On Earth Day 2001, Hunter Lovins wrote the following memorial to Dana Meadows, a true hero of the planet. Dana Meadow’s writings can be found at the Sustainability Institute website.
Donella (Dana) Meadows
(March 13, 1941 – February 20, 2001)
On this Earth Day, as we gather to celebrate our love of our home, let me share with you the celebration of someone I always just thought of as a friend of mine. At this time, in gatherings all over the world, people are coming together to remember Dana Meadows.
Dana died recently, suddenly. Bacterial meningitis. She was 59 years old. To me it was a crushing loss.
I no longer remember when I first met Dana. 20 years ago, 30…. Somewhere on the road, some conference, some speaking gig. It just seemed she’d always been there, always been my friend. Hers was the quiet voice of reason, of impeccably documented science, proving that the time is very short for us to learn of the limits and to put into practice what we already know about how to live within them.
On the first Earth Day, I planted a tree. My life was never the same. It began my lifework of solving the sorts of challenges raised on that first Earth Day, challenges that have become ever more pressing.
It was two years later that Dana released her earth-nurturing book, Limits to Growth, along with Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers. And none of our lives have been the same since. Hers was the first definitive word that there are limits, and that the job for us all is to find the fulfillment of our lives within them.
Her critics practiced the big lie: they simply dismissed the book, and continue to today. It must be a frustration to them that the book sold nine million copies world wide in 28 languages. As Alan AtKisson says, “Unfortunately, Dana has yet to be proven wrong.”
Have you read it? Well, don’t. Fast forward 20 years and read her sequel, Beyond the Limits. Do this as one of the finest ways to honor Dana. And then live your life in a way that shows that you understand what you have read. It’s one of those books that is simply a part of being ecologically literate. For those of you who still won’t read it, at least read the executive summary that her publisher, Chelsea Green Publishing Company of Vermont put out. Having found that the publisher allowed that summary to go out of print, we scanned it into our website: www.natcapsolutions.org.
In the book you will read the scientist, Dr. Donnella Meadows, the biophysicist, the MacArthur Scholar, the Pew Scholar, one of the creators of the systems dynamics computer model that enabled the book to confidently portray its scenarios. In the summary, and in her collected works as a journalist, her column, The Global Citizen, you’ll find my friend, the person that Dana became over 20 years of battling her critics, the passionate, compassionate, speaker of plain truth.
Dana gave constantly in so many little ways to those of us who knew her and loved her. Once at a meeting I was challenging Dana, asking how one can achieve change. Just out of the blue she spoke out a hierarchy of Places to Intervene in a System. And after we badgered her enough, she finally wrote it down, and it remains one of the best short guides for an activist. She pointed out that while it is important to argue over details, numbers and parameters, it is dramatically more important to change the mindset of the people who make the rules. And to have the capacity to step outside of your own.
Dana also gave another monumental gift to the world. She was one of the founders of the Balaton Network. Remember the Cold War? Remember then-President Reagan going on a live mike and saying that we launch the bombers at the Soviet Union in five minutes? Those of you too young to remember the cold sweat of fear that a nuclear war could end all life as we know it on this tiny planet are lucky. In those dark days there was no conversation between people in this country and the people, just like us, in the Soviet Union. Perhaps we owe what we have now to Dana and Dennis Meadows, who created the Balaton Network.
It met (and still meets) each year in the fall on the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary,or elsewhere in Europe, because at that time folk from the East couldn’t get out to the West. Going there was difficult. Dennis reckoned that every trip took a year off his life, from the pollution and the pesticide-laden food. But it was a yearly pilgrimage that Dana would not have missed. At first it was just systems dynamics experts from the Eastern Bloc and from the United States, who met, supposedly to exchange esoteric computer information. What they actually talked about was fear, and love, and how to create, in the words of Kate Wolf (another friend who died far too young) “a vision that all living things can share.”
And the scientists from the East went home and said to their governments that the military paranoia was wrong, that in the West were people like Dana, who would never destroy them. And that war was unnecessary.
It was through such a contact that I made at a Balaton meeting that former RMI staffer Hal Harvey, who went on to run the Energy Foundation, then the Environment Program at the Hewlett Foundation, and now Climate Works, was able to deliver to Gorbachev the ideas of unilateral disarmament that contributed to the remarkable ending of the Cold War at Reykjav√≠k.
Sometimes we just don’t realize on what a fine thread our future hangs, and how the work of just a few people can make an enormous difference. Dana was one of those people.
Today the Balaton network is the finest network of individuals throughout the world working on the issues of sustainability. When that Australian company spilled cyanide into the rivers of Rumania, and ultimately into many of Europe’s rivers, those of us on the Balaton network knew of it within a day, and began to mobilize the world wide network of experts in bioremediation.
Members of the network are translating Dana’s work into a rainbow of languages, a lasting tribute to the vision of a gentle Vermont farmer, and of everyone who realizes, as Wendell Berry says, that “what I stand for is what I stand on.”
For Dana belonged to the world, but her heart belonged to the soil of her Vermont/New Hampshire border country.
Most times I’d call Dana and ask her to come to some meeting, she would just say, “No, to travel like that would exceed my carbon budget.” So she would stay home and write, or help her ewes give birth, or struggle with how to design her new Sustainability Institute.
And how can we possibly go on without her?
“When I was struggling to find that courage, my friend and co-author Walter Link observed: “Wouldn’t it be an implausible failing of evolution that a species like ours could come to be, that it would evolve to have a consciousness that can grow, that can spend a lifetime learning, as Dana did, how to be effective, and then have the individuals of that species die in such a way that all that is lost to the universe?”
Pavla Polechova a member of the Balaton network wrote to Dana, speaking of how much the people in Eastern Europe needed Dana to say all that needed to be said.
Dana wrote back:
You need to pull out of yourselves whatever it is that you admire or rely on in me.
It’s in you too! And in every person in your audience! It’s all over the universe!
The only trick is to keep ourselves in touch with it!
Farewell, my friend. You are now part of that universe that you told us to access. I’ll try to be in touch.