Donella Meadows
By: Alexis Madrigal | Categories: HiLo Heroes

DONELLA MEADOWS (1941-2001) was an environmental scientist brave enough to point out that promoting exponential economic growth is a political position and resourceful enough to build a wide-ranging alternative ideology. She drew her insights from the emerging science of ecology and systems thinking, which emphasized the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate phenomena. Her ideas are so deeply embedded in the modern green movement that it’s hard to remember that they were once something new and startling. “The world works a little better any time we manage to make the invisible visible, embed real costs into prices, and impose the consequences of decision-making upon those who make the decisions,” she once wrote. As lead author of the epochal Limits to Growth report of 1972, which foresaw global collapse, she used the technocrats’ mathematical models to question the deepest assumptions of capitalism. Growth may not always find a way, she argued. Technology might not just be able to make more of everything. Progress is not inevitable. The big, blue Earth can only do so much for humanity. Cobb Hill, the post-utopian cohousing and agricultural research community she cofounded in Vermont, functions to this day.

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Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor and lead technology writer for TheAtlantic.com. A former staff writer for Wired, he's the author of the forthcoming history of clean energy in America, Inventing Green.