dana meadows

dana meadows.png

prof environmental studies, dartmoth (1941-2001)

intro’d to Dana here via Sandy:

Sustainable Systems (Part 1 of 4)

  1. every renewable resource must be used at or below the rate at which it can regenerate itself
  2. every non-renewable resource must be used at or below the rate at which a renewable substitute can be developed
  3. every pollution stream must be emitted (?) at or below the rate at which it can be absorbed or made harmless
  4. to be socially sustainable capital stocks and resources must be equitably distributed and sufficient to provide a good life for everyone

a system producing a result that no one wants… yet we are all producing this.. 

13 min – we are in a system that is causing us to live in unsustainable ways… why…? 

what is a system: a set of interrelated elements organized to serve a particular function or to seek a particular goal

elements we can measure… et al.. the relationships are what hold it together.. what we keep trying to make the system do – is growth

systems thinking insight:

1. we all produce the results in the system that we don’t want, out of rational response.. system behavior comes out of the relationships.. not elements of actors within it.. we rarely blame people for things.. we blame systems

2. interrelationships – the parts are interchangeable..

21 min – to a systems person – crazy to think of trade offs.. because everything is so interconnected

a system undermining its own sustainability


re intro’d to Dana (and intro’d to her book: thinking in systems) while reading Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth:


donella meadows: ‘lets’ face it, the universe is messy. it is nonlinear, turbulent and chaotic. it is dynamic. it spends its time in transient behaviour on its way to somewhere else,  not in mathematically neat equilibria. it self orgs and evolves. it creates diversity, not uniformity. that’s what makes the world interesting, that’s what makes it beautiful and that’s what makes it work.. t

organism as fractal



donella meadows: learn to find the ‘leverage points’.. those place in a complex system where making a small change in one thing can lead to a big chance in everything.. she believed that most economists spend too much time tweaking low leverage points, such as adjusting prices (which merely alters the rate of flow).. when they could have far greater leverage thru rebalancing the economy’s feedback loops, or eve by changing its goal (ie: gdp)..

imagine if we let go of money/measuring.. image the leverage there.. if we focus on simply 2 things .. the big (ginormous/small) change would/could be 7 bn alive people.. let’s rebalance that feedback loop


donella: don’t be an unthinking intervenor and destroy the system’s own self maintenance capacities.. before you charge in to make things better, pay attention to the value of what’s already there..t


what’s already in 7bn of us.. ie: the need/desire for a and a – let’s facil that via (again what’s already in us): cure ios city

meadows was a skilled economic gardener in this sense, having spent much of her life watching the dance of social ecological systems in action and observing the value of what was already there…  she noted, effective systems tend to have three properties: healthy hierarchy, self org and resilience..  and so should be stewarded to enable these characteristics to emerge

so.. let’s do this first.. via 2 convos that io dance.. as the day

self org

first, healthy hierarchy is achieved when nested system serve the greater whole of which they are a part.. liver cells server the liver, which in turns serves the human body; if those cells start to multiplying rapidly , the become a cancer, no longer serving but destroying the body on which they depend..

indeed.. one ness.. where authenticity is huge to rna not turning into cancer and the death of us

in economic terms, healthy hierarchy means, for ie, ensuring that the financial sector is in service to the productive economy, which in turn is in service to life..t


financial ness.. is already a mis copied rna.. already cancer..

this is not organism as fractal

there is no commons.. no common ing.. if we’re measuring transactions..  no community if we have a market place.. thru price et al..


A Philosophical Look at System Dynamics


explaining this is like trying to explain parts of your eye.. that you don’t see.. but you see thru

1 min – systems dynamics.. dynamics.. how things change over time.. rather than at one point in time

2 min – systems interested in whole rather than elements in

4 aspects of how system dynamics does that

1\ causal linkages

2\ feedback loops

3\ rates and levels

4\ structural/behavioral relationships

3 min – 1\ causal linkages

18 min – 2\ feedback loops – i see feedback loops everywhere..  we expect world to be closed.. the image of world we carry around.. not necessarily input output.. you hear it a lot..

19  min – the ultimate feedback loop (state of system—> action/decision).. this is policy.. ie: i’m going to build roads and it’s going to decrease highway congestion.. also an invisible part.. taken on basis of what state of system is.. and that completes the feedback loop.. visible on upper link.. invisible info on lower link

37 min – 3\ rates and levels

level (system state): what people look at to make decisions

rate (action/decision): the decision itself..

48 min – 4\ structural/behavioral relationships

51 min – if system expo growing.. i look for + feedback loop that reinforces itself.. and if system stagnate.. i look for – feedback loop


find/follow Dana’s work:


wikipedia small

Donella H. “Dana” Meadows (March 13, 1941 – February 20, 2001) was a pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher, and writer. She is best known as lead author of the influential book The Limits to Growth and Thinking in Systems: a Primer.