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Women Environmental Leaders

Donella H. Meadows

1941 - 2001

Donella (Dana) Meadows was a systems analyst, journalist, college professor, international coordinator of resource management institutions, and farmer. She was trained as a scientist, earning a B.A. in chemistry from Carleton College in 1963 and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University in 1968.

In 1972 Donella Meadows was on the team at MIT that produced the global computer model "World3" for the Club of Rome. She was the principal author of the book The Limits to Growth (1972, Universe Books), which described that model, and which sold millions of copies in 28 languages. She was also co-author of two technical books about the global model: Toward Global Equilibrium and The Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World (1973 and 1974, both MIT Press).

She then became involved in numerous studies of social, environmental, energy, and agriculture systems. She chronicled the emerging field of global modeling in her 1981 book Groping in the Dark: the First Decade of Global Modeling (John Wiley). In a later book she criticized the state-of-the-art of social system modeling using nine case studies (The Electronic Oracle: Computer Models and Social Decisions, also John Wiley, 1983).

In 1985, Donella Meadows began a weekly newspaper column "The Global Citizen," commenting on world events from a systems point of view. The column was awarded second place in the 1985 Champion-Tuck national competition for outstanding journalism in the fields of business and economics. It also received the Walter C. Paine Science Education Award in 1990 and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. The column wasself-syndicated and appeared in more than 20 papers. Selected columns have been published as a book, also called The Global Citizen (Island Press, 1991).

Dana Meadows started teaching at Dartmouth College in 1972 in the interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Program and in the graduate program of the Resource Policy Center. In 1983 she resigned her tenured professorship to devote more time to international activities and writing. She retained an Adjunct Professorship at Dartmouth and where she continued to teach environmental journalism.

With Dennis Meadows she founded and coordinated INRIC, the International Network of Resource Information Centers (also called the Balaton Group). INRIC is a coalition of systems-oriented analysts and activists in 50 nations, all of whom work to promote sustainable, high-productivity resource management. Through INRIC Donella Meadows developed training games and workshops on resource management, which she presented in Hungary, Kenya, Costa Rica, Portugal, Singapore, Germany, and the United States. Each year she would help organize a conference in Hungary at which Balaton Group members exchange information and plan joint projects.

During 1988-90 she worked with television producers at WGBH-TV in Boston to develop the ten-part PBS series "Race to Save the Planet." She wass writing a college textbook to accompany the programs as part of an Annenberg/CPB telecourse. The book is tentatively titled A Sustainable World: an Introduction to Environmental Systems. It will be published by John Wiley.

Donella Meadows has served on the Board of Directors of the Hunger Project, the Winrock International Livestock Research Center, the Trust for New Hampshire Lands, the Upper Valley Land Trust and the Center for a New American Dream, (the last two of which she helped found). She has been a consultant to the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress, a member of the Committee for Population, Resources, and the Environment of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society. She has been a visiting scholar at the East-West Center in Honolulu, the Resource Policy Group in Oslo, Norway, the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, and the Environmental Systems Analysis Group of the University of Kassel in Germany.

In 1991 Donella Meadows was selected as one of ten Pew Scholars in Conservation and the Environment. Her three-year award supported her international work in resource management with a systems point of view. Also, in 1991 Donella Meadows collaborated with her previous co-authors Dennis Meadows and J°rgen Randers on a twenty-year update to The Limits to Growth, called Beyond the Limits (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1992), which has been translated, at last count, into fifteen languages.

In 1994 Dana was awarded a five-year MacArthur Fellowship by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

She lived for 27 years on a small, communal, organic farm in New Hampshire, where she worked at sustainable resource management directly. She was organizing a larger organic farm, eco-village and research institute (the Sustainability Institute) in Hartland Four Corners, Vermont, where she was working on a research project on the sustainability, equity, and stability of commodity systems.


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