Jeremy Rifkin. No one we've come across approaches ‘the big picture’ of sustainability in the next century of humanity more directly or coherently. His new documentary for Vice is essentially a cleverly-shot lecture. In it Rifkin pieces together his vision for a Third Industrial Revolution for a room full of young thinkers.
Prepare your brain for a booster shot: it’s worth settling in for this one.
Rifkin has a powerful proposition. Industrial revolutions occur when innovations converge across three different areas: energy, communications, and transportation. We’ve ridden the wave of the second industrial revolution of oil, telephones and the combustion engine, right in to the beach. Now productivity is plateauing across the world. The chief reason for hope is that the only way of turning around our economic fortunes also invites us to a drastically better social and environmental future.
Rifkin argues that we can already see which technologies will underpin the third industrial revolution. They include renewables, the internet, and electrified autonomous transportation. Each of these encourages distributed networks rather than centralised power. They offer huge opportunities for a radical sharing-based economy. But they also create intense economic and social tensions.
There is a power struggle between the old and the emerging new. It will be political. Positive outcomes are not inevitable, especially as environmental devastation escalates. We should focus our efforts on creating the infrastructure of the third industrial revolution, not patching up the legacy infrastructure.
Rifkin sees humanity as moving towards what he calls a ‘biospheric consciousness’. He believes young people in the workforce today are its most advanced proponents.
Rifkin has adopted several regions as testing grounds for bringing his vision alive. The northern regions of France, Luxembourg, and Rotterdam and the Hague have developed roadmaps for a third industrial revolution. Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Premier Xi of China have also been influenced by his ideas.
But questions remain! Including this one: How should New Zealand respond? We’d love to hear your thoughts too.
Access Rifkin’s presentation free here.