Buckminster Fuller was one of many to recognize how maps shape our worldview, policy, and decisions. The most common map, the Mercator, projects a sphere onto a flat plane with inevitable distortions; Greenland appears as large as all of Africa when, in fact, it is thirteen times smaller.
Fuller felt that a more accurate depiction of the relationship between continents was needed. His Dymaxion map is a projection of a world map onto the surface of an icosahedron, a three dimensional solid with twenty faces that can be unfolded and flattened to two dimensions. It is the only flat map of the entire surface of the Earth which reveals our planet as one island in one ocean, without any visually obvious distortion of the relative shapes and sizes of the land areas and without splitting the continents. As such it helps us to view the world as one interdependent system.
The Dymaxion map does not have any “right way to be viewed”. Fuller argued that the north and south of conventional maps reflected a cultural bias. The Dymaxion Map was a way to orient our view of Spaceship Earth with no central position over and above any other and thus equip humanity with a more “honest” tool to address common challenges and assess systems interventions.
In his paper “Think Globally, Act Locally – And Vice Versa,” Greg Watson describes how the Dymaxion map led Fuller to envision a global renewable energy grid, supplying abundant energy to all without the negative impact on our common planet.
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Buckminster Fuller described the world’s nation states as “blood clots” that interrupt or prevent the circulation and recycling of energy and resources vital to providing adequate life support aboard Spaceship Earth.
Humans and our fellow passengers are kept alive by a regenerative life support system sustained by Earth’s finite supply of resources (the 92 naturally regenerative elements) and one source of incoming energy (our sun). Everything in our physical world (from guns and butter to microchips and the air we breathe) is composed of one or more of the occupants of the periodic table. These elements are unevenly distributed among the planet’s landmasses that Fuller’s revolutionary Dymaxion Map reveals as a single necklace-like island surrounded by one ocean – in total disregard of political boundaries.
The sources of all of our geopolitical tensions are rooted in imperialism, colonialism and nation states’ efforts to control resources. Early on, the focus was on precious metals like gold and silver. Today’s competition is over the more pedestrian cobalt, neodymium and other metals critical to satisfying consumer appetites for smart phones and other high-tech gadgets.
. . . The emerging international competition for critical minerals and economic leadership portends a neo-Malthusian era wherein humanity’s dependence on an exponentially expanding information technology infrastructure is outstripping nationalistic strategies to maintain and manage it.
Fuller believed that Nature is trying very hard to make a success of humanity. The human race possesses the collective resources and know-how capable of creating a world that works for everyone. It is a synergetic potential that can only be realized if we come together and travel the uncharted path of global cooperation. That is the geoeconomic promise of globalization – a promise that has been coopted and obscured by its evil twin geopolitics.
In fact, integration of a subsystem of a global energy network with bioregionally based local economies is arguably the clearest path to a just and sustainable world. The question is: how to merge the two?
During the Jimmy Carter Administration when the U.S. and the then Soviet Union were still very much engaged in the Cold War, Fuller became aware of a technological development that provided an opportunity to optimize the generation of electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar.
With the U.S. having just overcome the technical barriers to economically transmitting electricity across distances approaching 1,500 miles Fuller proposed creating an integrated world electric grid by connecting the U.S. and Russian systems via the Bering Straits.
We must integrate the world’s electrical-energy networks. We must be able to continually integrate the progressive night-into-day and day-into-night hemispheres of our revolving planet. With all of the world’s electric energy needs being supplied by a twenty-four-hour-around, omni-integrated network, all of yesterday’s, one-half-the-time-unemployed, standby generators will be usable all the time, thus swiftly doubling the operating capacity of the world’s electrical energy grid.
To the World Game seminar of 1969 I presented my integrated, world- around, high- voltage electrical energy network concept. Employing the new 1500- mile transmission reach, this network made it technically feasible to span the Bering Straits to integrate the Alaskan U.S.A. and Canadian networks with Russia’s grid, which had recently been extended eastward into northern Siberia and Kamchatka to harness with hydroelectric dams the several powerful northwardly flowing rivers of north-easternmost U.S.S.R. This proposed network would interlink the daylight half of the world with the nighttime half.
By connecting and integrating geographically-disperse wind farms around the globe, each experiencing a different phase of the region’s weather system, electricity is produced wherever the wind is flowing and transported to regions of demand, ensuring a reliable and predictable source of energy.
An interconnected globe-spanning grid would connect everyone to the same energy-accounting system. The universal grid could be connected modularly to regional, local and micro-grids.
There is no energy crisis…there is only a crisis of ignorance. –R. Buckminster Fuller
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Greg Watson will be a speaker at the 39th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, titled “Actionable Responses to Climate Change,” on Sunday, October 27th in Great Barrington, MA. He is Director of Policy and Systems Design at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. He was the first executive director of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust and a member of President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Department of Energy Transition Team.
As part of his October 27th E. F. Schumacher Lecture, Greg will announce the Schumacher Center for a New Economics initiative to update and reposition the World Game WorkshopTM to address the complex challenges of the 21st century.
The World Game WorkshopTM is a participatory process that demonstrates the power if “thinking globally and acting locally”. Based on Buckminster Fuller’s concept of a “World Peace Game” developed in the 1960s, the workshop offers real-time, data-driven immersive educational experiences designed to illuminate the global systems dynamics shaping our world and to guide participants to discover their agency to create a world in which humanity can prosper without compromising Earth’s ecological integrity.
We hope to see you on October 27th in Great Barrington. Purchase your tickets today.
Staff of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics