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.