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Lamenting "The Third Industrial Revolution"
March 8, 2012 - 8:30pm

The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World by Jeremy Rifkin

Jeremy Rifkin seems to be convinced that the world (at least the European world) is enamored with Jeremy Rifkin. Perhaps he is correct. Much of the The Third Industrial Revolution is spent recounting endless meetings with European Union technocrats. Meetings that almost always seem to end with some sort of wholesale adoption of Rifkin's plan to remake the economy, society, the education system, and perhaps the local sandwich shop for good measure. Part of me suspects if you were to ask Angela Merkel about Jeremy Rifkin that she'd return the question with an uncomprehending Teutonic stare, but maybe the Chancellor and Rifkin truly are bfd's4ever.

It is sad that The Third Industrial Revolution has so much of Jeremy Rifkin (the globetrotting entrepreneurial policy wonk prophet/savior of post-carbon capitalism) and not enough of Jeremy Rifkin the thinker and analyst. Because that Jeremy Rifkin has some interesting things to say (although which could have been said in the space of a Kindle Single). Rifkin's main argument is that we need to move our whole economy off carbon based fuels, and on to clean renewable energy such as solar and wind.  He believes that the age of centralized power distribution is over (he is no fan of nuclear power), and the future lies in distributed power generation hooked up through smart grids. Every building becomes a power generator, creating its own power and selling excess juice automatically through a web enabled and intelligent electrical distribution system.   

Distributed renewable power generation hooked into a smart grid would constitute a 3rd Industrial Revolution. The 1st Industrial Revolution of the 19th century was based on coal, the 2nd (20th century) on oil. Rifkin places the blame for our recent economic meltdown squarely on oil, arguing that increased demand (especially from China) has driven up costs beyond what the world economy can absorb. He predicts continued economic shocks until the world wises up and starts putting solar panels on every building in the land.

Progressive, Prius driving people (I'd love a Prius) will be sympathetic to these arguments. Who is against solar panels on every roof? Who does not like a smart grid? Who loves big oil? The problem is that Rifkin is an evangelist, and is unable to evaluate counter-arguments or diverse perspectives. The move away from carbon based fuels is probably an issue of when and not if.  But will this change happen as quickly as Rifkin predicts? And if this transition does not happen (RIGHT NOW!), is the world economy in for total destruction?  I'd like to hear the arguments on both sides.  

Jeremy Rifkin would be a great speaker to bring to campus. I think that he would do a terrific job of engaging our students, and challenging them to do their part in constructing a Third Industrial Revolution.  Just don't make the mistake of passing his book out before he arrives on campus.

What are you reading? 

 

 

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