Volume 14 - Number 1 - April 2001
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Donella Meadows, Lead Author of The Limits to Growth, Has Died
Donella H. Meadows, 59, a pioneering environmental scientist and writer, died February 20th in New Hampshire after a brief illness. She was best known to the world as the lead author of the international bestselling book The Limits to Growth, published in 1972. The book, which reported on a study of long-term global trends in population, economics, and the environment, sold millions of copies and was translated into 28 languages. She was also the lead author of the twenty-year follow-up study, Beyond the Limits (1992), with original co-authors Dennis Meadows and Jřrgen Randers.
Professor Meadows, known as "Dana" to friends and colleagues, was a leading voice in what has become known as the "sustainability movement," an international effort to reverse damaging trends in the environment, economy, and social systems. Her work is widely recognized as a formative influence on hundreds of other academic studies, government policy initiatives, and international agreements.
Dana Meadows was also a devoted teacher of environmental systems, ethics, and journalism to her students at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where she taught for 29 years. In addition to her many original contributions to systems theory and global trend analysis, she managed a small farm and was a vibrant member of her local community. Genuinely unconcerned with her international fame, she often referred to herself simply as "a farmer and a writer."
Donella Meadows was born March 13, 1941 in Elgin, Illinois, and educated in science, earning a B.A. in chemistry from Carleton College in 1963 and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University in 1968. As a research fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was a protégé of Jay Forrester, the inventor of system dynamics as well as the principle of magnetic data storage for computers.
In 1972 she was on the MIT team that produced the global computer model "World3" for the Club of Rome and provided the basis for The Limits to Growth. The book made headlines around the world, and began a debate about the limits of the Earth's capacity to support human economic expansion that continues to this day. Her writing - appearing most often in the form of a weekly column called "The Global Citizen," nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 -- has been published regularly in the international press since that time.
In 1981, together with her former husband Dennis Meadows, she founded the International Network of Resource Information Centers (INRIC), also called the Balaton Group (after the lake in Hungary where the group meets annually). The group built early and critical avenues of exchange between scientists on both sides of the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War.
As the Balaton Group's coordinator for eighteen years, she facilitated what grew to become an unusually effective process of information sharing and collaboration among hundreds of leading academics, researchers, and activists in the sustainability movement. Professor Meadows also served on many national and international boards and scientific committees, and taught and lectured all over the world. She was recognized as a 1991 Pew Scholar and as a 1994 MacArthur Fellow for her work. In 1992 the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) presented her with an honorary doctorate.
In 1997, Professor Meadows founded the Sustainability Institute, which she described as a "think-do-tank." The Institute combines cutting edge research in global systems with practical demonstrations of sustainable living, including the development of an ecological village and organic farm in Hartland Four Corners, Vermont.
Donella Meadows is survived by her mother, Phoebe Quist of Tahlequah, Oklahoma; her father, Don Hager of the Chicago area; a brother, Jason Hager, of Wisconsin; cousins and nephews; and a large community of colleagues and friends, both international and local, in the organizations that she founded and assisted.
Obituary prepared by members of the Balaton Group (INRIC) For further information contact:
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Roberta L. Spencer, Executive Director
System Dynamics Society
Milne 300 - Rockefeller College
University at Albany – SUNY
Albany, New York 12222 USA
Phone: (518) 442-3865 Fax: (518) 442-3398