Meadows writes: "The Kyoto climate conference is over, the holidays are over, it's the morning after. Our government, with other governments, has promised to cut back greenhouse gas emissions. The promises, ours and theirs, are far too weak to stabilize the atmosphere."
Meadows writes: "Maybe it's just that I was a kid, but I remember my public school in a middle-class Midwest town as the center of community life ... I learned to multiply and divide in that school, to play the saxophone, to love books and learning. Surely the way to express my gratitude is to support great schools for the next generation. But for some reason we're not doing that any more."
In the recent past, airlines, phone companies, and health care systems have been deregulated and privatized creating competition, overall lower rates and lower standards. Now, market competition is coming to electricity. As we are bombarded with glorious promises of more choices and lower rates the big players will have the wherewithal to grab the best deals. But, if anything good trickles down to us little guys, it will have to come from guarantees built in as the laws of the new system are written. On this latest utility reform, Donella Meadows writes,"the worst problem in a competitive electric system will be that at least for major users in the short term, it will work. Competition will force downsizing and outsourcing and regulation weakening. Costs will be shifted to workers, the environment, the society, and the future. Price will drop, removing incentive to conserve electricity. Companies will swallow up companies until, as in telecommunications and health care and airlines, competition -- the point of the reform -- will effectively disappear."
"Get out the cut" has been the Forest Service obsession since Ronald Reagan appointed a timber company executive as its head in 1981. Some regional administrators were sickened at the looting of the forest, objected, and were transferred or fired. The Clinton administration made a start in cleaning up the corruption by appointing Jack Ward Thomas, a biologist, to head the Service. Since then Clinton has melted under the heat of logging companies and their friends on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
They are not "elitists," certainly not "anti-American environmentalist wackos." They're too busy living their lives and admiring the spring to pay attention to the resource grab going on in Washington. If they knew, they'd wonder how people ever got so sour-minded and money-obsessed.
"The claim that we need genetic engineering to feed the hungry must be based on two assumptions: first, that more food will actually go to hungry people, and second, that genetic engineering is the only way to raise more food. Both assumptions are false."
Meadows writes: "Recent DNA tests say that Thomas Jefferson fathered a son by his slave mistress, Sally Hemings. As for me, my heart goes out to Tom. I've believed the Sally Hemings story all along. It hasn't stopped me from being an ardent admirer of Jefferson."
Meadows writes: "The courts declared what everyone knew -- the funding of local schools through local property tax creates huge inequities, because we practice residential apartheid. Rich folks tend to congregate in rich towns, poor folks in poor towns with little property, not much tax, not great schools. We like to talk about equal opportunity for all, but we're a long way from providing it."
Meadows writes, "During the long, terrible decades of Russia's communist rule, we systematically exaggerated its strength and resolve. It was, for sure, an awful place. Every time I went there, I would find myself in tears or fury at the way people were treated, the secrecy and fear and ugliness. But all it took was one look around with open eyes, seeing what was there instead of what we had been taught, to understand that the USSR was poor, shabby, physically and politically crumbling."
Donella Meadows writes, "I've stopped listening to what people in power say about labor. I think they knowingly use "jobs" as a code word, meaning 'money for me, but I'm pretending it's money for you.' I suspect that they haven't any idea how to put to use the energy and talents of the people of America so we can produce work we can be proud of, while earning enough to support ourselves and our families."
At stake in Washington as the President and Congress go to the mat is more than the deficit, more than Medicare, more than shut-downs of "non-essential" parts of the government. Large chunks of the nation's natural wealth are also hanging in the balance. So, perhaps, is the disgusting practice of legislative riders.
Picture a city, with skyscrapers, roads, cars, towers, lights all jammed together. Now picture a huge, bare human foot reaching down from the city, stepping on the earth, crushing daisies. That's the image William Rees, professor of planning at the University of British Columbia, instills in the minds of his students. He calls it the Ecological Footprint, the amount of land the city actually uses, considering where its food is grown, where its water and energy and materials come from and where its wastes flow. Rees writes, "Acknowledging that nature has a finite capacity is not pessimistic. Just realistic. It makes room for wise decisions.... Ecological Footprint analysis starts from the premise that humanity must live within global carrying capacity. It also maintains that if we choose wisely it might even be possible to increase our quality of life."
This is time of year when it is decided how your and my tax dollars get spent, supposedly for our public welfare, but far too often for the private welfare of a few powerful people and corporations who are not only raiding the public treasury, but, worse, eating into the nation's environmental and natural wealth.
Meadows writes: "Well here's a howdy-do. TV station in Florida prepares hard-hitting series questioning safety of grocery-store milk. Large biotech company threatens station with libel suit. Station cancels broadcast, orders reporters to rewrite series. Reporters refuse. Station fires reporters. Reporters sue station."
Meadows writes on the turnaround of a destroyed floodplain. "... With the partnership of the city and the utility, that kind of thinking -- let's turn waste into resources -- has been moving steadily down the Intervale, turning it from a dump to a source of beauty, recreation, food and jobs."
