Worth Reading: "The Third Industrial Revolution" by Jeremy Rifkin


As often happens, I was again inspired by an interview on Charlie Rose to read Jeremy Rifkin's new book, The Third Industrial Revolution - How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. (You can view the interview on Youtube.)  Rifkin's bio bills him as one of the most popular social thinkers of our time and the best-selling author of 18 books including The Age of AccessThe Hydrogen Economy,The Biotech Century, and The End of Work. He's an advisor to heads of state around the world and a senior lecturer at the Wharton School's Executive Education Program and the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, DC.

First, Rifkin explains that the great economic transformations in history occur when new communication technology converges with new energy systems. The introduction of steam-powered technology into printing with the steam-powered printing press transformed the print medium into the primary communications tool to drive the First Industrial Revolution.  In the first decade of the Twentieth century, electrical communication converged with the oil-powered internal-combustion engine, giving rise to the Second Industrial Revolution.  And now, according to Rifkin, Internet technology and renewable energy are merging to create a powerful "Third Industrial Revolution."

Our current industrial revolution, powered by oil and other fossil fuels, is spiraling into a dangerous endgame:  We have already hit peak oil production per capita.  The prices of energy and food are climbing, the housing market has tanked, the recovery is slowing, and we are facing the prospect of a second collapse of the global economy.  But Rifkin's optimistic view envisions hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes and office buildings and sharing it with each other in an "energy Internet," just like we now create and share documents and information online.

There are five pillars upon which the Third Industrial Revolution must be simultaneously built because each pillar can function only in relationship to the others:

  1. Shifting to renewable energy.
  2. Transforming buildings into micro-power plants to generate and collect renewable energies on site.
  3. Deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies throughout the infrastructure.
  4. Using Internet technology to transform the power grid into an energy sharing intergrid.
  5. Transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.

The cost of generating energy from fossil fuels has reached the point at which it is now more economical to generate renewable green energy than to extract energy from traditional methods.  The transformation is well under way in certain geographical areas, but there are many political and special interest obstacles to overcome.

It's interesting to learn about how the print medium drove the First Industrial Revolution in light of the fact that we are now moving very rapidly into paper free business environments.  As wired and wireless Internet speeds increase and cloud technology evolves, the pace of that transformation will increase. Our vision at Digital Designs is to accelerate that pace of change and help more and more businesses leverage the economy and speed of cloud technologies for economic and social advantage while raising public awareness of the quality of life benefits of doing so.

Until next time,

John Queen