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March 19, 2001
"Distant Early Warnings, The Death of Donella Meadows"
  Real Audio

I have just had the terrible news of the premature death of a friend who was one of the most important spokespersons the environment has ever had, Donella Meadows. Among her many accomplishments, she was the principal author of the 1970s' Club of Rome report which brought the problems of overpopulation and the environment to the attention of the world in a way that no one else has bettered since. Having myself spent much of the 23 years since that report, working for the conservation of whales, I saw her as a kind of lighthouse, a warning to us of the rocks ahead as we try to pick our way through the fog of dangers in which we are embedded. I also see that even with people like Dana alive and contributing at full force, that the efforts of all of us who care about the future of life on earth, whether we work for whales, or elephants, or rhinos, or primates or the environment as a whole, are whistling in the wind compared with what's needed.

This is because just offshore the continent on which we land dwellers so comfortably reside there is a tidal wave of change of such unimagined proportions that having never seen water curl that high we would simply dismiss as fantasy the radioed reports of eyewitnesses like Dana Meadows who have spent their lives in nearby lighthouses, never in our wildest dreams realizing that what the lighthouse keeper is describing is just the beginning of a wave which has, since her last transmission, taken her out, along with the whole lighthouse in which she sat, while we sit here wondering; 'what ever could have gotten into someone who was otherwise such a sensible, reasoned person'. Nor have we given even the most fleeting thought for the polished mountain range of water which, at this very moment having not even noticed the lighthouse or its island as it passed high over them, is hurtling towards us without a sound and will soon engulf and annihilate us in a welter of mad confusion, and that even as we die we may still fail to make the connection between the lighthouse keepers' reports and what it is that is killing us.

I am another of those lighthouse keepers. There are many of us out here on the fringes of the continent. (Some people don't realize that the towers we live in are lighthouses -- they call them ivory towers, and forget, in their jeering, that of all the constructions produced by humans to get a better view, that towers, made for any purpose and of any materials (including ivory) give clearer views than one gets from the ground no matter what the vista. We lighthouse keepers have all noticed strange rumblings beneath us, and the sea is playing tricks we have never seen it play before-tricks which get weirder and more violent each day. They get weirder and more violent each day. We wish that civilization would listen to our warnings and avail itself of the high ground before its too late! Donnella Meadows was just such a distant early warning system. The loss of her is at a cost beyond what any of the rest of us who remain alive will ever be able to calculate.

This is Roger Payne back in Woodstock, Vermont, new landed from the Research Vessel Odyssey.

2000 - Roger Payne

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