Medard Gabel is the CEO of Big Picture Small World, and is the author of six books on global problems, resources and strategies, the global energy situation, the global food situation, the U.S. food system, planning, and multinational corporations. At the time of this interview, he was Director of the World Game Institute, which he co-founded with R. Buckminster Fuller in 1972. This unique educational research centre produced the World Game Workshop, an interactive educational game played on a map of the Earth the size of a basketball court.
Tens of thousands of people have participated in these World Game workshops at UN agencies, governments, corporations, universities and schools around the world.
World Game was one of the first participants in the Global Vision Project in 1978.
This video is not available online. Full transcript (5,270 words, slightly edited
What is the world game?
H.G. Wells said that humanity is in a race between education and catastrophe. Buckminster Fuller said that the greatest challenge facing Humanity is how to get most people in the know about the planet, its resources and problems, in a short a period of time as possible. The World Game is a tool to help us win the race against catastrophe, and to get the most people on the planet in the know about the world, its problems, its resources, and how they can effectively participate in solving the world's problems. The World Game educates people about the world in a way that is unique and enjoyable. It gives people an experience of what the world is all about, the way an astronaut experiences the world. It gives us a global overview of the planet, through an educational workshop that takes place on a giant map of the planet.
Over 100,000 people in 48 states and about 35 countries around the planet have taken part in the World Game. We've been doing it for over twenty years now. It's a very effective, powerful tool to help people learn in a very experiential, enjoyable way a huge amount about the planet and its problems, in a short period of time. That's what the World Game is all about. It's purpose is to give people not just the experience and the information and a global perspective, but to help us all participate in developing solutions to the world's problems.
World Game's mission is to provide the perspective and the information needed by global society to solve the united problems that we all face as we move into the 21st. Century. The whole perspective issue is much more important than just the information. If we're tackling the wrong problem, if we don't have a global perspective, we could spend all our lives trying to solve the wrong problem.
World game information products
World Game Institute has developed a series of information products that help people recognise and define world problems and participate in developing solutions to these problems. One of these is this workshop that I just described. Another is a series of computer-based products that help people get their hands on the vital statistics of the world. One of these is called Global Recall.
Global Recall is both an interactive atlas, an encyclopaedia of the world's problems, and what we call a Solutions Laboratory. The Solutions Lab is where you go and develop a solution to a problem. You're led through a series of activities, the end result of which is a detailed solution about how you can solve the problem that you picked. When you are done with developing the solution, you send it in to us and you can enter the World Game Tournament. If you win the tournament, you get a cash prize to be spent on the implementation of your strategy, and you get a round-the-world airplane ticket. The solutions are judged by the United Nations. That's Global Recall.
Another one of our products is Global Data Manager. This is a huge database of the world's vital statistics, with over 10,000 indicators for every country in the world.
Doing more with less
In the race between education and catastrophe that H.G. Wells talked about, how do we employ the world's resources so effectively and efficiently that they are able to take care of everybody on the planet? At World Game Institute, our research which has been going on for over twenty years documents that it is possible to take care of everybody at a standard of living higher than anybody currently enjoys!
The way we do that is not by giving everybody a North American standard of living, where everybody's got two-and-a-half cars and consumes 25% of the world's total resources. That couldn't happen. It's not possible. There's not enough to make that kind of a world work. But what is possible is to give everybody a standard of living higher that even what the North Americans have, by using our information, our technology, our know-how, and our resources as efficiently and as effectively as we know how. Everybody on the planet could have all the food, the energy, the education, the health care, the shelter that we need not just to meet the bare minimum or the minimal standards of living, but to give everybody a quality, comfortable lifestyle, and do so in a sustainable way. That's possible with what we now know about the planet and our resources and our technology.
What the world needs is some useful tools for looking at itself. We need more than just satellite images from outer space, we need some tools that will allow us to see where we are, where the ten-year-olds are, where the high-school students are, where people are hungry, or where there are food surpluses. The World Game is a tool for helping us see ourselves, not from outer space, but from here. It helps us not just recognise where and who we are, but how to use the resources that we currently have to effectively feed, clothe, and house everybody on the planet.
One of the ways it does this, is similar to the way war games work. But instead of the generals and admirals in the Pentagon and Kremlin figuring out the moves and counter-moves for World War III, it actually allows you to figure out how to beat the real enemies of humanity: things like starvation, lack of health-care, malnutrition, shortages of energy, and environmental pollution. And it does this in a way that allows us all to cooperate and everybody wins, rather than you win and I loose.
The World Game is a necessary, useful tool to help solve the world's problems, and expand the amount of creativity and intelligence and care and consciousness that is being focused on the world's problems. Instead of it being just a few the elite, the experts who deal with the world's problems, the World Game makes it possible for all of us to look at the world and to develop solutions.
