Donella Meadows

Donella H. "Dana" Meadows[1] (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.[2]

Donella Meadows
Born(1941-03-13)March 13, 1941
DiedFebruary 20, 2001(2001-02-20) (aged 59)
ResidencePlainfield, New Hampshire and Cobb Hill, Hartland, Vermont
NationalityUnited States
Alma materHarvard University Ph.D, 1968
Carleton College B.A., 1963
Known forThe Limits to Growth
Twelve leverage points
AwardsMacArthur Fellowship (1994)
Walter C. Paine Science Education Award (1990)
Scientific career
FieldsEnvironmental science, Systems science
InstitutionsDartmouth, MIT


Born in Elgin, Illinois, Meadows was educated in science, receiving a B.A. in chemistry from Carleton College in 1963 and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard in 1968. After a yearlong trip from England to Sri Lanka and back, she became a research fellow at MIT, as a member of a team in the department created by Jay Forrester, the inventor of system dynamics as well as the principle of magnetic data storage for computers. She taught at Dartmouth College for 29 years, beginning in 1972.[3] She died of cerebral meningitis in 2001, at the age of 59[4].

Meadows was honored both as a Pew Scholar in Conservation and Environment (1991) and as a MacArthur Fellow (1994).[3] She received the Walter C. Paine Science Education Award in 1990. Posthumously, she received the John H. Chafee Excellence in Environmental Affairs Award for 2001, presented by the Conservation Law Foundation.

Meadows wrote "The Global Citizen,"[3] a weekly column on world events from a systems point of view. Many of these columns were compiled and published as a book by the same name.[5] Her work is recognized as a formative influence on hundreds of other academic studies, government policy initiatives, and international agreements.

Meadows was a longtime member of the United States Association for the Club of Rome, which instituted an award in her memory, the US Association for the Club of Rome Donella Meadows Award in Sustainable Global Actions. The award is given to an outstanding individual who has created actions in a global framework toward the sustainability goals Meadows expressed in her writings.


As a result of Donella Meadows's leadership, she became a role model and voice for the sustainability movement through her internationally best-selling books and articles. The Academy for Systems Change is a non-profit organization that maintains a freely accessible archive of Donella's work online. You can find links to her books, articles and photos here: Donella Meadows Project

The Limits to Growth

In 1972, she was on the MIT team that produced the global computer model "World3" for the Club of Rome, providing the basis for The Limits to Growth. The book reported a study of long-term global trends in population, economics, and the environment. The book made headlines around the world and began a debate about the limits of Earth's capacity to support human economic expansion—a debate that continues to this day.[6] Meadows was the book's lead author, and it had three coauthors: her husband Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III.

The Balaton Group

In 1982, Donella and Dennis Meadows created an international "network of networks" for leading researchers on resource use, environmental conservation, systems modeling, and sustainability. Since its foundation, the members have met at Lake Balaton, Hungary, every autumn. While the formal name for the network was the International Network of Resource Information Centres (INRIC), it became more popularly known as the Balaton Group,[7] after the location of its meetings.

The Academy for Systems Change, previously known as the Sustainability Institute

Meadows founded the Sustainability Institute in 1996, which combined research in global systems with practical demonstrations of sustainable living, including the development of a cohousing (or ecovillage) and organic farm at Cobb Hill in Hartland, Vermont. In 2011, the Sustainability Institute, originally adjacent to Cobb Hill, was renamed the Donella Meadows Institute and moved to Norwich, Vermont. Additional organizations that sprang from the Sustainability Institute include Sustainable Food Lab, Climate Interactive, and Sustainability Leaders Network. In 2016, the Donella Meadows Institute was renamed for a second time, and now operates as the Academy for Systems Change:

State of the Village report

In 1990, Meadows published the State of the Village report under the title, "Who lives in the 'Global Village'?"[8] which likened the world to a village of 1,000 people. Since then, "If the world were a village of 100 people", derived from her work but further reducing the numbers to those of a village of 100 people, has been published by others in English, Spanish, and Japanese.

