Even with the prospect of tough times ahead for the global economy, Jeremy Rifkin, Adviser to the European Union, Senior Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, DC and one of the most influential economists and thinkers of these days, argues that it is not all bad. In his latest treatise “The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and World,” Rifkin clearly states, that we are heading towards a new exciting era, one that combines new communication technologies with renewable energies aiming to completely escape the use of fossil fuels.
According to Rifkin, Economic Revolutions occur, when “new energy regimes emerge and communication systems enable them to become more operational.” The First Industrial Revolution for instance, happened thanks to the combination of printing and the steam machine, allowing production of much higher quantities at considerably lower prices.
The second Industrial Revolution made electricity and communication tools such as radios, and later televisions and telephones, available to the general public. However, Rifkin speculates that this revolution is slowly coming to its end, as the price of almost every good is strongly dependent on the crude oil price. The economic crisis which began in the summer of 2008, caused the price per barrel to rise to almost $150 which, in turn, led to an economic downward spiral. In addition, coal, oil and natural gas, the so called “elite energies” requires an immense investment of capital due to their poor availability. That makes them not efficient enough to remain the main energy source of the future.
This is where Jeremy Rifkin believes that the Third Industrial Revolution comes into action: contrary to the “elite energies,” renewable energy sources like the sun, wind, geothermal warmth or garbage are available in any form almost all over the world. As adviser for the EU he had the honor to establish the “Roadmap For Moving To A Competitive Low Carbon Economy In 2050,” a five-pillar based concept. For this concept it is critical that one pillar can only function in relation to the other four, creating synergies that are likely to change Europe and the whole world and which will significantly stimulate economic growth.
These pillars are designed (1) to establish renewable energy (the EU aims to support 20% of their energy needs from renewable resources); (2) transform the building stock of every continent into micro-power plants in order to collect renewable energies on-site; (3) develop storage technologies in every building to save any surplus of generated energy; (4) use Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy internet that acts just like the overall Internet (millions of buildings connected to each other, allowing them to sell/share any surplus of energy among each other) and (5) integrate the transportation sector in this power grid.
Currently, this project may seem difficult to attain as prices for such technologies remain very high, but Rifkin anticipates that the prices will very soon plummet, empowering the general public to adopt technologies and to become part of this new revolution, which will change the way power is distributed in the 21st century. Furthermore, this change will require “a wholesale and reconfiguration of the entire economic infrastructure of each country, creating millions of jobs and countless new goods and services.” The entire process requires a new way of thinking, working, doing business and therefore “a new humanity."