04/29/2014 01:33 pm ET Updated Jun 28, 2014

Buckminster Fuller: What Can You Do?

The unique American visionary Buckminster Fuller thought of himself as an experiment in pursuit of discovering "what one man can do on behalf of humanity," famously calling himself "Guinea-pig B." He understood that the human mind was an unprecedented development in nature and that the species had been endowed with the unique cognitive abilities that make us capable of both purposefully and unintentionally transforming the environment on Earth: "Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment," he cautioned.

Fuller was fundamentally preoccupied with how the specific qualities that had made humankind so unique would be applied. He understood from early on, that the human and its brain is nature's most daring experiment yet (to the best of our knowledge) and that ultimately, it is due to our unprecedented power to transform the physical environment and reap "synergies" achieved by the application of an only-increasing amount of knowledge that humanity has the potential to thrive or devastate our planet.

The challenges that the world faces today are daunting, yet Bucky's (as he is affectionately referred to) singular perspective has always restored my optimism and encouraged me to strive for progress. He constantly reminded his students and readers to maximize their productivity and impact by harnessing the full potential of science and technology. Yet, he also insisted that this went hand in hand with education and continuous research, which he argued are central in the path for sustainable development. Fuller saw no reason for future generations to be burdened by our contemporary limitations, and in fact, upon closer inspection many of the barriers to a sustainable habitation on the planet seem to be artificially imposed. A position that has been echoed by world leaders like Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, and Jose Mujica, president of Uruguay.

The fundamental choice for us is what is the road towards development that we will choose from this point on. Over 50 years ahead of the Brundtland Commission that defined sustainable development as we know it today, Fuller was one of the first designers that was committed to a sustainable design practice that could "make the world work, for 100 percent of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone." Ultimately, he believed that designers "have the responsibility of establishing the new society for the yet untainted new life whose simplified unselfconscious environment may thus forever be freed from the dominant abuses of past selfishness."

The ultimate paradox of modernity is the coexistence of rising inequality and the know-how , technology and resources required to lift everyone on Earth to the highest possible standard of living. However frustrating the lack of global cooperation towards this end might be, the fact that the possibility exists remains a beacon of hope for thousands around the world that dedicate their lives to finding solutions to our global development challenges. In the end, it all boils down to personal initiative. If you are wondering what you should be doing, Bucky had some interesting advice for that too: "The things to do are: the things that need doing, that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done."