Donella Meadows Obituary

Karl Davies karl at
Fri Feb 23 21:23:47 EST 2001

Obituary [Wednesday, February 21, 2001]

Donella Meadows, Lead Author of The Limits to Growth, Has Died

Donella H. Meadows, 59, a pioneering environmental scientist and writer,
died Tuesday in New Hampshire after a brief illness.  She was best known
to the world as the lead author of the international bestselling book
The Limits to Growth, published in 1972.  The book, which reported on a
study of long-term global trends in population, economics, and the
environment, sold millions of copies and was translated into 28
languages.  She was also the lead author of the twenty-year follow-up
study, Beyond the Limits (1992), with original co-authors Dennis Meadows
and Jørgen Randers.

Professor Meadows, known as "Dana" to friends and colleagues, was a
leading voice in what has become known as the "sustainability movement,"
an international effort to reverse damaging trends in the environment,
economy, and social systems.  Her work is widely recognized as a
formative influence on hundreds of other academic studies, government
policy initiatives, and international agreements.

Dana Meadows was also a devoted teacher of environmental systems,
ethics, and journalism to her students at Dartmouth College in Hanover,
New Hampshire, where she taught for 29 years.  In addition to her many
original contributions to systems theory and global trend analysis, she
managed a small farm and was a vibrant member of her local community.
Genuinely unconcerned with her international fame, she often referred to
herself simply as "a farmer and a writer."

Donella Meadows was born March 13, 1941 in Elgin, Illinois, and educated
in science, earning a B.A. in chemistry from Carleton College in 1963
and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University in 1968.  As a
research fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was a
protégé of Jay Forrester, the inventor of system dynamics as well as the
principle of magnetic data storage for computers.

In 1972 she was on the MIT team that produced the global computer model
"World3" for the Club of Rome and provided the basis for The Limits to
Growth.  The book made headlines around the world, and began a debate
about the limits of the Earth's capacity to support human economic
expansion, a debate that continues to this day.  Her writing - appearing
most often in the form of a weekly column called "The Global Citizen,"
nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 -- has been published regularly
in the international press since that time.

In 1981, together with her former husband Dennis Meadows, Donella
Meadows founded the International Network of Resource Information
Centers (INRIC), also called the Balaton Group (after the lake in
Hungary where the group meets annually).  The group built early and
critical avenues of exchange between scientists on both sides of the
Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War.

As the Balaton Group's coordinator for eighteen years, she facilitated
what grew to become an unusually effective global process of information
sharing and collaboration among hundreds of leading academics,
researchers, and activists in the broader sustainability movement.
Professor Meadows also served on many national and international boards
and scientific committees, and taught and lectured all over the world.
She was recognized as a 1991 Pew Scholar and as a 1994 MacArthur Fellow
for her work. In 1992 the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)
presented her with an honorary doctorate.

In 1997, Professor Meadows founded the Sustainability Institute, which
she described as a "think-do-tank." The Institute combines cutting edge
research in global systems with practical demonstrations of sustainable
living, including the development of an ecological village and organic
farm in Hartland Four Corners, Vermont.

Donella Meadows is survived by her mother, Phoebe Quist of Tahlequah
Oklahoma; her father, Don Hager of the Chicago area; a brother, Jason
Hager, of Wisconsin; cousins and nephews; and a large community of
colleagues and friends, both international and local, in the
organizations that she founded and assisted.

Obituary prepared by members of the Balaton Group (INRIC)


Thomas Jefferson and Donella Meadows, Slave-Owners [Excerpt]
By Donella Meadows
November 12, 1998

If you were a Virginia planter back then, you had slaves. Though you
despised the very idea, it was an idea that ran the economy. To refuse
to go along with it would have meant losing your livelihood, your farm,
your society, your culture.

I am as passionate a gardener as TJ, and I also have slaves. They are
not people, they are a tiller, a tractor, a chainsaw, a farm truck. I
also fly on planes, I drive a car, I heat my house partially with oil.
If I'm an average American, I consume in fossil fuel the energy
equivalent of 80 full-time slaves.

At the same time I believe with all my heart that emitting greenhouse
gases, exuding toxins, and driving species to extinction is immoral. I
could say as passionately as Jefferson, "Indeed, I tremble for my
planet, when I reflect that Nature is inflexible: that her response to
our abuse cannot sleep forever." I'm sure that future generations,
coping with the messes we are making, will look back at us with
revulsion and ask, "how could they LIVE that way?"

Like Jefferson, I do my best to mitigate my sins, to use my energy
slaves kindly and efficiently, to reduce my load on the groaning earth.
But to do that entirely would be to lose my livelihood, my farm, my
society, my whole culture

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