on September 27, 2011
"The Third Industrial Revolution" offers a fascinating look at Jeremy Rifkin's views on the future of energy and the economy. Rifkin believes we are on the verge of a new industrial revolution that will transform the economy and society in a similar way to the major changes that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Rifkin's "third" industrial revolution is based on "five pillars:" (1) A general shift to renewable energy. (2) Micro-generation of clean energy in homes, offices and other buildings. (3) Hydrogen and other forms of energy storage in homes and throughout the economy (4) an "Internet-like" smart energy grid that would allow individuals to generate power and then distribute it, and (5) Conversion of transportation away from fossil fuels to electric plug-in or hydrogen fuel cells.
While the book contains a lot of insightful analysis, I think it gives short shrift to the problem of jobs. Technology and globalization are increasingly destroying well-paid opportunities for workers in developed countries. The book does discuss this, but only in the very last few pages. This is surprising because, of course, Rifkin wrote a book about this issue in the 1990s ("The End of Work"). Now, however, he seems to buy into the more conventional view that green jobs will solve the problem of unemployment.
I'm doubtful of that. Technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics are accelerating and will soon have a dramatic impact. Advancing technology will also make offshoring of high wage jobs a bigger and bigger problem in the West.
"The Third Industrial Revolution" offers many good ideas, but I think it ultimately falls short of answering the question on many peoples' minds: How will average people in developed countries like the United States make an adequate living (and keep pace with the cost of living) while competing with both technology and globalization? That is a critical question because if households are focused on individual survival, it will be very difficult to amass political support for the energy and climate change policies Rifkin advocates. For a strong analysis of the jobs/income issue and some solutions, also read "The Lights in the Tunnel."
on November 13, 2011
This book is good, but it's definitely verbose, as it repeats the same concepts over and over again. There is no doubt that the author is well versed in the subject matter, both in breadth and depth, but there is only so much one can espouse about the transformation of modern society from a fossil-fuel based economy to a renewable-energy based economy. Yes, Europe is way ahead of the United States in achieving the 5 factors that will successfully transform society into the Third Industrial Revolution - we get it. Oh, you want to make the point again? O.K. - got it. Again? Really? There is no need to study that concept ad-nauseum from every conceivable angle. For the layperson, this book is a little much. I think I put it down permanently about midway through... Wait a month and buy it used in order to save yourself some $$'s and thus form your own mini economic revolution.
on April 17, 2012
The concepts that Rifkin puts forward are incredibly important to the future of our economy, but more importantly to combating climate change. I so want to like this book, because more people need to become familiar with these concepts. But the writing! Mr. Rifkin, it is very nice that you have had dinner with Angela Merkel, and met with many heads of state, but this does almost nothing for your narrative. It reads more like an ego trip than a description of the very important process of communicating ideas, and the development of long range plans for the implementation of those ideas. The book could be a great resource as well, but is incredibly under-footnoted, so it has very little value for further research. A real disappointment.
on July 16, 2013
More than half the children born today in the United States or Europe will live to see the 22nd Century. In theory.
However, if you're unreservedly optimistic about the future of today's young children, chances are you haven't been paying attention. In the face of global warming, overpopulation, resource limits, and the growing number of species going extinct, it's difficult to look far ahead without wondering whether the human race can truly meet the existential challenges we face.
Jeremy Rifkin thinks we can. He is both a realist, and, if at least one of his many books can be believed, an optimist. In The Third Industrial Revolution, he lays out a comprehensive platform on which the human race can build a sustainable future. His vision of the future is nothing less than brilliant.
To be sure, Rifkin isn't predicting that his vision will take hold. He's hoping it will. The Third Industrial Revolution is, above all, hopeful.
Rifkin's vision is complex and wide-ranging. Within the 300 pages of The Third Industrial Revolution, he delves into energy, communications, transportation, history, economics, thermodynamics, paleontology, philosophy, psychology, education, and numerous other subjects. It's a dazzling display of erudition.
The author notes that the Second Industrial Revolution from which we're now emerging was dominated by the telephone, the automobile, and fossil fuels. That's hard to dispute. The Third Industrial Revolution is being built on the foundation of the Internet and renewable energy, leading humanity forward into a post-carbon era - and that's the part that requires the reader to "suspend disbelief," as the writers of science fiction ask us to do.