Twelve leverage points

Meadows published Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System, one of her best-known essays, in 1999.[9] It describes the most and least effective types of interventions in a system (of any kind).

See also


  1. Diana Wright (Editor) in: Meadows, Donella H. 2008, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont, pages XI and 211 ISBN 978-1-60358-055-7.
  2. Mikulecky, Don (2011-11-04). "Book Review: "Thinking in Systems: A Primer" by Donella H. Meadows". Daily Kos. Retrieved 2015-10-25.
  3. Meadows, Donella H. 2008, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont, p. 213 (About the Author), ISBN 978-1-60358-055-7.
  4. Donella Meadows – A Tribute. Leon Kolankiewicz. July 1st, 2001.
  5. The Global Citizen Donella H. Meadows, 1991; 300 pp. Island Press
  6. "To Grow or not to Grow", Newsweek, March 13, 1972, pages 102-103
  7. "Balaton Group History". 2010-02-05. Archived from the original on February 5, 2010. Retrieved 2015-10-25.
  8. Meadows, Donnella. (1990, May 31). "Who lives in the 'Global Village'?" The Global Citizen
  9. Meadows, Donella (1999). "Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System" (PDF). The Sustainability Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 8, 2013. Retrieved 2015-10-25.

Further reading

  • Donella H. Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis L. Meadows Limits to Growth-The 30 year Update, 2004, hardcover ISBN 1-931498-51-2
  • Dennis L. Meadows, Donella H. Meadows, Eds. Toward Global Equilibrium: Collected Papers, Pegasus Communications, 1973, hardcover ISBN 0-262-13143-9
  • Donella H. Meadows and J. M. Robinson, The Electronic Oracle: Computer Models and Social Decisions, John Wiley & Sons, 1985, hardcover, 462 pages, ISBN 0-471-90558-5
  • Donella H. Meadows, Global Citizen, Island Press, 1991, paperback 197 pages, ISBN 1-55963-058-2
  • Donella H. Meadows, et al. Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind, New American Library, 1977, paperback, ISBN 0-451-13695-0; Universe Books, paperback, 1972, 0–87663–165–0 (scarce); ISBN Universe Books, hardcover, 1972, ISBN 0-87663-222-3 (scarce); digital edition of 1972 printing, produced by the Dartmouth College Library.
  • Donella H. Meadows et al. Beyond the limits : global collapse or a sustainable future, Earthscan Publications, 1992, ISBN 1-85383-130-1
  • Donella H. Meadows (2008) Thinking in Systemss: A Primer, Chelsea Green Publishing ISBN 978-1-60358-055-7.
  • Dennis L. Meadows, Donella H. Meadows and Jorgen Randers, Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future, Chelsea Green Publishing, 1993, paperback, 320 pages, ISBN 0-930031-62-8
  • Donella H. Meadows, John M. Richardson and Gerhart Bruckmann, Groping in the Dark: The First Decade of Global Modelling, John Wiley & Sons, 1982, paperback, ISBN 0-471-10027-7
  • edited by Sandi Brockway, foreword by Marilyn Ferguson, introduction by Denis Hayes, preface by Donella H. Meadows, Macrocosm U. S. A.: Possibilities for a New Progressive Era..., Macrocosm, 1993, paperback, 464 pages, ISBN 0-9632315-5-3
  • Michael J. Caduto, foreword by Donella H. Meadows, illustrated by Joan Thomson, Pond and Brook: A Guide to Nature in Freshwater Environments, University Press of New England, 1990, paperback, 288 pages, ISBN 0-87451-509-2
  • Ikeda Kayoko, C. Douglas Lummis, Si El Mundo Fuera Una Aldea De 100 Personas/if The World Were A Village Of 100 People, Paperback, 64 pages, ISBN 84-7669-625-6. Japanese/English version: ISBN 4-8387-1361-4
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