Book Review: The Third Industrial Revolution by Jeremy Rifkin
International energy adivsor Jeremy Rifkin’s newish book The Third Industrial Revolution has been getting quite a lot of attention in the press, so I thought I’d better give it a read. Rifkin’s central thesis is that the second industrial revolution – the rise of the oil & gas economy which superseded the original, coal-fired industrial revolution – has entered its endgame and a new, distributed energy strategy is required to get the world out of its current economic and environmental fix. While we cling to the oil economy, Rifkin argues, climate change will become dangerous and rising prices will smother any economic recovery.
Rifkin calls his vision for a new approach to energy ‘lateral power’ – a kind of Energy 2.0 (to coin a phrase) which will adopt the distributed and participative economic model we see in the digital economy. There are five pillars to his vision:
1. A big shift to renewable energy
2. Transforming building stock to micro-power
3. Hydrogen economy and other energy storage systems
4. An ‘internet of energy’ to allow trading between individuals, companies and countries (ie a smart grid)
5. A shift in transport to electric and fuel cell vehicles
A subtext of the book is that the US should become more like Europe in its approach to the economy (probably more like Germany to be specific), which may raise eyebrows across the pond given the current political discourse. Rifkin clearly enjoys his access to top international politicians such as Angela Merkel. In fact his name dropping can get a tad wearing at times – although it is leavened with his rather blunt assessments of those who ‘don’t get it’ – President Obama, David Miliband and Ed Miliband are on the list – and those who do, some of whom may surprise some readers, such as UK Premier David Cameron. Those on the ‘don’t get it’ list are criticised not so much for a lack of interest, but for their inability to grasp the need for a distributed system – trying to build a renewable energy system on the centralised fossil fuel template just won’t work.
This is a very interesting and thought provoking book. It has to be said that there is nothing particularly new in it from a conceptual point of view, in fact much of the ‘lateral power’ approach was sketched out by the late German MP (and father of the feed in tariff) Herman Scheer in his book The Solar Economy which was published more than a decade ago. But what Rifkin does very successfully is make a convincing case that the time for change has come given the economic and environmental challenges we currently face. And, let’s face it, that’s the vital message to get across to policy makers across the globe.