In this new era, Rifkin writes, "the conventional, centralized business operations of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions will increasingly be subsumed by the distributed business practices of the Third Industrial Revolution; and the traditional, hierarchical organization of economic and political power will give way to lateral power organized nodally across society." For example, in place of most large electric generating facilities, every building will generate its own energy. Any surplus will be sold to others through trading networks managed by the successors to today's electric utilities. Rifkin estimates that the process of building out this Third Industrial Revolution will take 40-50 years, roughly the same amount of time that previous economic upheavals required. This assumes, of course, that global warming and other threatening trends will allow us that much time. Rifkin believes they will, and I'm hoping he's right.
"As we approach the middle of the century," he writes, "more and more commerce will be overseen by intelligent technological surrogates, freeing up much of the human race to create social capital in the not-for-profit civil society, making it the dominant sector in the second half of the century." This assertion derives from an earlier book Rifkin wrote, The End of Work.
It's easy to dismiss this vision as utopian and unattainable, as all utopian visions are. However, Jeremy Rifkin is no idle dreamer. As he explains at great length in The Third Industrial Revolution, this vision has been bought whole by the European Union, the Utrecht region of the Netherlands, and the cities of Rome and San Antonio, among many others. Rifkin, his staff, and a growing number of highly placed collaborators in both industry and government offices have been at work since the publication of the book in 2011 helping to develop custom-tailored regional plans consistent with this vision. Rifkin's successful ongoing engagement with the European Union is especially impressive - and, he reminds us, "the European Union, not the United States or China, is the biggest economy in the world."
European officialdom, specifically including such luminaries as Angela Merkel, are now in the process of shifting their economies to incorporate what the author calls "the five pillars" of the Third Industrial Revolution:
(1) shifting to renewable energy;
(2) transforming the building stock of every continent into micro-power plants to collect renewable energies on site;
(3) deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies;
(4) using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy-sharing intergrid that acts just like the Internet . . .; and
(5) transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.
This economic transformation will bring profound changes to our lives and our surroundings. "Vertical economies of scale became the defining feature of the incipient industrial age and gigantic business operations became the norm . . . The distributed nature of renewable energies necessitates collaborative rather than hierarchical command and control mechanisms." And all this change is consistent with the new pedagogy beginning to take hold in many schools around the globe, which emphasizes collaboration rather than competition, problem solving rather than rote learning, and what Rifkin calls "biosphere thinking," which places humanity within the context of the web of life on Earth. (Perhaps you've even noticed that people under the age of 18 tend not to think the way we older adults do?)
"If it is difficult to imagine a change of this kind, think of how preposterous it must have been to a feudal lord, his knights in arms, and his indentured serfs to conjure the possibility of free wage earners selling their labor power in national markets, each a sovereign in his own right in the political sphere, all bound together by a set of agreed-upon rights and freedoms and a sense of national loyalty."
It's hard to disagree with that!
on July 3, 2015
It was interesting to read Rifkin’s book on the third industrial revolution some five years after it was written to see how his prognostications have fared. Rifkin is a “futurist” who has made a good living selling his ideas for the future (and himself). This book deals with changes in energy production and utilization as driven by changes in communication. It predicts that these changes will alter the whole economic structure of the world, leading to revolutions in almost every aspect of society.
It is difficult to argue with Rifkin’s ideas on energy. Fossil fuels are limited, even if the planet is fracked to death. Sustainable energy production has to come if humans are to succeed on this planet. The issues are how and when. To me (and to Rifkin), distributive energy production has to be a part of that effort. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel and utility industries have arrayed powerful forces to delay this effort, something that Rifkin largely ignores in his optimistic view of how he is moving this process forward. Progress has been slow, but is beginning to show fruit. Public perceptions of climate change have swung in spite of a hostile US Congress; China has recognized that the toxic environments of its cities must be addressed; and technological advances are beginning to bring costs into line. Perhaps the biggest problem to be solved is that of energy storage to eliminate periods when methods such as solar and wind are ineffective. Elon Musk has recently made headlines with his new generation of batteries, which he claims will solve such problems plus power our vehicles of the future. In contrast, Rifkin is a proponent of hydrogen as a storage medium and to power cars. Toyota is currently producing a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car. Personally, I have yet to see from Rifkin or anyone else a method for producing hydrogen that is sustainable and economical. Rifkin largely ignores that problem in this book. However, new research in catalytic production of hydrogen from water may eliminate this problem. Probably both batteries and hydrogen will ultimately be used as competitive and complementary solutions.
