San Diego CityBEAT
THE ECLECTIC WARRIOR
Local nonprofit keeps spirit of Buckminster Fuller alive
by Catherine Tapia, 2004-07-21
To the casual observer, the sight of half of Horton Square’s pavement covered by a flat, deeply hued, 70-foot-by-35-foot map of the earth’s oceans and continents might have resembled nothing more than an odd, super-sized game board holding unusual looking game pieces.
But closer investigation revealed this was a Dymaxion map—invented by the late visionary philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller and rolled out July 13 for a three-hour “World Resources Demonstration” by the San Diego-based Global Energy Network Institute (GENI). The occasion marked the U.S. Postal Service’s launch of a commemorative Buckminster Fuller stamp (timed to coincide with Fuller’s 109th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his patent for the geodesic dome).
In 1927, Fuller, 32, bankrupt and devastated by the death of a child, had an epiphany as he prepared to commit suicide: According to the Buckminster Fuller Institute, he suddenly became aware “that his life belonged, not to himself, but to the universe” and decided to try “to discover what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity.” During a subsequent career that spanned 54 years, Fuller pushed the envelope in such areas as engineering, mathematics, architecture and cosmology.
The answer to how San Diego became one of a handful of communities nationwide to celebrate the “Bucky” stamp’s release is found in GENI’s modest offices at downtown’s aged but bright-white World Trade Center.
“I saw Bucky when I was a high school student in Oceanside,” GENI founder and president Peter Meisen, 51, said. “I had no idea what he said. [But] he was expansive, enthralling.” However, several years later, after reading Fuller’s book Critical Path, Meisen “got it.”
The book revealed “an engineering strategy for the world that just jumped off the page and smacked me in the head,” Meisen said. “One of the geniuses of the last century was saying that the No. 1 strategy for the planet is an interconnection of electrical grids tapping renewable resources around the world—which is a pretty bold statement.”
Surprised that no one was already pushing the strategy, Meisen began his “life calling” and, with nominal means, founded GENI, which was ultimately incorporated as a nonprofit in 1991. Meisen, in the last decade, has taken GENI’s extensive research based on Fuller’s strategy to every world energy conference. The organization recently mailed its latest newsletter, focusing on the best national, state and local renewable energy policies, to every president, prime minister, U.N. ambassador and environmental minister in the world.
The Dymaxion globe, an icosahedron (20-sided, equilateral polygon) shape, is, when unfolded, “the most accurate flat map of the world you’ve ever seen,” Meisen said. “It shows that all of these continents we think are separated by huge bodies of water have land projections in almost every case…. Interconnecting electrical systems becomes less far-fetched when you realize you can actually use overhead transmission lines to link Latin America to North America, North America to Asia, Asia to Europe.”
Referring to images of the map being used to demonstrate Fuller’s “World Game” at Horton Square, Meisen explained that each dot placed on the map represented 1 percent of the world’ s population. A red circle signified regions with less than 1,000 kilowatt-hours per capita per year; silver circles represented regions starting at the most basic survival requirement of 2,000 kilowatt-hours per capita per year. The United States has 12,000.
“Electricity is the key to get people out of poverty,” Meisen asserted. “In the United States, we flick a switch and have lights, computers, refrigeration. But one-third of humanity—about 2 billion people—have none.”
Meisen referred to Fuller’s suggestion that the world’s population will stop increasing when and if an integrated world electrical grid is realized. “Also, if you make electrical grids, you’re building trading relationships between all countries,” he said. “The more trading you do between countries, the less likely you are to shoot at one another.”
Calling renewable-energy growth—particularly in the solar and wind industries—“unstoppable” trends, Meisen emphasized that when GENI started out, 50 out of 200 nations had interconnection or traded in electricity across borders. Just 13 years later, there are 100, representing “an incredible amount of cooperation and construction of some very challenging technology to interconnect power grids across political borders.”
While only conceding to being one of numerous influences on such trends, Meisen also cited GENI endorsements from names such as former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Walter Cronkite, Greenbelt Movement leader Wangari Maathai and current President of Mexico Vicente Fox.
Meisen mused that initial inspiration from his mentor, Fuller, “was good enough to begin, but you can’t ride that horse forever…. This may be a small office in San Diego working on a global project, but it has some of the most powerful statesmen on the planet [saying] this is a damn good idea and we ought to be doing it faster.”
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