The Origins of Ecology Part 2 – Buckminster Fuller, Jay Forrester and the Club of Rome

In my last post we covered how the religious belief of the balance of nature was converted into a science by the manipulation of data to fit the theory.

Now we’ll look at how those theories affected other people of influence and how in turn they attempted to manipulate the world to their thinking.

Buckminster Fuller
Buckminster Fuller

One such person was a famous systems theorist, architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller. Fuller designed buildings using geodesic dome structures, including housing the radar system network created by Jay Forrester. The form takes essentially weak single components and forms them into a considerably stronger whole, a concept that Fuller would then began to believe modeled the way the world (natural or otherwise) worked.

Fuller’s geodesic domes, beginning in the later 1950’s, became hugely significant in the popular imagination; the stuff of the future, in the here and now. Plus their relatively low production costs and simply construction made them very popular with several World’s Fair events and ecological constructions.

Fuller believed that people shouldn’t consider themselves a member of a country, classes or political or religious groups; they needed to have a paradigm shift in thinking and see themselves as equal members of a global system. The global system he described as “Spaceship Earth”, an idea born from an analogy with the space race that Fuller was fascinated by. And with that the idea that computers would run the society as they did the environment in the spaceship. Ideas that would later be taken up by Ira Levin in This Perfect Day, a science fiction story of a utopian, uniform future where everybody has everything they need; except choice.

On another front, tans of Disney will now be having a sinking feeling, because “Spaceship Earth” is the famous EPCOT ride, based in a geodesic dome. A ride that predicts and promotes the concept of cybernetics.

In 1964 Fuller would go on to pen a manifesto called “The operating manual for spaceship earth.” in which he set out his ideas that the Earth was a spaceship and that everybody on it should work to keep it in a “perfect balance”. The shift of focus, therefore, being upon the Earth being the important aspect, people are secondary. Previous concepts of exceptionalism would have to be overthrown, we were just cogs in the machine.

Fuller believed that (elected) politicians had no part in this system. “All they brought was conflict and ultimately war.”

Real environmental issues

By the 1970’s there was a very real environmental problem, born out of unbridled use and disposal of chemicals. Jay Forrester (who appeared in the first part) saw himself as a champion to this problem and acted as a consultant to a collection of international businessmen and technocrats calling themselves “The Club of Rome“. They in turn saw themselves as the only individuals capable of solving the crisis.

At a meeting in Winterthur, Switzerland, Forrester told them that the only way they could achieve their goal was to look on the world as an entire cybernetic system. One which he could model in a computer. So he employed a team of systems analysis, who used existing understandings on population, growth, food production and politics to develop the model, enter the data and produce the results.

The result was an apocalyptic forecast for the world. Clearly laid out in the trends of the model, the world would run out of resources, food and space before the end of the century. To say this was pessimistic forecast would be an understatement.

What’s more, it was just the thing the Club of Rome were looking. They almost immediately held a press conference and told the press that the computer had accurately modeled the world heading for a total disaster. Quite the headline grabber. But then catastrophe always sells more copy, as it does today.

The most obvious comparison that springs to mind would be the suggestion by Dr David Viner of the Climate Research Unit (at the University of East Anglia – the center for UK climate research) that the models clearly showed that by 2010 snow would be a thing of the past. Once again, these would be detailed, accurate models, based upon expert peer reviewed knowledge.

Alexander King, co-founder of the Club of Rome, would go on to say that by the first decade of the next century world society will have broken down completely and we would be living in chaos. To back this, the club then put out a piece of propaganda called “The limits to growth” detailing Forrester’s agenda. It was to become a world best seller and offered the illusion of a non-political and scientifically based description of the crisis, a neutral view point transcending politics.

In 1972 in Stockholm the United Nations held it’s first conference on the environment crisis besetting the world. The bureaucrats took the ideas of the Club of Rome and came to the conclusion that the world needed to controlled and managed in a non-political way. And to clear, by non-political, they mean without representation of the people.

“Nobody has decided precisely what the limits are, one can question whether it’s 2010 when we all collapse or 2050 when we all collapse. But what is absolutely certain is that you cannot run a planetary society on the total irresponsible sovereignty of 120 different governments. It simply can’t be done.”

Which sounds a lot like a one world Government.

Forrester’s ideas dominated the conference, and he went further by saying that the only solution to the problem would be to hold the world in a fixed state of equilibrium. In other words, that from this point onwards, developing nations would have to stay poor and that growth and advancement is by it’s nature against the benefits of the world.

Most striking of the contrast between then and now is the fact that the most vocal opponents to this “steady state” ideal was none other then the environmental movement itself. They considered the idea of a fixed state on the world to be none neutral and that it wasn’t being implemented to save the world, but instigated to control it. How can you save the planet if you cannot change it. Essentially, they identified that the people who most wanted to maintain the status-quot would be the people currently in power.

The environmental leaders at the time would later conclude that the movement was being taken over by right wing think tanks who’s use of the “balance of nature” ideal to instigate more control, more debt and more indenture to the elites.

On a more scientific basis, Forrester’s work faced heavy criticism because it failed to implement feedback loops to take into account changes in politics, political systems, advances in science or the simply fact that people would adapt to change. The model fundamentally failed to conceive the idea that people could and would change to circumstances. It therefore fostered the idea that the world would either have to become fixed or face catastrophe, there was no other outcome.

It was flawed and it was a lie, the second one in our story of ecology.

Unfortunately for skeptics and environmentalists at the time, the model and the conference cemented the idea we were on the road to a disaster. Witness the films from the era; Soylent Green (1973), Logans Run (1976) and Silent Running (1972).

Next time

In my last post on the origins or ecology, we’ll look at Gaia, the realization of ecologists and the switch to the environmental movement; including the start of the institutionalized rational.

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