The future belongs to young people
There are more children in Africa today under the age of fifteen than there are human beings in the United States! There are more young people in China under the age of fifteen who speak English than there are people in England! The future belongs to the youth of the world. They own the future. They may not own the property, or the military, or the multinational corporations. They can't even vote yet. But they do own one thing, and that is the future. I, at my age, have spent at least half of my life. The youth of the world, at their age, still have three quarters to eighty percent of their life in front of them. So the future is owned by them. This is why it's so important that the young people on the planet start caring about both the environment and all the other problems we face, because they're the ones who are going to have to deal with it. The World Game is a tool for helping empower people to take care of the planet. It gives us a way of solving some of the problems, recognising what they are, and coming up with solutions to them.
The myth of scarcity
Malthus was a British economist who said the world's population is increasing at an exponential rate, and the goods and services and food are increasing at an arithmetical rate. This means that we're all doomed to starvation in the near future that is, according to Malthus a couple of hundred years ago. Well, he was wrong! He's been wrong for two hundred years, but there are still some people around today who think that we're about to outstrip our abilities to provide for ourselves, that we're eventually going to starve to death, or that the world is going to poison itself. If you look at it from just a narrow frame of reference, there is alot of evidence to suggest that idea might be true. I'll contend that it's wrong. Because if you look at the big picture, and all of the information out there, you will be overwhelmed by the possibilities and the opportunities we have to not just feed, clothe, and house everybody on the planet, but to move ourselves from just a bare minimum, on up through the spectrum of choices that the richest countries of the world now have.
taking care of everybody on the planet
Using present-day technology, resources and know-how, we can take care of everybody on the planet. We can do that by doing more with less. We can use our know-how to employ resources in ways that are so effective that they do so much more with so much less that we take care or more and more people with the same amount of resources. This isn't magic: it's called ephemeralisation. This means substituting information for materials and energy. As we learn how to do something more and more effectively, we can get rid of the heavy materials that we've been using, and substitute know-how. An example of this is how quarter-ton communications satellites now outperform 175,000 tons of transatlantic cable. In the same way, fibre-optic cables and cellular phones outperform the older technology by two orders of magnitude. By doing more with less, it is possible to take care of everybody on the planet.
The future as opportunity
Alot of people think that we're doomed. Doomed to starvation or malnutrition or ecological disaster or thermonuclear holocaust. Any of those are a possibility, either for the whole world or part of the world, but if you abdicate your responsibility, or if you fall victim to apathy, it's a downward spiral. There are other ways of perceiving the world. It's critical that the world's young people don't get depressed by what they encounter in the world's newspapers and television programmes. There are other ways of looking at the planet and its resources: as a capacity and an opportunity.
We all have the opportunity to help solve the world's problems, but underlying that is a fundamental fact that everybody needs to know. This is that is that it is possible to solve the world's problems, that we've got the resources, we've got the technology. The only thing we're missing is your consciousness, energy, intelligence and creativity. We have to focus our consciousness on the problems and solve them. We can do what needs to be done. We've got the money, the technology and the resources. What we need is you to help put these things all together.
One of the ways this can happen is by doing more with less. Buckminster Fuller used to refer to this ephemeralisation. A good example of what this big word means, as I just mentioned, is how a telecommunications satellite that weighs a quarter of a ton outperforms does more with less than 175,000 tons of transoceanic cable. In the same way, cellular phones today in China and elsewhere are outperforming the entire telecommunications network all the phone lines and everything in the United States. We can do so much more with so much less in terms of resources and technology and the money it will cost to do this, that we can take care of everybody on the planet. Now this isn't magic. It's just simply substituting information and know-how for materials and energy. We can do it. Its up to you to participate in making the solutions possible.
Every action counts
Buckminster Fuller said that the world teeters on the threshold of oblivion, that we could fall down into oblivion. And that the teetering on the threshold of oblivion is so critical that the actions of every individual count. If you, who knows better, throw your soda can onto the sidewalk or your candy wrapper onto the street, that may be the thing that tilts the world in the direction of oblivion. In other words, every action of every individual counts. It's not just something that the big corporations or the big governments or the experts or the mass of humanity the other folks have to do. It's something that you and I have to do.
World Game Institute is doing is putting together a series of tools to help people deal with the problems of the world getting them the information, the vital, accurate information about the state of the planet. We're doing this through computer software, CD-ROMs, and something called the Net World Game on the Internet. This will enable you and I, sitting in Singapore or in San Francisco, to participate in a great logistics game through which we can compete and cooperate in developing solutions to the world's problems. These problems could be a recent earthquake in some part of the world or a new outbreak of starvation or famine in another part of the world, or some of the long-term systemic problems facing humanity, like the fact that there are now close to a billion people who are illiterate. Using the Net World Game through the Internet, we'll be able to participate together in solving these problems. This will not just be an academic exercise like "Wouldn't it be nice if we could solve this problem?" It will empower people to actively create and implement real-world, viable solutions to the world's problems. We're not deluded enough to think that you can have a good idea and just snap your fingers and it's going to get done. But if you have the information, then you can leverage the world to move in the direction that your values dictate.
