Power to the people
You have to take Jeremy Rifkin’s prolific calls for revolution via best-selling book with a flake of sea salt.
“The Age of Access” (2001) was certainly a decade ahead of its time. And if our current high unemployment, income disparity and continued plundering of middle class are any indication, “The End of Work” (2004) made some prophetic points.
But “The Biotech Century” (1998) may have been a bit alarmist. We’ve yet to see “The Hydrogen Economy” (2003) blow up. And maybe “The Empathetic Civilization” (2009) was overly altruistic.
Due out this week, Rifkins’s latest book – “The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World” – has my attention more than anything that came before it. In it, Rifkin asks readers to imagine hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices and factories, and sharing it with each other on an “energy internet.” He proclaims this Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) will create thousands of businesses and millions of jobs, and usher in a fundamental reordering of human relationships, from top-down to lateral power, that will “impact the way we conduct commerce, govern society, educate our children, and engage in civic life.”
Ambitious talk, per usual, yet this necessary future has fascinated me and other smart grid enthusiasts for years. Pay heed, heads of energy utilities across the land: Our increasingly irrelevant and completely inefficient Soviet-style power grid is coming down, and the production and delivery of clean energy will be democratized. Time to rethink those 10-year business plans so you’re not caught fighting this inevitable merging of technology, clean energy and the Access Economy.
Though I sense Rifkin underestimates the lasting power old-school multinational oil companies have over new energy innovations eating into their markets and profits, he undoubtedly grasps global and not just U.S.-centric social and business dynamics.
And Rifkin isn’t just pecking out his bold ideas on a keyboard in an isolated writing den somewhere. In 2007, the European Parliament issued a formal written declaration endorsing his TIR vision as the long-term economic roadmap for the European Union. In 2008, he founded the TIR Global CEO Roundtable, made up of 100 of the world’s leading energy, construction, architectural, real estate, and logistics firms. This global economic development team (which includes companies such as Siemens, CH2M Hill, KEMA, Philips Lighting, IBM and General Electric) is working with cities, regions and nations to transition to a post-carbon infrastructure.