There is no way to re-enchant our lives in a disenchanted culture except by becoming renegades from that culture and planting the seeds for a new one. – Thomas Moore

Smart-Grid

I am disenchanted with our current way of life, as I’m sure many of you are too. Writing is my therapy for a waning spirit. I’ve explored capitalism, war, agriculture, modern finance, neoliberal government policies and the muzzling of truth – all of which have contributed to the creation of an unsustainable and inequitable world. Alternatively, I’ve showcased wonderful projects and theories that run counter to this culture: earth-friendly architecture, restoring carbon to soil, steady-state economics, and alternate uses of plastic and organic waste. Try as I might, I was still unable to convince even myself that we could halt our march to catastrophe.

But now I face the future with a re-enchanted heart. Not only is a transformation of our way of life possible, it is happening now! I am referring to the Third Industrial Revolution.

The leading renegade behind this revolution is Jeremy Rifkin. His global consulting team, the largest of its kind in the world, works with cities, regions, and national governments to create game plans for transitioning to post-carbon infrastructures. In May 2007, the European Union itself formally endorsed the Third Industrial Revolution as the long-term economic vision and road map for the European Union. The goal:  transform to a sustainable, low-carbon emission society and become the world’s most vibrant economy.

Rifkin’s book, The Third Industrial Revolution, How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World, opened my eyes to what a post-carbon world will look like, and shared fascinating stories about the people and places that are stepping up to the plate. I am excited to tell you the stories from places like Rome, San Antonio, Monaco, and the Netherlands, but that will have to wait for another time. First we need to understand what a great economic revolution is.

All great economic revolutions require new energy systems coupled with new communications technologies, which trigger vast changes in all aspects of life, from architecture to transportation, education, civic engagement, work and recreation. The First Industrial Revolution, ruled by coal fired steam engines and the printing press, birthed railroads, industrial capitalism, dense vertical cities and public education. The Second Industrial Revolution, empowered by oil fired internal combustion engines, electricity and telecommunications, gave rise to production lines, automobiles, modern finance, suburbia and industrial parks. Both revolutions took about fifty years to establish. The Third Industrial Revolution will prove to be no less transformative, and will require about the same timeframe.

What differentiates it from previous ones is the necessity for change on the one hand, and the scale of resistance on the other. Rifkin states that the Second Industrial Revolution has been in decline since the late 1980s. “But,” you say, “we’ve seen periods of economic growth since then!” True, but they were financed by using up savings and racking up record levels of personal and government debt. (US federal government debt is now greater than GDP!) After decades of living off of extended credit to keep the economy revved, the party is over. We’re running out of plentiful and cheap fossil fuels, purchasing power is evaporating, and industrial capitalism has replaced jobs with technology, kept wages from rising, and concentrated wealth in the hands of the industrial elite. So, without even mentioning the looming climate crisis from carbon dioxide emissions, the rationale for extending the Second Industrial Revolution is moot. But fossil fuel companies are massive, unbelievably wealthy and influential, and the entire structure of our civilization is based on fossil fuels. What we need is a narrative to rally behind.

So here is the bare bones version. There are five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution. Each pillar can only operate fully when all are in place. In Rifkin’s words, “When all five pillars of the TIR are interconnected, they create a new nervous system for the economy, spurring a leap in energy efficiency and untold new business opportunities and jobs.” Simultaneously, we will:

  1. Shift to renewable energy.
  2. Transform buildings into micro-power plants.
  3. Install hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building to store intermittent energies.
  4. Use Internet technology to create continent-wide smart grids (super highways for electrons) that allow peer-to-peer sharing of surplus electricity.
  5. Transition the transportation fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles.

Imagine a vibrant sustainable way of life – one which gives power and opportunity back to the people. Centralized hierarchical organizations give way to boutique service and manufacturing businesses. Industrial thinking is overtaken by creativity and collaboration. The needs of severely disadvantaged people around the world are finally addressed, and interference with foreign countries over access to elite energy resources is eliminated, marshalling in a great era of peace. That is what the Third Industrial Revolution makes possible. Throughout this year, I’ll explore how the revolution is progressing throughout the world and how it will impact our lives. Wishing you an enchanting New Era ahead!

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