Imagining Bucky and Geo-Engineering

June 13, 2008

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

fuller.jpgA retrospective exhibit about the life and inventions of R. Buckminster Fuller (a.k.a. Bucky) is about to open at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City . Fuller was truly one-of-a-kind-an iconoclastic architect, inventor, engineer, and philosopher.

I still have vivid memories of a public talk he gave at Columbia University in the late 1970’s. He died in 1983. He is best known as the leading proponent, if not inventor, of the geodesic dome, the sturdy spherical structure, composed of triangular elements, that closely approximates a sphere.  

It’s hard to imagine Bucky not being engaged by the modern problems of global warming. It would have attracted him on all fronts: the energy challenges, the technological challenges and the ‘geo-engineering’ challenges.

Geo-engineering is the term used to describe large-scale human interventions that could possibly offset climate change such as deliberate releases of particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight, or the capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and power plants.

Certainly, Bucky thought on such scales. For example, he envisioned covering mid-town Manhattan with a  large geodesic dome as a way to create a controlled climate!

How this would work is puzzling to me. For example, if the dome was clear to sunlight, the greenhouse effect inside in summer would be astounding and I can’t imagine it would require less electricity to cool it off than it does now-it would likely need vastly more electricity.

Still, as an urban climate scientist, I don’t like to dismiss such conceptual ideas completely out of hand because if a geo-engineered way were found to cool cities down this would be of enormous socio-economic value. Cities are where the world’s population will increasingly live and we are going to have to find ways to make them more habitable as summer heat waves become more brutal and common.

Right now the main ‘technologies’ we have to do so are tree planting, light-colored surfaces and green roofs. However, if large-scale initiatives were found that could artificially shade large sections of cities or increase wind ventilation during heat-waves, that would be much more effective, saving vast amounts of energy and lives. I’ve heard anecdotally of Japanese researchers orienting new buildings to channel winds in certain directions and even of trying to bring cold bottom water up from Tokyo Bay.  

Any Fuller-esque ideas out there?

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Fuller-esque ideas are founded in Synergetics which is also the title of Fuller’s Magnum Opus. The full text is on-line at s/synergetics.html

Some of the people building Fuller-esque ideas participate in the Synergetics Collaborative which is a 501(c)(3) bringing together a diverse group of people with an interest in Buckminster Fuller’s Synergetics in face-to-face workshops, symposia, seminars, and other meetings to educate and support research and understanding of the many facets of Synergetics, its methods and principles.

To find out more and to see photos from our past events, see our web site at

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