In an era dominated by rapid consumption and depleting resources, the debate revolves around whether our technocratic advances can sustainably pave our future. With glimpses into the Club of Rome's research and the ambitious Venus project, we delve deep into what might shape the civilization of tomorrow.
And where is it all gone?
Everything written above looks rather gloomy in general. Does this mean that it’s time to wrap yourself in a white sheet and slowly, so as not to create panic, move towards the nearest cemetery? It may very well be. But there are still some rays of light in this dark kingdom. First, these are modern technologies. Critics of the very first reports to the Club of Rome noted that scientific and technological progress accelerates not only the consumption of non-renewable resources and environmental pollution but also the development of novel resources, and the introduction of resource-saving and environmentally friendly technologies. Is the Earth running out of silver, for example? We can try to mine it from asteroids. Do not forget that we also have the Moon practically at hand, and on it — helium-3, aluminum, titanium, magnesium, and water. Many useful substances can be extracted from seawater. Food production is also improving, hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical farms, and artificial meat are spreading. So far, some of this is impossible, some is extremely expensive, and some is not quite common, but once there were no computers, then they were at the disposal of only governments and the largest corporations, and now almost everyone has one in their pocket smartphone, which is, in principle, a full-fledged computer.
Since the beginning of the 1980s, that is, with the spread of the influence of “Reaganism-Thatcherism”, in the Western world, they began to react too negatively to discussions about any kind of socialism and attempts to promote some new forms of supranational regulation began to run into a wall of misunderstanding in the “first” and the third world. The authority of right-wing rhetoric grew by leaps and bounds. Against this backdrop, the Club of Rome’s research has shifted to the search for self-reliance opportunities for developing countries, as well as ways to change cultural stereotypes, in particular, the spread of aversion to violence, a love of justice, and — most importantly — an understanding of the value of universal education.
War, resources, and the need for education
It is clear that if you, all so fair, hating violence and educated, ride every day in a Hummer that blows into the atmosphere and eats more gasoline than two buses, eat steaks from grain-fed cows, and serve in a corporation that keeps a textile production of a semi-concentration camp like in Bangladesh, where people work for 50 dollars a month, having these passive cultural stereotypes in you will not make the world more stable, nor will it develop. But even if at the same time, the state happens to be stupid to fight, you don’t support the party of the war and others don’t support the same, and still others and the war will not take place in the end (with the level of real accountability of the current governments, it’s unlikely, but suddenly), this is already at least some benefit: war is the most effective devourer of the planet’s resources.
Well, if we still hope for innovative technologies, we need people who can create them. That is educated people. And understanding the value of education plays a significant role here. Less than real unhindered access for all to this very education, but still important. There will be more educated people — there will be more of those who can develop technologies and look for ways to prevent a planetary resource crisis or overcome its consequences.
There are also projects for building a sustainable civilization that stands aside from the mainstream. I would like to say — “going”, but, unfortunately, the word “standing” is more suitable for most of them. The most famous of these projects is Venus. It was invented by the engineer and designer Jacques Fresco, who, of course, is the most interesting and wonderful person. The mere fact that he was 101 years old in 2017, already makes him a very unusual guy. At one time, Jacques, then still a sixteen-year-old teenager, was very unpleasantly impressed and upset by the Great Depression, at the same time he began to think about whether it was worth arranging human society so that such events became impossible. Later, the formation of his views was also influenced by his observation of the primitive society of the aborigines of the Tuamotu Islands and the Second World War.
In the end, reflections and observations led to the fact that in 1975, Jacques began attempts to somehow generalize and formalize them. This is how the Venus project was born — the idea of anarchic technocracy, which ensures the sustainable progressive continuous development of mankind. The main concept of the project is a resource-oriented economy, that is, an economic system in which all resources, things, and services are available without the use of any commodity-money exchange. It is supposed to abolish not only money but also barter. All that is needed, a person should be able to simply take. Just. And what to do, you ask, if someone wants to take a ton of iridium or the entire Black Sea coast? But nothing. This will not happen. Must not be. Because one of the main points of the Venus project is attention, and getting rid of false needs. To make this possible, the people of the world must be enlightened, intellectually, emotionally, and morally prepared. By the way, Jacque Fresco and his associates are well aware of the power of the impact of cinema and visual information in general, and therefore they place great hopes in terms of preparation and education on the propaganda film “Paradise or Oblivion” created by them.
Critique and challenges facing the Venus project
If you’ve watched the movie, you might have noticed that when the narrator says in a voice-over that Jacques has been researching for years developing the concept of a resource-based economy, the screen changes to scenes of Jacques Fresco drawing some futuristic vehicles and fiddling around. with model rockets. It is not noticeably clear how these drawings can help in the study of the problem of getting rid of money and even barter. Drawings in general are somehow not very conducive to abundance and the improvement of social relations.
To make it clearer, I will draw another associative line. I once worked for a consumer electronics company. The company grew and grew rich and somehow by chance bought a design institute and a workshop for the conveyor production of flowerpots. After that, the owners of the company came up with an idea: to shoot an advertising film, in which they introduce themselves as “a full cycle company — design, production, sales floor.” The film was made. However, anyone who watched it and listened to the voice-over saw that houses were being designed, flowerpots were being produced, and Korean VCRs were being sold. That is, they somehow very clumsily try to take him for a fool. The moment in Paradise or Oblivion, where the drawing of a beautiful boat is accompanied by a text about the study of a resource-based economy, is remarkably close to this.
Finally, a profoundly serious mistrust of Jacques arises at the end of the film, when he says that we can build a wonderful technocracy on Earth within the next ten years. Damn it, friends, ten years ago was 2005. Now it’s 2015. Have you changed a lot during this time? What is strong? What about your parents? Your spouses? Friends? Colleagues? Let’s just say, has the average person in your environment changed enough to make it possible to believe that in another ten years, he will be able to become an ideal inhabitant of an ideal world? Even if the dynamics of his change are doubled? Or will he sit with a glass of beer in a sports bar or with seeds in front of the TV? By the way, about TV: do we seriously believe that in ten years it will be possible to make all 7–8 billion inhabitants of the Earth watch this film? Otherwise, no way. Unlike the backsliding members of the Club of Rome, Fresco is well aware that it would be good for sustainable development to get rid of state borders, and this will be difficult to do everywhere if the inhabitants of, say, Vanuatu do not have time to watch the film.
But seriously, the participants of the Venus project want to start building a test city of science, which will test the technologies of the future, including social ones. It is assumed that life in it will be built on the principles of a resource-oriented economy. Unexpected, right? On the one hand, there seems to be an understanding of the need for globalization and universal interaction, on the other hand, another attempt to arrange a paradise in a single village. Not only is there a clear contradiction, but in addition, we can recall how such attempts usually end. Don’t remember? Let me remind you: either by collapse, like Owen’s New Harmony, or by dull vegetation under the joint, like Mirra Alfassa’s Auroville.
Inconsistency, inconsistency, and the obvious lack of even an approximate idea, even among the leaders of the project, about how exactly to turn the arrows of the world from the path to a dead end to the path to a resource-oriented economy are the main and, it seems, fatal shortcomings of Venus.
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.