Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/11/2011 (2014 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
American Jeremy Rifkin isn't content to predict the Third Industrial Revolution. He's out there making it happen.
Author of 18 books, including The Empathic Civilization and The End of Work, Rifkin is an adviser to the European Union and to political leaders around the world. He is a senior lecturer at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends.
Despite his impressive academic credentials and heft with political leaders, Rifkin writes direct, understandable prose about the revolution he is helping to unfold.
He coined the term about 10 years ago and has been following up on its implications ever since.
Rifkin has drawn up and implemented plans for radical economic and environmental change in jurisdictions as widespread as Rome, Monaco, San Antonio and Utrecht in the Netherlands.
The European Union has endorsed his vision and is working with him on implementing it throughout its member-states.
The Third Industrial Revolution is created through the interaction of the new, renewable energy economy and the new communications technology of the Internet and social media.
It rests on bottom-up authority instead of top-down power, on collaboration and co-operation, rather than cut-throat competition.
Rifkin prescribes some stiff medicine to take us from today's dinosaur economy to tomorrow's utopia:
-- Change our fossil fuel economy to renewable energy.
-- Turn every building on Earth into its own power plant through the use of solar and wind power.
-- Use hydrogen tanks, installed in every building, to store energy from renewable sources.
-- Use Internet technology to regulate the electricity grid, allowing users to put energy back into the system.
-- Develop all-new electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles, with charging stations as common as gas stations are now.
His checklist for the changes that need to be made sounds ambitious. But he insists that if we don't make them, we are doomed as a species to choking to death from climate change.
Rifkin predicts tectonic shifts in social, economic and political culture as a result of the revolution, many of them based on trends that are already apparent.
National borders will become less important as people share energy and communications solutions on a continental basis.
That's already happened in Europe and is being emulated in Asia, Africa and South America, which are tying themselves more closely together through economic co-operation agreements.
When it comes to North America, Rifkin proves himself a knowledgeable and sensitive American.
Acknowledging that most of his compatriots know nothing about the Great White North, he educates them as to Canada's vital role as their chief supplier of oil, natural gas and uranium.
Rifkin understands how many Canadians feel closer economic integration with the U.S. -- symbolized by the North American Free Trade Agreement -- threatens Canada's social and cultural values. Those critics propose a stronger domestic market and external trade with countries other than the U.S. as a counterbalance.
Many of them fear that NAFTA's closer ties with the U.S. are just a ruse to grab Canadian resources under terms that the Americans will be free to dictate.
Rifkin quotes former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy, now the president of the University of Winnipeg, as pointing out how much continental integration has grown organically through agreements between groups of provinces and U.S. states.
Manitoba has been a member of such groups, signing a cap-and-trade carbon emissions agreement with British Columbia, California and other U.S. states.
Other changes that Rifkin foresees include "distributed capitalism."
Instead of the enormous capital outlays needed to develop railroads and power plants, the Third Industrial Revolution will make everyone a small-scale power producer, with the ability to sell their surplus back to the grid.
Donald Benham teaches politics and the mass media at the University of Winnipeg.
The Third Industrial Revolution
How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy and the World
By Jeremy Rifkin
Palgrave Macmillan, 270 pages, $31