Tribute to Dana Meadows

Published: April 22nd, 2001

By John M. Richardson Jr.

~Professor of International Development, American University~

Global modelling has been described as a science, struggling with problems too large for the participants, but too important to ignore. Global modelers, however, were often seen as a fractious bunch of academics, more preoccupied with making each other wrong than addressing the threats faced by a vulerable human species, living on a finite planet. Through collaborating on Groping in the Dark: The First Decade of Global Modeling, Dana, Gerhardt Bruckmann and I came to feel that, fundamentally, global modelers were all speaking the same message – and not a new one.

How we expressed what we felt was Dana’s favorate passage in our book:

A final word about the globe

The most basic message of the global models is not new and should not be surprising.

We do not need a computer model to tell us that:

    • we must not destroy the system upon which our sustenance depends.
    • poverty is wrong and preventable.
    • the exploitation of one person or nation by another degrades both the exploited and the exploiter.
    • it is better for individuals and nations to cooperate than to fight.
    • the love we have for all humankind and for future generations should be the same as our love for those close to us.

if we do not embrace these principles and live by them, our system cannot survive.

our future is in our hands and will be no better or worse than we make it.

These messages have been around for centuries.
They reemerge periodically in different forms
and now in the outputs of global models.

Anything that persists for so long and comes from such diverse sources as gurus and input-output matrices must be coming very close to


We all know the truth
at some deep level
within ourselves.

We have only to look honestly and deeply
to find it.

And yet we don’t live as if we knew it.

Some of us actively deny messages like the ones from the global models.
Others try very hard not to think about them.

Most of us

feel helpless
shrug our shoulders
wish things were otherwise
assume that we can do nothing and go on living.

Meanwhile, on this planet,

twenty-eight people starve to death each minute
one species of life disappears forever every day
and one million dollars are spent each minute on armaments.

The current condition of our globe is intolerable
and we make it so.

It is changing
because of what we decide.

It could be beautiful.

If we would only

decide to get along together
be open to each other and to new ways of thinking
remember what is really important to us
and what is less so
and live our lives for that which is important.

As sophisticated, skeptical, scientific Westerners
We always react to statements like that by saying

It sounds too simple
And is in fact impossible.
How could we ever decide to get along together?

You don’t just decide things like that.
And how could we get everyone else to decide it?

(It couldn’t be possible that everyone else is just like us and is saying that same thing)

When everyone is so sophisticated
that they can’t believe it could be simple to be honest and to care

And everyone is so smart
that they know they don’t count
so they never try

You get the kind of world we’ve got.

Maybe it’s worth thinking another way

as if we cared and we made a difference,

Even if it is just groping in the dark

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About The Donella Meadows Project

The mission of the Donella Meadows Project is to preserve Donella (Dana) H. Meadows’s legacy as an inspiring leader, scholar, writer, and teacher; to manage the intellectual property rights related to Dana’s published work; to provide and maintain a comprehensive and easily accessible archive of her work online, including articles, columns, and letters; to develop new resources and programs that apply her ideas to current issues and make them available to an ever-larger network of students, practitioners, and leaders in social change.  Read More

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