Guinea Pig B

by Terence Jeyaretnam

With no job and a new baby to support, he became depressed. One day, he was walking by Lake Michigan, when he found himself suspended several feet above the ground, surrounded by sparkling light. Time seemed to stand still, and a voice spoke to him. “You do not have the right to eliminate yourself,” it said. “You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe.” It was at this point, that he decided to embark on his “lifelong experiment.” The experiment’s aim was nothing less than determining “what, if anything,” an individual could do “on behalf of all humanity.”  Throughout his life, he was concerned with the question "Does humanity have a chance to survive lastingly and successfully on planet Earth, and if so, how?"  In this lifelong experiment, he named himself Guinea Pig B.

Being expelled twice from Harvard and not completing a degree of any nature did not stop him from being awarded twenty-eight US patents, several honorary doctorates, a professorship and the 1969 Humanist of the Year Award.  He wrote more than thirty books, coining and popularising terms such as "Spaceship Earth", ephemeralization, and synergetics.

He believed human societies would soon rely mainly on renewable sources of energy, such as solar- and wind-derived electricity. He hoped for an age of "omni-successful education and sustenance of all humanity".

He noted that petroleum, from the standpoint of its replacement cost out of the energy "budget (essentially, the net incoming solar flux), had cost nature "over a million dollars" per U.S. gallon (US$300,000 per litre) to produce. From this point of view, its use as a transportation fuel by people commuting to work represents a huge net loss compared to their earning.  He was concerned about sustainability and about human survival under the existing socio-economic system, yet remained optimistic about humanity's future. Defining wealth in terms of knowledge, as the "technological ability to protect, nurture, support, and accommodate all growth needs of life," his analysis of the condition of "Spaceship Earth" led him to conclude that at a certain time in the 1970s, humanity had marked an unprecedented watershed. He was convinced that the accumulation of relevant knowledge, combined with the quantities of key recyclable resources that had already been extracted from the earth, had reached a critical level, such that competition for necessities was no longer necessary. Cooperation had become the optimum survival strategy. "Selfishness," he declared, "is unnecessary and hence-forth unrationalizable.... War is obsolete”

Born in 1895 in Massachusetts Guinea Pig B was Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller, the “B” being for Bucky.  The British science writer H.G. Wells once said that life was a race between education and disaster. Instead of destroying himself, Fuller listened to Universe. Fuller went to the effort of spending fifty years in a headlong, ceaseless act of self-assertion that we are all destined to be destroyed in an environmental catastrophe, but in the optimistic belief that it is possible to build a better world and that humankind can be mobilized for that task.  I hope Bucky’s dreams materialize.

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Sources: Dymaxion Man, The visions of Buckminster Fuller, by Elizabeth Kolbert newyorker.com and wikipedia.org

Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (terence@netbalance.com), 
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne.