Buckminster Fuller was one of our world’s first futurists and global thinkers. His headquarters, the “Inventory of World Resources, Human Trends and Needs,” contained the findings of his extensive global research. Beginning in the 30s, Fuller correlated this data and made a number of important and accurate predictions about the future of our society. His work in this regard paved the way for contemporary trend watchers like Tom Peters, John Naisbitt, and Alvin Toffler.
Fuller developed the Inventory as a database for his World Game™, which uses a large-scale Dymaxion™ Map of the world for displaying world resources, and allows players to strategize solutions to global problems, matching human needs with resources. Fuller’s Dymaxion Map was the first world projection to show the continents on a flat surface without visible distortion. The Dymaxion Map allows percentages of resources and population to be displayed accurately.
Fuller’s global thinking led him to coin the terms “Spaceship Earth” and “One-Town World.” His comprehensive approach inspired such publications as the Whole Earth Catalog.
Solutions to Global Problems
From the moment of his 1927 decision to make his life an experiment in individual initiative, Fuller addressed himself to the largest questions he could formulate. He sought to discover what it would take to “make the world work”—that is, to provide adequate food, energy, and shelter for 100% of humanity to enjoy a high standard of living.
As part of this research, Fuller made an assessment of global food production and distribution that led to his 1959 prediction of the conquest of poverty by the year 2000. Nearly twenty years later, in 1977, the National Academy of Sciences confirmed his prediction.
Other aspects of his research led Fuller to be one of the earliest proponents of renewable energy sources. His extensive energy research documented that we can produce enough energy for everybody in the world while phasing out all use of fossil fuels and atomic energy.
While the end of poverty may still seem like a distant possibility, Fuller and the National Academy both agreed that the resources and technology to end the worst aspects of homelessness, disease, and malnutrition are available—the only thing lacking has been the social and political will to make physical success for all humanity a reality.
The word synergy is now prevalent in our society, as the name for everything from business consulting firms to tennis shoes—so much so that the word has nearly lost its meaning. But before Fuller’s popularization of the term through his lectures and writings, synergy was confined almost exclusively to chemical laboratories. Fuller was a leading proponent of bringing the word into popular usage, because he found that it is a basic principle of interactive systems. The synergetic approach pioneered by Fuller has influenced many aspects of society, including the rise of “holism”—in health care, psychology, problem-solving, planning, thinking, and systems design.
The Geodesic Dome
Fuller is perhaps best known as the inventor of the Geodesic Dome, the lightest, strongest, most cost-effective structure ever devised. There are now over 300,000 domes in the world, some of them the centerpieces of major world exhibits: Epcot Center at Disney World in Florida (housing the exhibit called “Spaceship Earth”); the U. S. Pavilion at the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair; the largest clear-span structure in the world that covers Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose in Long Beach Harbor.
Adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps as “the first basic improvement in mobile military shelter in 2,600 years” geodesic domes are used as “radomes” to house delicate radar equipment in the Arctic, withstanding 180 mph winds.
Fuller designed the geodesic dome and other industrially-produced housing prototypes to counter the trend toward resource-intensive, prohibitively expensive housing, part of his design to make adequate shelter available to 100% of humanity. His structural designs were explorations in providing solutions to global homelessness, both for inner city slums and the rural poor.
Recent Scientific Breakthroughs
While scientists have known since the fifties that the structures of many viruses are geodesic and extraordinarily stable, new scientific discoveries have revealed a class of carbon molecules that have been dubbed buckminsterfullerenes because of their geodesic sphere shape. Not surprisingly, they too are incredibly stable.
Some scientists believe that fullerenes may turn out to be the most prevalent and the oldest molecules in the universe, validating the mathematical geometry that Fuller developed and called Synergetics.
Also recently discovered, quasicrystals exhibit a geodesic structure that defies conventional models of crystalline materials. The applications of both quasicrystals and fullerenes, including implications in superconductivity, are only beginning to be developed, and the excitement and activity in the scientific community continue to accelerate. Fuller’s associates are pleased that these new discoveries are beginning to reveal the importance that his work will have in the scientific community.
The influence of Fuller’s message has been felt throughout the world. He has lectured to thousands of audiences, many as large as several thousand people, including consulting to world leaders like Indira Ghandi and Pierre Trudeau. He was invited to speak at major corporations like IBM and DuPont, as well as at over 500 educational institutions around the world. He authored 28 books that cumulatively have sold well over a million copies.
Although Fuller never graduated from college, he was awarded nearly 50 honorary doctorates for his work in science and the humanities, and over 100 major awards of merit, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award. By 1980, there were 90,000 published references to Fuller and his work through print and electronic media, including the cover of Time magazine in 1964.
Through his extensive documentation of his experiment and its results, Fuller compiled data that indicated that by 1974, approximately one-quarter of a billion people had come into contact with some part of his work.
“Making a Difference”
It is easy to imagine that when Fuller began his experiment in 1927 very few people were talking about the individual’s ability to “make the the world work,” yet he made that premise central to his entire life’s work. While it would be impossible to identify a direct connection between Fuller’s work and the changes taking place throughout the world, it is easy to see that this basic notion is cropping up everywhere. Today, just 50 years after the beginning of his experiment, we see the phrase “making a difference” just about everywhere—in corporate, commercial, social, and personal communications.
This new orientation in our society holds that the actions of the individual can and do create positive social change, and books such as EarthWorks Group’s 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save the Earth, that hold the effectiveness of individual initiative as a central premise, are best-sellers.