The Girl from Spaceship Earth is a true story about one girl's lifelong passion to live up to the practical utopian ideas of Buckminster Fuller, a 20th century philosopher and scientist who is often considered the grandfather of environmentalism. I talked with the girl from Spaceship Earth, Patricia Ravasio, about her what inspired her book, self-publishing, and what we can all learn from Bucky today.
First of all, who is The Girl from Spaceship Earth?
The Girl from Spaceship Earth is me, and all of us. As a book title, I thought it captured the essence of the huge challenge facing us—that we must each accept individual responsibility for global outcomes. My book is a true story about grappling with responsibility for our current precarious ecological tipping point, and what it will take to bail us out in time. The ideas and integrities outlined in the book are not mine, but those of a forgotten American genius Buckminster Fuller. Steve Jobs called him "the Leonardo da Vinci of the twentieth century." The good news is we can probably still bring humanity in for a happy landing, but only if we act fast.
So who is this Buckminster Fuller character, and how would I know about him today?
Photo via PBS
If you went to a progressive university like Cal, you probably know all about Bucky, but if you attended it's most likely you never heard of him, even though Stanford owns his archives. Bucky (the name he preferred) traversed the globe hundreds of times, speaking passionately, as early as the 1940s, about the importance of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, both to protect the environment and to relieve humans of the need to labor for our daily energy supply. Since Stanford was and is led by fossil fuel giants, this was not exactly something they wanted to hear or share with their students. But to the enlightened science and design community, Bucky is still heralded as the grandfather of sustainability because he was the first global thinker in terms of resource management and human potential.
In the 1960s and 70s, he got us to see ourselves as crew members on a tiny blue marble hurling through space. He coined the term Spaceship Earth and his mission was nothing short of "making the world work for 100% of humanity, without ecological harm." He emphasized how we must realign ourselves with nature to accomplish this. He invented all kinds of innovations for housing, transportation, a new math he called synergetic geometry, and the geodesic dome, his most famous creation. He earned dozens of patents and even designed a global energy grid to help distribute power from the sun. But needless to say his nature-inspired ideas did not exactly catch on the first time around. That's why I am bringing them back. He always said he worked fifty years in advance, so this book should be right on time.
When did your passion for these ideas begin?
It started in my childhood on a lake in Indiana, where I was in love with nature, but humans not so much. My father was a big fan of Bucky's and took us to see his World Game Exhibit at Southern Illinois University, which lit up my eleven-year-old brain like fireworks. I became a tad obsessed with his brilliant common sense ideas, and then, many years later, when I was a divorced-former-radio-journalist-turned-advertising-writer in Chicago, I saw he was in town and phoned him up for an interview. That's where the book actually starts. I get the education of a lifetime and I promise I would watch for the signs he spoke of, and share his ideas with the world when it was ready to hear them.
An audacious promise. What kind of signs did he say to watch for?
His 1982 prescience was uncanny. He said things like "future wars will not be fought by countries but by rogue individuals we have oppressed" — and then 9/11 happens. He predicted his environmental ideas would be "rendered invisible" — and then two decades later I met a brilliant Stanford science grad who had never heard of him. Bucky called the fossil fuel industry's obstruction of clean energy "the greatest crime ever committed against humanity" and then we learn that Exxon knew all along about the dangers of greenhouse gasses. He also predicted the failure of America but said it would be necessary, and then Donald Trump got elected president. That's when I decided I needed to get the book published as fast as I could.
Photo by Denné Boring at Mountain Escape, OR
I understand you self-published. Was this because it felt urgent?
Yes, I was all set to send my manuscript out to some agents and then Election Night 2016 gave me the biggest whack upside the head ever. I knew traditional publishing would take two to three years, and that time was running out.
How is it to be a rogue indie? You hit a #1 bestseller spot on Amazon for activist memoirs your first week, so are you doing okay?
Yes, with a little help from my friends, but when it comes to marketing, being self-published is like racing your bicycle against a fleet of 747's. My book launched on 9/11, the same day as Hillary Clinton's. Her What Happened
got all the attention, while dozens of more enlightening and globally important stories were launched in her shadow that day. My local independent bookstore, Book Passage
, has been hugely supportive of the book ever since they saw the Bill McKibben and the Buckminster Fuller estate were supporting it, so yes, I am doing okay. I am aiming globally, but starting locally.
Who knew Bucky would also inspire these Hipcamps! (Click on each photo for more info)
Photos by Leopoldo Macaya, Kiran Umapathy, Lisse Lundin and Julian Bialowas,
Would you recommend self publishing?
It's been a miraculous learning experience, so I'm glad I did it. And I got exactly what I wanted. I love the cover, the interior design, the photos I included, everything. If I'd been scooped up by a publisher I would have lost some creative control. But you have to be the type of person to like the feeling of jumping off a cliff every day, knowing that anything is possible. Including nothing. That it's all up to you.
So what's next?
I'm hitting the road, working full time to get this book out to readers, especially the younger Hipcamp generation. I think it will help people understand how and why the boomers didn't exactly get the job done, and how we can make sure history doesn't repeat itself. It's a much more complete version of What Happened if you ask me. And because it tells the story of a passionate, never-say-die journey to find your own voice to make a difference in the world, maybe it will help others do the same. I hope many of your readers will come to the Book Passage Ferry Building store at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, October 11, to learn more about ideas and integrities that can still change the world.
Patricia Ravasio is an award-winning journalist, advertising writer and community volunteer who is also the mother of Hipcamp founder and CEO Alyssa Ravasio. They share a mission—to help people realign with nature—which first came to light while gliding down sunlit granite water slides high above Yosemite Valley and falling in love with tiny toads at Trinity Lake.