No cure for a sick world?
Asking the right question for Spaceship Earth
July 7, 1997
President, Global Energy Network Institute (GENI)
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 last month, 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 billion people.
Atmospheric pollution, especially greenhouse gases
have climbed to all-time highs. The gap between rich
and poor countries has widened. The onslaught against
forests continues for their fuel and hardwoods. In
addition, Secretary General Kofi Annan summarised
the UN Development Program's annual report saying
100 nations are worse off today
than 15 years ago, with 1.3 billion 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 of no return. Environmental
champion Vice President Al Gore declared that
must role up our sleeves and go to work. At the
Denver Summit of the Eight, President Clinton bragged
about the robust US economy, and was chided one week
later for our 5% increase in CO2 emissions.
Five months from now, the 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 condition best:
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 cause -- or just putting band-aids on one
problem after another?
I suggest a different approach -- one that was developed
25 years ago by the genius inventor, architect and
critical thinker, Dr. R. Buckminster Fuller. "Bucky"
was called the Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th century,
and posed the following global question:
How do we make the world work for
100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through
spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage
or the disadvantage to anyone?
Isn't that a better place to begin? Designing the
systems to meet the needs of all people, while protecting
the environment for the long term is a superior engineering
approach. Bucky's World Game uses comprehensive
anticipatory design science -- assessing all issues
and needs, anticipating future trends and then engineering
solutions that make many of today's global issues
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
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 1/3 of humanity has no electricity
for even the most basic needs; clean water, lighting,
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 non-renewable energy source; gas, oil, coal or
nuclear which produce 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 wind, hydro, solar,
geothermal, tidal and biomass -- yet these are often
located in remote regions, even 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, as well as
power the economic development of Southeast Asia.
Such a visionary plan may seem fated to future generations.
However, the last ten years has 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, overpopulation 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 is ignorant
to 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 global prognosis.