12 September 2016
As I ride the
train in Austria on my way to the yearly Balaton Meeting in Hungary, I think of
humanity as I peer out at the rolling hills. In the early 1980s, a couple by
the names of Dennis and Donella Meadows started a small group of deep
sustainability thinkers called the Balaton Meeting. Donella has since passed,
but her legacy lives on in her countless writings and life reflections. So does
the Balaton Group, which meets annually at Lake Balaton to discuss important
themes with a systems thinking lens. This year, 2016, it is about migration.
written some inspirational stuff. And all of it, despite now being more than
two decades old, is still so relevant. In her memory, and as part of my voyage
to Balaton, I thought I would share her musings. There were common assumptions
of the current social paradigm that seemed to her unsystematic and problematic,
that she spent a lot of her life consistently and optimistically contradicting
in her award-winning newspaper column 'The Global Citizen'. Every time I read
them I cannot help but nod my head enthusiastically in agreement.
- One cause produces one effect. There must be a
single cause, for example, of acid rain, or cancer, or the greenhouse effect.
All we need to do is discover and remove it.
- All growth is good - and possible. There are no
effective limits to growth.
- There is an 'away' to throw things to. When you
have thrown something 'away', it is gone.
- Technology can solve any problem that comes up.
There is no cost to technology, no delay in attaining it, no confusion about
what kind of technology is needed. Improvements will come through better
technology, not better humanity.
- The future is to be predicted, not chosen or
created. It happens to us; we do not shape it.
- A problem does not exist or is not serious until
it can be measured.
- If something is 'economic', it needs no further
justification. E.F. Schumacher writes, 'Call a thing immoral or ugly,
soul-destroying or a degradation of man, a peril to the peace of the world or
to the well-being of future generations; as long as you have not shown it to be
'uneconomic', you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow and
- Relationships are linear, non-delayed, and
continuous; there are no critical thresholds; feedback is accurate and timely;
systems are manageable through simple cause-effect thinking.
- Results can be measured by effort expended - if
you have spent more for weapons, you have more security; if you use more
electricity, you are better off; if you spend more for schools, your children
will be better educated.
- Nations are disconnected from one another,
people are disconnected from nature, economic sectors can be developed
independently from one another, some parts of a system can thrive while other
- Choices are either/or, not both/and.
- Possession of things is the source of happiness.
- Individuals cannot make any difference.
- People are basically bad, greedy and not to be
trusted. Good people and good actions are rare exceptions.
- The rational powers of human beings are superior
to their intuitive powers or their moral powers.
- Present systems are tolerable and will not get
much worse; alternative systems cannot help but be worse than the ones we've
- We know what we are doing.
I find it
incredible how we still make these assumptions today, despite the evidence