Updated: Jun 24, 2020
--- Reviewed by Harry Strharsky
Photo: Harry Strharsky
If you were to think that this is a book about the trajectory of the Green New Deal resolution proposed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey in Congress, in early 2019, it would be understandable, but wrong. It is, rather, Jeremy Rifkin’s vision of what he calls the “zero-carbon Third Industrial Revolution.”
In his view, the First Industrial Revolution rose in the 19th Century with the invention of steam-powered printing (communication medium), coal (power source), and locomotives on national rail systems (transportation mechanism). The Second Industrial Revolution came about in the 20th Century with centralized electricity, the telephone, radio and television (communication media); cheap oil (power source) and internal combustion vehicles on national road systems (transportation mechanism). Today, in the 21st Century, we are well on our way in the transition to the Third industrial Revolution with the digitized Communication Internet converging with a digitized Renewable Energy Internet, powered by solar and wind electricity transported by autonomous electric and fuel-cell vehicles on top of an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. Eventually there will be incredible benefits to everyone connected to everything in a unified digital, neural network across the entire world economy. Together these three general purpose technology platforms for three different ages provide the integrated organization of society-wide infrastructure.
As the First Industrial Revolution took root in England, the Second Industrial Revolution in the United States, the Third Industrial Revolution is coming into full bloom through the world leadership efforts of Rifkin’s consulting client, China. The book offers lots of opportunity to provide criticism and cajoling to the U.S. for falling behind in de-carbonizing our economy, compared to the decoupling from fossil fuels of major industries in both the European Union and the Peoples Republic of China. In fact he cites the World Economic Forum’s 2017 report and the Global Competitiveness Report of 2017-2018 for the United States’ ninth ranking for quality of world infrastructures and 19th among nations with slower internet speeds and broadband subscriptions.
The remarkable thing about this Third Industrial Revolution’s inevitable move to a green, renewable Internet of Things is that it appears to be guided by the “invisible hand” of market forces. Not only are these green energies distributed, not centralized, they are “the beginning of the great democratization of power in communities around the world.” The collapse of fossil-fuel capitalism is already well on its way. We are living in the midst of a “carbon bubble” forecast to burst by 2028, resulting in the “stranding” of trillions of dollars of oil, gas and pipeline assets to be abandoned and rendered worthless as the cost of solar and wind energy infrastructure building dips below the cost of natural gas and oil resource development across the world economies.
This transfer of power from centralized fossil fuel corporations and their corrupt government subsidizers to distributed governance of “peer assemblies” following the deployment of green distributed energy infrastructure will happen without a shot being fired. Rifkin imagines turning Karl Marx on his head, uniting 73 million part- and full-time workers, an army of “little capitalists” through the mass mobilization of their pension fund investments, not mass mobilizations. He asks, “what would happen if American pension capitalists would join together with a legion of pension capitalists from around the world and begin to exercise control over this giant pool of capital in the global economy?
The collapse of the fossil-fuel civilization and the rise of ecological civilization is imminent. Decoupling major polluting industry sectors from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is well on its way. Transition into a decentralized, smart zero-carbon Third Industrial Revolution economy is possible and can be completed within the next generation by 2040, “if all the stars align.” Soon enough to meet the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warnings to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees centigrade before the point of no return to life as we have known it.
For me, this is a leap too far. This is a way more optimist future scenario than I can handle. How about you?