him. "We thought we were the only ones who were disgusted by TV." This year TV-Turnoff Week is April 24-30. Donella Meadows writes, "TV-Turnoff Week gives us a chance to step away from our addiction -- or fail to and thus realize how badly addicted we are. Hundreds of studies have linked TV watching to 1) violence, 2) diminished brain development in children, 3) obesity and other eating disorders, 4) lack of physical fitness, 5) breakdown of community, 6) materialism, 7) excess consumer debt and 8) negative social norms, gender roles and patterns of conflict resolution. Many of us are angry with ourselves for watching too much and for letting our children watch too much. But, like addicts, we don't stop. So here's a chance to stop, just for a week."
"In spite of the horrors that assault us in the news each day, there are people all over the world who still have faith in the humanness of humanity. They have not lost contact with the specifically human sanity at their core." This statement comes from the Anti-Barbaric Coalition, which asked Donella Meadows, among others, for a simple, from the heart statement about what it means to be human.
"The technology of carbon sequestration takes carbon dioxide, which accounts for two thirds of greenhouse gases, and buries it deep underground or in the ocean. Though it could be a great advance, carbon sequestration also poses the dangerous possibility that this will be the end of the story, that we will relax, thinking we've found a magic bullet that lets us go on driving gas-guzzling SUVs to our hearts' delight."
"Energy guru Amory Lovins has been seeing farther and farther into the energy future. Recently, Lovins has introduced a design for the Hypercar -- safe as a Volvo, peppy as a Porsche, running 100 or 200 miles per gallon. But that's just a small step towards his real dream -- the hydrogen-powered car that would provide cheap, clean transportation and even replace our coal and nuclear power plants as a source of household energy."
Meadows writes: "More air conditioners means more electricity use, which means, to the extent that Texas power plants burn oil, gas, or coal, the president's "solution" to the heat problem will make future heat problems worse."
Meadows writes: "The world shrimp catch has tripled since 1970. It's now 50 percent beyond what the UN Food and Agriculture Organization figures is the long-term sustainable limit. In several countries shrimp fisheries are using more and more boats to bring in the same quantity of shrimp. These overextended fisheries continue only because, like failing fisheries everywhere, they are subsidized by governments."
Meadows writes: "Bipartisanship is the in-word in Washington. What it appears to mean is compromise. Everyone stays stuck in ideology, sniping at the other side a bit more quietly, while deals are made. Cut Medicare more than the Democrats want but less than the Republicans want... Weaken environmental laws, but don't trash them entirely. Holding to the middle, where no one is fully satisfied or terminally outraged, is the unique style of Bill Clinton. He stands for no discernible policy or principles, only for process, conciliation, keeping everyone sort of happy most of the time. The trouble is, compromise is not leadership."
t's hard enough staying on top of political comings and goings without having to decipher the propaganda we are fed daily by politicians over the airwaves. But Donella Meadows has found a new source that offers straight up facts in a timely manner: The Internet. You can subscribe for free to a number of email services that deliver to your desktop daily, weekly or whenever important votes are taken, information about what our elected leaders do, as opposed to what they say. Siting examples from reports and listing the email addresses or phone numbers of the various organizations, this article is a good reference for environmentalists in the computer age.
Donella Meadows thinks she should be writing about how the grinches in Congress are trying to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act, or about their latest tricks for stomping on the poor while handing the nation's resources to the rich, or about their lack of interest in hearing public comment on these depredations. Instead, she looked around and found in the pile of new books on her desk one called Choosing our Future: Visions of a Sustainable World. It's a collection of short statements by people from many countries, describing how they would like things to be in the year 2050. After the panderings of power-crazed politicians, she was encouraged by the hopes of ordinary humanity. Here she offers a few short excerpts of what they see, when they look into a future they really want.
"I guess it's clear that there's still some raider rooster in us, some instinct to take advantage of the weak, considerable pleasure in power. On the other hand, I've never seen one strong chicken try to stop another from violence, or one group of chickens organize shelter and food for another."
Meadows writes: "If you're disgusted by the whole sordid Washington drama; if you dread the thought of more testimony and more lascivious details; if you're sickened by sanctimonious lectures from known adulterers claiming to be shocked by adultery; if you wonder how the Constitution could have been brought so low; and if you nevertheless do not vote -- well, you've thrown away the only way to complain they will ever notice. Think of the long-term implications. Go vote."
Meadows writes: "A year ago Ms. Zabriskie got fed up with the flood of junk mail coming at her. 'I decided to keep all the catalogs that came from January 1 to December 31, 1997,' she writes. 'The enclosed photo shows what came of it.' The picture shows a smiling Ms. Zabriskie, one arm resting on a stack of catalogs that reaches to her elbow. There are 371 of them, she writes. They weigh 104 pounds."