As much as I would like to believe Rifkin that changes in energy development and communication will lead to a more cooperative spirit, events since this book was written are not encouraging. The EU seems more likely to dissolve into its feuding components than to have a kumbaya event. Russians and Ukrainians are killing each other over power and territory. The “Arab Spring” movement has not seen an increase in democratization, but changes in military governments and a civil war in Syria that has displaced millions and led to the rise of a powerful new force in the Moslem world. Perhaps ISIS is a metaphor for our current world, a group using religion as an excuse in their drive for power and territory. A similar, if less pernicious, Christian fundamentalist group in the US is continually whining about its loss of freedom while trying to enforce its creed on the rest of us. Does all of this mean that all of this internet connectivity is worthless? Probably not, but it is worth noting that such communications can be shut down or diverted to evil causes, a la ISIS.
Meanwhile, this book is worth reading as a historical document if you can tolerate the gossipy tone and name-dropping. I only wish more of the predictions were developing more rapidly.
on July 21, 2014
This was a second book I bought, this one to share with friends and family. It is the first book I have read on the worlds "economic" crisis which provided a model as to the primary causes. It also offers solutions that can help direct the necessary changes to take place. Most importantly he provides an historical model of this type of industrial change. Rifkin speaks of the coming of a reduction in size of government structures. I find this model especially helpful. The transitions, as he points out, take many years, decades, in fact. And there is a lot of pain, often cause by those opposing the changes. Most of us can bear hard transitions if we see some good in the outcome. Jeremy Rifkin's proposition is that the transitioning to "Lateral (distributed) Power" is the change that provides an empowering, upbeat and to be hoped for outcome.
This is not an easy read, but for those emotionally mature enough to have their notions challenged it is well worth the read. Ponder his premise, and think fresh and open thoughts on the Why of economic and social change. I found it freeing.
on November 14, 2011
In addition to reading this book, if you ever have a chance to see Jeremy Rifkin present on the Third Industrial Revolution and the Intergrid, please, take that advantage (it is well worth it!). Mr. Rifkin has wonderfully distilled and delivered a compelling vision of the world ahead in a sustainable, clean, distributed and collaborative energy model. This book brings a perspective on past industrial revolutions and points to technological processes and connects many of the dots of the myriad & disparate energy technologies and how they will coalesce and be deployed in the years ahead. It is no surprise that Mr. Rifkin has been advising many global governments not only on what the vision is but how to take advantage of the economic opportunity since 2007. It remains disappointing that the political climate in the US continues to inhibit a unified energy policy... and thus puts the US at a severe competitive industrial disadvantage vis a vis countries like Germany, China, Singapore and many others that have been listening... and which understand the rich landscape of commercial opportunities ahead... and the significant detriment to those countries which aren't proactively adjusting to those threats (& opportunities) ahead. There are several books which work well as companion pieces to Rifkin's TIR: "That Used To Be Us", "Reigniting Fire" and "The Quest" are some of them. Based on documented job creation in Germany from the solar sector alone, US economists recently projected that, had the US followed a similar solar/ renewable energy vision, we would likely see over 2million related jobs created. Energy Efficiency carries its own highly compelling ROI. We have clean fuels in our labs now that have an unsubsidized cost per BTU less than that of Natural Gas, and without the carbon emissions. Coupled with the smart grid, these new technologies will allow the highly efficient energy storage that unlocks Rifkin's Intergrid: the sustainable, distributed, adaptive, interactive, renewable energy Intergrid. Rifkin's TIR & Intergrid outlines a compelling vision for the future, but one that is already dawning in labs across the world and beginning to be implemented where there are true leaders. The book drives home its points repeatedly... but the points are well worth paying attention to.