The inspiration for my book The Girl from Spaceship Earth is the wisdom of a genius who has been called the Leonardo da Vinci of the twentieth century.
I was an eleven-year-old freckle-faced kid in 1969 when I first encountered Buckminster Fuller at one of his famous World Game lectures at Southern Illinois University. Having just watched the Apollo moon landing, my young brain was primed for “Bucky’s” revolutionary ideas about how we could make the world work for everyone without ecological harm, and about how humans could evolve into something better. At one point, his eyes locked onto mine and he said women like me would save the world. I knew my life was forever changed.
Then, in 1982, as an aspiring journalist, I landed an interview with the iconic genius, now 86 years old. We talked for several hours high atop Chicago on the sky deck of the John Hancock Center. He told me his remarkable life story and imparted his wisdom about what was happening in the world and what we needed to do to assure a better future. He said the oil industry’s derailing of Jimmy Carter’s renewable energy plan was the greatest crime ever committed against humanity, that we were entering a dark age, and that the collusion between our government and our corporations was undermining the planet. Once again he predicted women like me would make the difference, and elicited my promise that I would share his thinking with the world.
As inspired as I was, belief is not action. Much of my book is about my struggle to do something with what I knew. I wrote and submitted an essay about Bucky’s ideas, but with no luck. A year later, he died. Life went on. I fell in love, got married, and had a couple of babies, relegating Bucky’s ideas to my back burner until 9/11/2001, when his voice came roaring back.
Bucky pretty much predicted 9/11 when he said that future wars would not be started by countries, but by rogue groups of individuals seeking revenge for past aggressions. He said America risked failure due to our over-amped nationalism and our global bullying. He warned that pride could be our undoing.
9/11 was a wake up call. I returned to my reading and thinking and became so obsessed with politics and climate change that my husband thought I was losing my grip on reality. I went to therapy for help, but my counselor believed in me, and in the importance of Bucky’s ideas, so I kept going.
I spent time at Stanford digging through Bucky’s archives. This conservative private school, owned in part by fossil fuel interests, had bought Bucky’s archives in 1999, and yet did not offer a single class about the vast accomplishments of the genius whom their own creative guru, Steve Jobs, had many times called the Leonardo da Vinci of the twentieth century. Nine out of ten of the students I spoke to had never heard of Buckminster Fuller.
Bucky was not only a visionary futurist. He was also a mathematician, architect and designer who had set out to decipher the design principles of nature, in order to help us realign with the natural world so we could avoid environmental collapse.
Obviously, this didn’t happen, and now we are seeing climate change manifest, with historic fires, floods, melting ice, and sea level rise. By now we know Bucky was right about the fossil fuel industry. These oil executives not only understood and accepted the reality of climate change but were secretly preparing for it, all while they dismissed it as a hoax. So it seems pretty likely that Stanford was merely keeping its friends close and its enemies closer when it bought Bucky’s archives and then did nothing to share them with its students.
Over the years, I came to understand just how heavily the odds were stacked against Bucky’s ideas. A few years ago, I was invited to speak at the first Fuller Future Festival in Carbondale, Illinois, where I was confronted by coal industry advocates accusing me of fabricating Bucky’s warnings about fossil fuels. As Bucky had said, people have a hard time believing something when their paycheck depends on their not believing it.
But he also insisted that the future of humanity depended on our individual integrity, so I kept going. He said he worked fifty years in advance. If that was the case, then what he was talking about in the 1960’s and 1970’s would be gaining relevance right about now, which is exactly what is happening.
People today are rightfully frustrated about the state of the world. It’s understandable why young people blame baby boomers for making such a mess of things. We did. We let things slide for too long. But maybe it’s not too late.
As life on earth becomes more difficult, we become more ready for ideas we once thought outlandish, like Bucky’s quote about how there would be “an emergence through emergency.” I think that emergency is upon us. Increasing political and social strife, combined with frequent climate catastrophes, are waking people up.
Bucky’s eight inspirational ideas for helping humanity through this next step are summed up in the back of my book. There are also recommendations for further reading, because once you get hooked on Bucky’s ideas, there is no turning back. It’s like finding a new engine under the hood of your car.