Meadows writes: "I don't suppose any place can boast of a happy solution to school funding or land taxes. Most of us live with a set of compromises that endure only out of habit. No one questions the status quo very hard, because once you start tinkering, exposing little illogical holes, a lot of suppressed steam is likely to burst out."
Now that natural resources such as forests and fuel are running out, companies are trying to come up with alternatives. However, Donella Meadows is skeptical. She writes, "I have no doubt that we can increase crop yields, make fish and fiber plantations, turn almost any plant into fiberboard or paper, recycle massively, run cars on biofuels, and use the earth's resources with much higher efficiency and more careful stewardship. I hope we will. I just don't see how we'll get there, if the managers of every resource plow heedlessly through it, assuming they can turn to some other resource when theirs is gone. Maybe we should set up a simple rule: before you try to impress us with your brilliant plans for invading some other resource base, please show us how efficiently and sustainably you can manage your own."
When you fly a plane, you need an instrument panel in front of you, with lights and dials telling you how well the parts are working, what direction you're headed, whether there are obstacles ahead, and how much fuel you have. If you're guiding a complex social mechanism like a city, you need even more lights and dials. But for a city what should they measure? Five years ago several hundred citizens of Seattle asked themselves that question. Last week they came out with an answer -- a book of 40 "indicators of sustainability" for their city.
The demise of a little known East Coast fish, the bridle shiner, is a result of a bigger problem, pond pollution. Title Five, a Massachusetts regulation intended to keep development from overtaxing the waste treatment facilities of a community is being ignored. Meadows writes, "If it were strictly enforced, and if the nutrification of ponds were considered a serious problem, houses couldn't be built right on the shores of ponds. Drainage from lawns and septic tanks wouldn't be allowed to flow directly into the water -- there would have to be buffer zones of vegetation to absorb nutrients, or full-scale sewage systems to divert wastes entirely. Pondside developments would be more regulated, less dense, more expensive. Clear ponds. The very asset that makes building projects worth a million dollars. The goose that lays the golden eggs."
What do the bicycle, the clothesline, the ceiling fan, the condom, the public library, Pad Thai and the ladybug all have in common? Their kindness to the earth and to human health puts them at the top of the "Seven Sustainable Wonders of the World" list.
Meadows writes: "I don't want to tell about the frogs. I don't even want to think about the frogs. The story is so complex and uncertain and sad. But, you know, there may be no more important story unfolding in the world today, important not only for the frogs, but also for us."
Meadows writes: "Given our history, our beneficent self-image, and the fact that we are nearly all descendents of immigrants, Americans get emotional about immigration. So the Sierra Club is in trouble."
Meadows writes, "Five years ago the leaders of 120 nations assembled at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and signed a list of environmental pledges called Agenda 21. June 23-27 the U.N. General Assembly will hold a special "Rio Plus Five" session to check their progress. There has been no progress."
Meadows writes, "The current Congress and president were just the combination needed to do away at last with the Delaney clause. It expired quietly this summer, when the president signed the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996. Its demise was a symbolic victory for industry, which had actually won the war against zero tolerance long ago. It's probably just as well that the clear, brave language of Delaney no longer stands to deceive us into thinking that our food supply is risk-free."
How much would it cost to save all the endangered species in America? Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) the chairman of the House Committee on Resources recently assigned the General Accounting Office (GAO) to answer that question, not because he cares about species, but because he wants to rub out the Endangered Species Act. He expected the tab to run into trillions, so he could show us that preserving species is simply unaffordable. The GAO has just issued the report he asked for, sort of. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when reading the report.
There's a [more] serious reason to be wary of block grants. Problems aren't better solved at a local level if local governments have no interest in solving them. That's how many programs got federalized in the first place. Whether it was hunger in Appalachia, toxic emissions in Louisiana, or segregation in the South, people were unwilling to live with festering social or environmental wounds, even if those wounds happened to lie on the other side of a state boundary -- because problems don't stay within state boundaries.
"I'd like to ask Al Gore a question: What happened to your environmental views? In the past seven years we have seen only tepid environmental measures from you and your president. Back-pedaling. Compromise. Window-dressing. Why?"
Meadows writes: "For a whole year I steered clear of Monica madness. I knew what was happening, of course -- who didn't? But I watched no broadcasts, read no articles, shut my ears, covered my eyes. Then on the final Saturday I got hooked by the battle of the snippets."
