Article written by Paula Newton and Maria Fonseca
Ideas of living in a different way that is more sustainable are advocated by many, but not as many put their money where their mouth is. One person who has done exactly that is Jacque Fresco. Jacque Fresco is almost a centenary man: he was born in 1916. A self made man, Fresco founded an organisation known as the Venus Project. The idea is to get people living in an economy that is resource based. Such an economy would focus on being efficient with energy, managing natural resources effectively and sustainable development and would be based on social cooperation.
The Venus Project proposes an alternative vision of what the future can be if we apply what we already know in order to achieve a sustainable new world civilization. If you visit the website you will see Fresco´s designs and ideas of a future society beyond war, poverty, where through automation and technology one could create and design a holistic socioeconomic system that would bring creativity, beauty and happiness to all.
The Fresco view of the way the order of things should be is that in the society created there would be no need for material possessions. Many jobs that are tedious and mundane would be eliminated through automation of such tasks. Strikingly similar to the idea of robots doing all the dull jobs, a reality of a robots economics isn´t that far away from nowadays. But Fresco´s project is more futuristic.
In his vision, buildings would be created in factories (BBC, 2013). Even the physical structure of the city would be different under the Venus Project ideology. Fresco describes how cities created in the Venus project would be circular rather than linear to avoid the problem of inefficiency in getting around. In his fantastic designs, Fresco proposes and sketches for example cities in the sea. For the same reason transport would run way above ground to avoid inefficiencies in movement. The circular city in the Fresco paradigm would conserve resources. Appealing to those that love nature and greenery, Fresco says:
“Instead of having parks, the whole city is a park and lovely gardens because people need that.”
The need for exercise would not be dictated to people, but rather, Fresco explains, it would be built into the community through design of the city. Meanwhile the cities created would use geothermal energy. The reasoning behind this? Countries can tap into this energy source from anywhere. It is under the oceans and land and it does not matter whether it is cloudy or if there is no wind – power can still be generated for use. Buildings would also be designed to withstand natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. There would be no police, no army, no prison and no navy. Indeed, Fresco believes that there is no future if some nations control more resources than others, and if some control too many resources. In Fresco’s mind this situation leads to territorial disputes and wars. He also argues that wars are not ended by treaties. Rather he explains that: “You have to make all the world’s resources available to all of the world’s people,”
Ideologically then, this is not supported by communism, socialism or capitalism, and in fact in the Venus Project all of these approaches would be eliminated. Resources would be distributed among people based on a scientific methodology. All of this would have the benefit of removing the concept of elitism. It would also cut back on crime, since people are often motivated to steal because they do not have anything themselves, so Fresco believes that getting rid of the monetary system would have this outcome – hence the need for no prisons or police.
Fundamentally in the Venus Project, Fresco explains that people would regain the ability to live again. It is Fresco’s belief that through chasing money and power and material worth people have lost that ability and they need to re-learn it. On the subject of learning, people would be free to learn what they wanted. They would be free to go back to school and become creative, and as he puts it, travel and sail the seas.
Utopias of the past
Fresco´s project sound wonderful and also similar to other attempts of describing an utopian way of living. In 1516 Thomas More published “Utopia”, a work of fiction and political philosophy that described a perfect society happening in a fictional island. In the aftermath of the industrial revolution, Utopian socialism started to flourish inspired by the pioneering oeuvre of Thomas More. Its founders were social reformers like Charles Fournier and Robert Owen.
Utopian Socialists were philanthropists and social reformers that sketched visions and outlines for imaginary or futuristic ideal societies, thriving with positive ideals such as happiness prosperity and well being for all. Many of their attempts, if not all, failed, but some small scale initiatives gave rise to other projects, that have influenced our world of nowadays.
The Venus Project, as great as it sounds, seems as a very far ideal a many challenges would have to be overcome to achieve these ideals. One of the problems that has been highlighted by critics is that in the system described by Fresco, people no longer would make decisions and computers do instead. While that sounds logical, and a bit what is happening already, with algorithms ruling must of our world, in fact as those questioning the system point out, someone has to programme the computers in the first place to be able to make the decisions, and since people are flawed and in it for what they can get (from a cynic’s perspective) it is likely that this is one way in which the Venus Project could fall down. There will still be lots of decisions to make to define how outcomes are arrived at by computers and this is another way in which the system could fail. Nonetheless, the ideals are worthy and Fresco´s Venus project was recently presented in a BBC documentary part of the BBC World News Horizons on connected cities.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.