Dana’s Writing

Donella Meadows rose to prominence in the environmental world with the publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972, and from there she went on to a distinguished career as an author and environmental journalist. Between 1972 and her death in 2001, Dana wrote or co-wrote numerous other books, as well as many articles and papers and over seven hundred newspaper columns. Her writings remain valuable resources on topics from systems thinking to community resilience. They are as relevant and inspiring today as they were when first published.

DMI has made it a goal to provide free, easy access to as much of Donella Meadows’ writing as possible. Please use the links below to enjoy our online archive of her writing.

Articles

Dana Meadows wrote a number of articles on topics like sustainability and development, but she is best known for her pieces on systems thinking. Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System and Dancing with Systems are both invaluable resources for systems thinkers and students. They are two of the most-accessed pieces of Dana’s writing in our entire archive. For our complete list of Dana’s articles available online, visit our Articles page.

Books

Donella Meadows is best known for her work on the groundbreaking 1972 study The Limits to Growth. We are excited to provide free access to the study online, complete with its original figures and charts.

In addition to The Limits to Growth, Donella Meadows authored or co-authored many other influential books about global limits, sustainability, education, and modeling. While these works are not available digitally at this time, we encourage you to visit the publishers’ websites for more information or your local library to find a copy.

Titles written or co-written by Donella Meadows:

Global Citizens Columns

Between 1986 and her death in 2001, Donella Meadows wrote a weekly column, “The Global Citizen.” These columns–well over 700 of them!–were syndicated by 20 newspapers nationwide, published in other independent journals, and even eventually collected into a book. Each of them addressed a different issue of political, environmental, or social importance, from the need for campaign reform to the Endangered Species Act, the Gross Domestic Product to the ubiquity of advertising. In each, Donella Meadows never flinched from the difficult topic at hand, but she addressed them with a sense of hope, caring, and compassion. As Hannah Jacobs, one of Dana’s students, remarked, “I grew up with the words of Dana Meadows. Published faithfully each week in the Keene Sentinel, the newspaper of the town where I went to school, her writing was a source of hope and inspiration to the community.”

Thousands of others reading Dana’s columns across the world experienced that same sense of inspiration. It can be summed up well with Dana’s own words, from the final Global Citizens column she wrote before her death:

There’s only one thing I do know. If we believe that it’s effectively over, that we are fatally flawed, that the most greedy and short-sighted among us will always be permitted to rule, that we can never constrain our consumption and destruction, that each of us is too small and helpless to do anything, that we should just give up and enjoy our SUVs while they last, well, then yes, it’s over. That’s the one way of believing and behaving that gives us a guaranteed outcome.

Personally I don’t believe that stuff at all. I don’t see myself or the people around me as fatally flawed…We are not helpless and there is nothing wrong with us except the strange belief that we are helpless and there’s something wrong with us. All we need to do, for the bear and ourselves, is to stop letting that belief paralyze our minds, hearts, and souls.

We have placed all of Dana’s Global Citizens columns under a Creative Commons license. We encourage you to read, enjoy, and share these pieces with others.

Read Dana’s Global Citizen columns.

Dear Folks Letters

Donella Meadows thought deeply about the limits to growth and lived her life within them. She shared that aspect of her life with friends through her monthly newsletter. One of those friends, Fran Korten, wrote:

“Each letter, addressed simply ‘Dear Folks,’ started with the immediate moment…

‘Heavy snow is falling, sticking to the branches.’
‘I’m in a dorm room at the Budapest University of Economics.’
‘Today the front yard is full of yellow daffodils and blue scylla.’

She described the activities of the organic farm and its residents — young lambs careening in gangs around the barnyard, ducks that refused to leave the freezing creek where coyotes lurked to nab them, Stephen and Kerry’s acreage that served a Community Supported Agriculture group, the yummy smells and tastes of home grown food.

About five years before her death, hints of a new dream crept into her letters — the dream of expanding the farm to become an intentional community of some 20 families working for sustainability and practicing it in their daily lives. The story unfolded in subsequent letters as others joined to create the Cobb Hill community and its accompanying Sustainability Institute, now DMI. Dana told of discouraging searches for a suitable site, the breathless wait for the bank loan approval, the arguments about whether the homes would have composting toilets, the endless permitting processes. She vividly conveyed the joy and the struggle of creating a sustainable way of living.

Dana’s letters would then move to her life beyond the local community. She exuded appreciation of the students in her environmental courses at Dartmouth who were ready to ask the really big questions. She told of her excitement to help with the formation of the Center for a New American Dream. Each August and September her letters were full of the inspiration she gained from the annual meeting of the Balaton Group, a global network of sustainability systems analysts that she and Dennis organized. The narrative of her letters revealed the incredible array of avenues through which she inspired the lives of young and old and created lasting institutions to help us all live within the limits of our ecosystem…

In her writings and her life, Dana never flinched from the reality of the limits to growth. Her special gift was to show us that learning to live within those limits is not a burdensome sacrifice, but rather a joyous adventure.”

Read Dana’s Dear Folks letters.

Other

Below are additional resources that Dana helped shape with her thinking and writing. Click on the titles for more information on each.

Limits to Growth – CD
Dana worked on this CD with the other Limits to Growth authors. It includes the scenarios presented in the books and allows students to change the parameters and create new graphs.)

Macrocosm U.S.A.: Possibilities for a New Progressive Era
Dana wrote the preface for this compendium of articles and news excerpts.

Pond and Brook: A Guide to Nature in Freshwater Environments
Dana is a contributor to this ecology field guide by Michael Caduto.

Bibliography

Information about Dana’s many books, chapters, and articles is listed in her bibliography.

About DMI

Since its founding in 1996 by environmental leader Donella Meadows, our Institute has been at the forefront of sustainability thinking and training. Our initiatives have addressed economic, environmental, and social challenges from a range of angles and at many levels. In everything we do, the disciplines of systems thinking and organizational learning inform and shape our work. It is this focus on whole-system analysis, combined with careful listening, truth telling, and visioning, that make the Donella Meadows Institute unique among sustainability organizations.  Read More

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