Meadows writes: "From around the world, and especially from India and Pakistan, I am reminded that plenty of people understand one simple fact. You cannot gain security by making your enemy feel insecure."
Meadows writes: "Endangered plants and animals contribute neither hard nor soft money to political campaigns. People who care about nature are more numerous but less focused than people who want to log, mine, dam, drain, spray, pave or otherwise impose their will upon the few remaining patches of undisturbed nature. So you can imagine what the latest rewrite of the Endangered Species Act looks like."
Meadows writes, "Is there any kind of ad that CBS, NBC and ABC won't run? Presumably yes -- obscene ads, violent ads, ads for cigarettes and other lethal drugs. And, as Kalle Lasn discovered when he tried to buy 30 seconds of air time, there's another kind of unacceptable ad: one promoting Buy Nothing Day on Nov. 29. CNN, it turns out, will run the ad just before Thanksgiving. No other network will touch it, and Lasn is talking legal action to claim his free speech rights.
Some say that environmentalists are too gloomy. That they invent catastrophes to attract attention and money. Bugs and trees are what they care about, not people. They want to lock up resources. They're elitist city folk who care about nature only as a place to go backpacking. Donella Meadows responds to these myths, "The caricature of environmentalists has never fit the environmentalists I know -- and I know a lot of them. But, bathed in constant repetitions of carefully crafted accusations, even I began to think that there must be people-hating, unscientific, extremist Greenies out there somewhere. And probably there are. Which does not mean that the millions of responsible people who care about the environment should accept that characterization."
"I've been bewailing the short-term, sound-bite, soul-less way in which the U.S. media greeted the turn of the millennium. (You know -- lists of the top ten athletes of the century, ads for the soft drink of the new millennium.) Then in from the Internet came welcome news of intelligent life elsewhere on earth."
Overshadowed by the agony of Kosovo, outshouted by the Dow crossing ten thousand, a surprising news item appeared on page 6 or 15 or so of most American newspapers last week. Social Security has received a stay of execution. Instead of going into the red in 2032, it may survive till 2040 or 2050. Medicare, once expected to tank in 2006, will apparently last till 2012.
Meadows writes: "It's not a combination I would ever have expected to see -- Monsanto and the Grameen Bank. A huge corporation, one-time maker of some of the most pernicious chemicals ever to hit the environment, in partnership with a bank for the poorest of the poor."
Meadows writes: "Well-off people may feel justified in having a conniption because they can't find the right new outfit or they may get drunk because they have to postpone their vacation. But they can't understand how a poor father can lash out in frustration because he can't find a job, or how an abused teenage girl can turn to drugs or sex for solace. If people could understand, they would see how to take action."
Meadows writes, "This country will be out of oil in 30 years. By 2030 we will pump dry much of the groundwater of the Southwest. We don't hear a peep from our leaders about these problems. But they're in a panic over the possibility that 30 years from now Social Security will go broke. Social Security is the least of our problems."
Donella Meadows looks at the federal budget battle and the politicians who measure wealth in monetary terms. "When one side takes a narrow, absolute stand -- wealth is money, period -- and the other side is broad and mushy -- well, yes, wealth is money, but wealth is other things that don't necessarily have prices -- compromise can move only one direction, toward the absolute. The open question in the budget negotiation was how much non-monetary wealth would be lost. The answer turned out to be: not as much as could have been, but still way too much. But here's the question I really want to ask. Why do we hand so much power to the Scroogish world view that measures wealth only in money? How have we managed to arrange things so that a few prideful men, paid by us, meet in luxurious rooms, paid for by us, and fight for their own pitifully cramped values, using our values, our national wealth, our children, our communities, our forests, and the creatures of nature as bargaining chips?"
Will Social Security be there for you? Most young Americans don't believe it will. Even our leaders, normally oblivious to any problem with a longer time horizon than the next election, regularly stir up alarm that in 2025 or 2005 the Social Security system will go bankrupt. What Donella Meadows sees is a problem not of bankruptcy some day, but of duplicity and injustice right now.
"Driving home last night I heard a snatch of radio discussion about whether we're paying the president enough. Someone suggested that we link his salary to the growth rate of the economy. That made me pound the steering wheel. 'No, you idiot!' I yelled at the radio. 'The president doesn't make the economy grow! Even if he did, economic growth is a lousy measure of how well off we are!'"
Meadows writes: "Once again I stopped listening to the news this week. Not because I don't want to hear someone being grilled about his sex life, though I don't. Not because I'm a fan of Mr. Clinton, which I'm not. No, I ducked the news because I felt that something immensely unfair was happening, and I couldn't bring myself to participate."