Finding the Future at the End of the World

I hung off the edge of a cliff.

Ice pick in one hand, a tight, shaking rope in the other…

One more leg up and I’d be on top, with a look out at the end of the world.

The last true wilderness.


Only during the summer solstice in Antarctica — on a lucky day — could you climb a wall of ice and rock in a T-shirt.

The sun doesn’t set. It circles above for 24 hours, taunting your biological clock. Its light pours through a thinner atmosphere, reflecting every which way. Your face must be drenched with 100-plus SPF sunscreen or it burns. Your eyes must be shielded by the darkest iridium glasses or you’ll go snow-blind.

Looking down the length of my rope, I saw my friend below: an exceptional Frenchman, Mont Blanc graduate and avid wingsuit BASE jumper still recovering from a broken leg. When he saw I safely arrived at the summit… he began to sip his morning coffee.

But this was the “white desert.”

We both knew that in a matter of minutes, the clouds could come and cover us in darkness… the bottom of the earth could suddenly exhale winds half the speed of a hurricane or more… and in minutes, the warmth could vanish and slip below freezing.

Sure enough, that’s what soon happened. Time to look forward… adapt and survive…

It’s been three years to the day since I flew back from the continent of sun-soaked ice. I had to make it back in time for Christmas dinner. And when I did, friends and family scratched their heads. “Why would any person in their right mind go somewhere so… inhospitable?” they wondered.

Most would get an automatic response:

People from different places go for different reasons. It’s truly a global community. The Indian science base I visited studies the magnetic properties of the poles. The Russian base measures how sunlight is refracted off the moon. They stuck around even when it was the dark season — 24 hours of daylight — but at least they’d see the aurora. And the U.S. is doing all sorts of things at the South Pole.

Then I’d say this to those who suspected and wanted more than the usual chatter:

I was interested in a vacation from society, so I went to a place where it was once impossible for explorers (many of them my heroes) to return from… to get some perspective. I wanted to test that important ability that humans have (so far) demonstrated so much better than other animals — that ability to adapt.

It took Magellan’s ships three years, from 1519-22, to sail around the planet in a wooden ship.

Three hundred fifty years later, it took a steel steamship two years to do the same.

Seventy-five years later, a plane made of metal alloys took two weeks to fly around the whole planet.

Thirty-five years later, new materials enabled space capsules to circle the planet in an hour.

Given this trend, how could we not accomplish our problems back home?

Back home, the U.S. was still reeling from financial crisis, confronting the reality of being an empire in decline… with a growing list of enemies. Treasures from previous generations — values, memories, principles, wealth and liberties — were being extinguished… sometimes quietly, sometimes not.

There should be no limit to what we can accomplish.

Being at the end of the world is like being on the moon. When you look around, it’s easy to learn what’s trivial and what’s not in life. I imagine anyone who goes there gets a taste of what the astronauts experience when they see the “Earthrise” from the moon. Everyone comes back with one “religious” conversion or another to tell.

While I was there, I kept thinking about one extraordinary genius who didn’t need to “see” the planet from the outside… he imagined it as one integrated closed system.

Buckminster Fuller was legally blind at an early age… and was forced to use his sense of touch, rather than vision, to interpret the world around him. Eventually, this skill would help him as an inventor to find new ways to improve structural engineering.

His “geodesic dome” for example, is the only structure in the world that gets stronger as it expands. His fuel- and space-efficient Dymaxion car also followed similar principles. Several prototypes were built in the 1930s. The aerodynamic vehicle travelled about 30 miles per gallon, and the 18-foot tear-shaped body was large enough to seat 11 people yet could be turned on a small radius to easily park in a tight space. It was a brave attempt at innovation, in any case.

Credit: Write auction house, Chicago

Unfortunately, he had difficulty getting his car approved for widespread use across the U.S. Likewise, his ideas for mass-produced housing units ran into trouble with the established building codes.

It’s easy to understand what Fuller was attempting. He employed what humans have used for over 40,000 years — stories — to explain complex ideas. As the author of Naked Value: 6 Things Every Business Leader Needs to Know About Resources, Innovation & Competition says in his eight-minute animated video “I heard [Bucky] tell this story, about bridges, the very first time I ever heard him speak, and it changed the way I think about the world for the rest of my life.”

Take a moment to watch this video:

One of Bucky’s most fascinating principles is “ephemeralization,” a trend in human development where technology allows you to “do more with less.”

Henry Ford’s assembly line is one example. It continuously led to better products at lower costs. But Bucky saw this trend across many different technologies.

Take measurement technology, for example. A ruler uses “compressive measure.” But it only goes so far. For longer measures, you need a rope, which uses “tensive measure.” When that upper limit is reached, you must move onto the surveyor’s telescope, “visual measure.” The upper limit there is the curvature of the Earth, so you have to upgrade to radio triangulation, “abstract electrical.” As Bucky notes, tech progression increases in length-measuring ability per pound of instrument.

Here’s the thing, according to Fuller: There’s no ultimate upper limit. Our capabilities can always go further than what came before — they just need to be accommodated by the right tech.

This trend continues as materials used get lighter, stronger, often smaller and more versatile. Not only that, but there is an acceleration taking place: Not only do we do more with less these days, but the rate of doing more with less is going up.

The result?

One day, we will do everything with nothing.

Fuller insisted there were certain laws of nature that had to be obeyed. And if man-made laws, such as economics and politics, bumped up against and disagree with the laws nature has slowly, meticulously and ruthlessly produced… it’s not going to be pretty.

But if we learn from and work with these laws, we can design a world that uses fewer resources, serves an exploding population and brings about more efficiency in time and money in the process. As Bucky proposed, think of our planet as a spaceship… one integrated system. If we landed on it for the first time today, would we start construction based on old models?

No, of course not. We’d wipe out the “evolutionary baggage” and use only the best technology and know-how to redesign a world that prevented disease and disaster that raised living standards, and allowed humans to go where they’d never gone before.

…As I walked in the middle of a whiteout in the white desert, with no external stimuli to distract… My thoughts colored the snowy canvas around me… I thought to myself… we must act to radically change the world… before it’s too late.


Josh Grasmick
for The Daily Reckoning

Ed. Note: Josh sees all sorts of incredible technological breakthroughs set to re-shape our world and our understanding of what’s possible. And he details them every day in his free Tomorrow in Review email edition. If you’re not getting it, you could be missing out on the most remarkable discoveries in human history and detailed descriptions of how these technologies will change our lives… and lead to incredible profits for early investors. Don’t wait another second. Sign up for the FREE Tomorrow in Review email edition, right here.

You May Also Be Interested In: