Dana knew wot’s wrong with us: nuthin’

polar bears juggling CO2

Hard to believe Donella (Dana) Meadows wrote "Global Citizen" over 15 years ago, but then she authored a column by that name for 16 years (starting in 1985), and she co-wrote "Limits to Growth" 35 years ago, so go figure.

Turns out, her last column focused on our beliefs...especially paralyzing beliefs like "we are helpless."

Three weeks later she was dead of a brain infection. Life is full of such cruel ironies.

Now, as the world waits with baited breath for news of global agreement in Bali, it's still too easy to feel helpless.

So, it may be helpful to re-read Dana's words from that dark February of '01.

"Some biologists are saying the polar bear is doomed.

A friend of mine, in response to this news, did the only appropriate thing. She burst out weeping. "What am I going to tell my three-year-old?" she sobbed.

Any of us still in contact with our hearts and souls should be sobbing with her, especially when we consider that the same toxins that are in the bears are in the three-year-old. And that the three-year-old over her lifetime may witness collapsing ecosystems, north to south, until all creatures are threatened, especially top predators like polar bears and people.

Is there any way to end this column other than in gloom? Can I give my friend, you, myself any honest hope that our world will not fall apart? Does our only possible future consist of watching the disappearance of the polar bear, the whale, the tiger, the elephant, the redwood tree, the coral reef, while fearing for the three-year-old?

Heck, I don't know. 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. Everyone I know wants polar bears and three-year-olds in our world.

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."

I recall reading this column on my KKCR talk show the day after we learned of Dana's death...and crying my eyes out as I tried to get through it.

I still cry for her brilliance and warmth. She knew better than anyone how everything's connected. And I still feel connected to her. RIP.

Published by Ken on December 9th, 2007 tagged Systems Thinking

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