Meadows writes, "It's tempting to refuse to dignify the polluted game of modern politics with either our attention or our vote. 'Don't vote, it just encourages them,' some folks say, and more and more of us follow that advice. But I can't bring myself to do it. I rarely get to vote for someone I really admire or something I deeply believe in, but my vote and yours still does make a difference too important to walk away from, especially in the arenas they're not talking about."
There are four question to ask about any new tax proposal. Will it be simple? Will it be fair? Will it raise enough money for the government? Will it be good for the economy? The flat tax promoted by presidential candidate Steve Forbes fails on all four counts. But so does our present tax system. Forbes's contribution is not his specific proposal, but his general call to rethink the tax system entirely. People who are bold enough to do that are coming up with three alternatives -- the flat tax, the VAT (value-added) tax, and what, for purposes of alliteration, we might call the splat tax, to be levied on pollution and resource consumption. Let's look at all three in terms of "the four questions."
Meadows critiques the criticisms of her book The Limits to Growth. "Why do people repeat, decades later, fables about things we never said? The problem can't be plain bad scholarship. There's a bias at work here...The myths live on, because we don't care whether they're true. We WANT them to be true."
"The power brokers of the World Trade Organization are scared, and they should be. If the media makes any serious effort to transmit the views of the myriad demonstrators who will confront the WTO in Seattle, those power brokers will gain no public support."
How could we make our cities more like Oslo, Norway and less like land-gulping, energy-intensive, half-empty St. Louis? There is a long list of things we could do. Eben Fodor, in his new book "Better Not Bigger" (the most useful piece of writing on sprawl control I've seen) organizes them under two categories: taking the foot off the accelerator and applying the brake.
Meadows writes: "The instability of Nigeria, the bankruptcy of Indonesia ... the growing number of endangered species, the fires burning out of control in Indonesia, 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: "Listening to climate change talk in the U.S. and in Europe, I have to wonder whether we're all living on the same planet. Several European governments have detailed plans for cutting their economies' 1990 fossil fuel use (hence emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide) by 15 or 20 percent by the year 2005. Meanwhile the U.S. president has generously offered to get U.S. emissions back down to their 1990 level -- twice as high per capita as the European level -- by the year 2008 or 2010 or maybe 2012."
Meadows writes about case of human suffering induced by government stupidity. The sufferers in this case are Sid and Ruth Lowry of Marshfield, Vermont. The stupidity is in Vermont's fuel assistance program. She writes, "There are plenty of people who want to help other people. In the long run a program based on humanity and creativity would save money. On the neighborly scale of Vermont, just over half a million people, one can imagine it working. With a little less bureaucratic rigidity and a little more funding, it's close to working now. And what about the rest of the country, 260 million people? Well, that's nothing more than 520 groups of half a million each."
Donella Meadows doesn't know how any parent could stand to send his or her child off to a crumbling, dirty school with underpaid teachers and hostile, possibly armed, classmates. She writes, "If it were my kid, rather than do that, I'd exert some "school choice," whether the government sanctioned it or not. That's why the push toward state-supported school choice is so insidious. The 'choice' it gives every parent -- do what's best for society in the long term or for my kid right now -- can only be made one way. My kid right now. But school choice promoters don't realize they're creating that dilemma."Ê This practice an example of the trend of "success to the successful" and it can destroy the educational system, lesson market competition and even hinder the democratic process.
Donella Meadows doesn't think anyone in a corporate office sets out to be counterproductive or destructive. Businessmen don't sit around plotting how to poison rivers or subvert democracy. They don't conspire to locate polluting plants in poor communities, emit greenhouse gases, or whittle down employees' compensation while raising their own to obscene levels. But these things happen so regularly, so massively, that we can't dismiss them as accidents. They're systematic.
"When the Hungarian news announced that fish were mysteriously dying all along the river on their eastern border from a wave of cyanide from an Australian gold mine, the word 'inevitable' leaped out of me. To those on the short end of the stick, globalization really means carelessness, unaccountability, greed and destruction."
"Aha! We knew it!" a number of conservative columnists have been crowing lately. "Greenhouse, schmeenhouse, go right on driving those sports utility vehicles." The cause of their excitement is an article published in Science magazine, one of the most prestigious places a scientific article can be published, claiming that the North American continent is a huge carbon sink.
Meadows writes: "I've known about the Tongass National Forest for years. To anyone who follows environmental news, it's legendary. America's last temperate rainforest. Eagles and wolves and grizzlies. Massive clearcuts, crooked deals with pulp companies. The federal forest that loses more taxpayer money than any other."
Meadows writes: "The idea Bill Drayton began working on 16 years ago seemed far-out then and seems farther out now. The talents required for entrepreneurship, he realized, need not be applied only to business. Entrepreneurship for public gain is even more admirable than for private gain and even more necessary."
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.