Leveraging the world with information
This can be done the same way that smallpox got eradicated from the planet. A small group of people in Western Europe put together a plan that called for the end of smallpox. They didn't have the money it would take to do this, but they knew that Western Europe and America between them were spending about $200M a year to control smallpox within their borders. By the time they got through with their studies, they had a good cost/benefit analysis that said look, you're investing $200M a year in this program, but we can save you 10 billion dollars over the next twenty years. To make a long story short, they got their money, they implemented the program and 1978 was the last case of smallpox on this planet. They changed the entire planet, with information! By having enough information about how to make the world work, they actually changed the world.
With our workshops and our CD-ROM products and our Net World Game on the Internet, the World Game is attempting to give all of us the opportunities to move the world in similar ways, to develop viable, real-world solutions to the planet's problems so that we can actually solve them. We can create cost-effective, affordable solutions to the world's problems. In the same way that smallpox was eradicated, World Game can demonstrate that it's also affordable to eradicate malnutrition, starvation, illiteracy, and lack of health-care.
The Fuller Projectio map
The Fuller projection is the only map that gives us a view of the entire planet without distortion. It's essential for us to have an accurate view of the world. Back in the 1930's and 40's, Buckminster Fuller saw that the world maps then in use (and still in use today) the Mercator projection, the Robinson projection, etc., were grossly distorted. Fuller developed an accurate map of the entire planet that shows the world without any visible distortion of the land masses. It's an icosahedron, which is basically a spherical arrangement of twenty equilateral triangles. The way Fuller developed this is by taking the spherical surface of the planet and projecting the geographical data onto these equilateral triangles. But the technical part of the map is not as interesting as the ability to see the world accurately. If your view of the world is distorted, if you've got an inaccurate vision of the planet, if you're basing it on the current configuration of what, say, the Mercator map looks like, you could come up with some really crazy solutions to the world's problems.
The Fuller Projection is the most accurate representation of the entire planet that we currently have. It shows the entire surface of the Earth without any breaks in the continental outlines, and it shows all the continents accurately shaped and sized. Buckminster Fuller developed as a tool for plotting information on a global map without any visible distortion. It's a crucial tool for helping us to recognise, define and solve the global problems confronting humanity today.
If you're concerned about the ozone hole over Antarctica, or the opening of another ozone hole over the Northern hemisphere, or the rain forests, or any of the problems that concern us as human beings on the planet, from natural resources to technology use to environmental pollution, you're going to want to see where the problems are. You'll want to plot them on a map. If you try to plot them on anything but the Fuller projection, you're going to end up with a distorted view both of the planet and of the problem. Plotting things, displaying information on the Fuller projection map gives us an accurate view of the world. All the other maps the Mercator, Goode, and Robinson projections don't have the South Pole on them; they're missing an entire continent, so you don't see Antarctica. There's no North Pole. Greenland is shown nine times the size that it actually is in the real world. Africa is much smaller. It's biased to the North. So there are dozens of problems with the Mercator map. The Fuller projection is more of a North-South world. The Mercator map is an East-West. The Fuller projection map is the most accurate map of the entire planet and it is indispensable for looking at global problems because it is the only map that gives us an accurate view of the whole Earth.
There are now over five-and-a-half billion of us on the planet. That fact is astounding. In 1900 we had a little more than a billion of us. Never before in the entire five-and-a-half billion years of the history of the planet, have we had so many complex life forms like us. Now alot of people think that that's a negative, that we're polluting the environment, that we're going to destroy the world. But I think that it's an incredibly miraculous event! A human being is the most complex living being in the known universe. Five or six billion of us have the potential of transforming the entire planet. I think the astounding fact of our presence in the universe here on this planet needs to be looked at very carefully not just in a way that frightens us all: Oh my God, there's too many of us! It's really: "What's going on here? Why is it that we are all here together? What functions are we performing here on this planet? What's our role?" Think about it.
The ecologist Howard Odum said that the only way to understand a system is to understand the system it fits into. We need to take the big picture. We need to look at the world, and the problems of the world, from a global perspective not a local one, not from our home town or state or our country. We need to view the planet from a holistic perspective. We need to see across boundaries, we need to be able to see not just across geographical boundaries, like from a satellite looking down to earth. We need to see across system boundaries, problem boundaries, nationalities, culture boundaries. We need to be able to see the whole interacting systems out there for us to solve our problems, and for us to really recognise what's going on and to tap the potential that is out there on this planet.