Asking the Right Question for Spaceship Earth
World leaders, probably with the best intentions,
hold summit meeting after summit meeting to discuss
environmental problems, but nothing seems to change.
It is time to consider another approach one
that seeks a global cure for a global problem.
Five years ago, the largest ever gathering of world
leaders met in Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit.
They pledged to take better care of our planet; reducing
pollution, protecting biodiversity and saving rainforests.
At the United Nations earlier this year, Rio+5 convened
to assess our collective progress. In almost every
category, any objective reporter would give us a failing
grade. The headline nearly screamed,
leaders say Earth is sick, but fail to agree on a
World population has grown by half a million people.
Atmospheric pollution, especially greenhouse gases
have climbed to all-time highs. The gap between rich
and poor countries has widened. The onslaught against
forest continues for their fuel and hardwoods. In
addition, Secretary General Kofi Annan summarized
the UN Development Program's annual report saying
100 nations are worse off today than
15 years ago, with 1.3 million people earning less
than $1 per day.
Razali Ismail of Malaysia, President of the General
Assembly, admonished the Rio+5 delegates saying
as a species as a planet are teetering
on the edge, living unsustainably and perpetuating
inequity, and may soon pass the point f no return.Environmental
champion US Vice President Al Gore declared that
must roll up our sleeves and go to work. At the
Denver Summit of the Eight, US President Clinton bragged
about the robust US economy, but was chided one week
later for his country's 5% increase in CO2 emissions.
Next month world leaders will convene again in Kyoto,
Japan to set carbon emission targets and deadlines.
Who are we trying to fool? Our leaders convene with
good intentions, make terrific speeches and go home
to business as usual. The ancient proverb states the
Unless we change the
direction we're going, we're likely to end up where
we are headed.
Maybe we're asking the wrong initial questions! Of
course it's natural to try and put out fires when
you see them, but are we attacking the problems from
their causes, or just putting Band-Aids on one problem
I suggest a different approach one that was
developed 25 years ago by the genius inventor, architect
and critical thinker, Dr. R. Buckminster Fuller.
was called the Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th century,
and posed the following global question:
do we make the world work for 100% of humanity in
the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation
without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone?
Isn't that a better place to begin with?
A World Wide Web of Electricity
Designing the systems to meet the needs of all people,
while protecting the environment for the long term
is a superior engineering approach. From this global
question emerged a premier strategy for peace and
sustainable development. Simply stated, the strategy
is to link electrically the renewable energy resources
around the world. Or in today's vernacular, a world
wide web of electricity, tapping renewable sources.
Unknown to most people, half of this energy network
is already in place around the world. It is the freeway
for electrons that delivers the energy to run our
homes and businesses. Yet one-third of all humanity
has no electricity for even the most basic needs:
clean water, lighting, and refrigeration of food and
medicines. Two billion people still burn wood and
cow dung to meet daily energy requirements. The global
climate problem is rooted in the fact that 80% of
energy production comes from some nonrenewable energy
source: gas, oil, coal or nuclear which produces increasing
levels of pollution or toxic waste.
Interconnecting electrical systems east to west levels
the daily energy power demand, and north-south linkages
level seasonal variations. Our planet is blessed with
enormous renewable potential from winds, hydro, solar,
geothermal, tidal and biomass -- yet these are often
located in neighboring countries, far from our cities
and industry. With economic power transmission now
reaching thousands of miles, these renewable energy
sources can begin to replace some of the aging fossil
and nuclear plants.
A Plan for the Distant Future?
Such a visionary plan may seem fated to future generations.
However, the last ten years have seen international
connections between the most unlikely neighbors: East
and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall,
Israel and Jordan from the Washington Declaration
treaty, and just this year, cross-border grids are
being built between Turkey and Iran, Argentina and
Chile, even India and Pakistan. This international
infrastructure development fosters trade, cooperation
Two decades ago, the United Nations and numerous
experts corroborated this development strategy. At
that time, Cold War politics stymied any real progress.
Now the enemy has become pollution, over population
and poverty. To put out these fires we've held the
Earth Summit in Rio, the Population Summit in Cairo,
the Social Summit in Copenhagen, the Women's Summit
in Beijing and the Cities Summit in Istanbul. Yet
the problems persist and grow every year.
Attacking these issues as separate problems ignores
the nature of our interconnected society. Maybe it's
time to ask the bigger question: how do we make it
work for all humanity and the environment? The solutions
are guaranteed to offer a better cure than the recent
About the Author
Peter Meisen is president of Global Energy Network
International (GENI), a US-based nonprofit corporation
conducting education and research into the interconnection
of renewable energy resources around the world. This
was proposed as the highest priority objective from
the World Game of 20th century visionary, Dr. R Buckminster