Communications + Energy = Third Industrial Revolution

Excerpts from a lecture by Jeremy Rifkin, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends, in Washington, D.C., on “The Third Industrial Revolution: Leading the Way to a Green Energy Era and a Hydrogen Economy.”

The great pivotal economic changes in world history have occurred when new energy regimes converge with new communication regimes. When that convergence happens, society is restructured in wholly new ways. In the early modern era, the coming together of coal-powered steam technology and the print press gave birth to the first industrial revolution. It would have been impossible to organize the dramatic increase in the pace, speed, flow, density, and connectivity of economic activity made possible by the coal-fired steam engine using the older codex and oral forms of communication. In the late nineteenth century and throughout the first two thirds of the twentieth century, first-generation electrical forms of communication – the telegraph, telephone, radio, television, electric typewriters, calculators, etc. – converged with the introduction of oil and the internal combustion engine, becoming the communications command and control mechanism for organizing and marketing the second industrial revolution.

A great communications revolution occurred in the 1990s. Second-generation electrical forms of communication – personal computers, the internet, the World Wide Web, and wireless communication technologies – connected the central nervous system of more than a billion people on Earth at the speed of light. And, although the new software and communication revolutions have begun to increase productivity in every industry, their true potential is yet to be fully realized. That potential lies in their convergence with renewable energy, partially stored in the form of hydrogen, to create the first “distributed” energy regimes.

(Hydrogen is a universal storage medium for intermittent renewable energies; just as digital is a universal storage mechanism for text, audio, video, data and other forms of media.)

The same design principles and smart technologies that made possible the internet, and vast distributed global communication networks, will be used to reconfigure the world’s power grids so that people can produce renewable energy and share it peer-to-peer, just like they now produce and share information, creating a new, decentralized form of energy use….

The Third Industrial Revolution will require a wholesale reconfiguration of the transport, construction, and electricity sectors, creating new goods and services, spawning new businesses, and providing millions of new jobs.

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2 responses to “Communications + Energy = Third Industrial Revolution

  1. This is a very nice macro-analysis, and almost certainly valid. What it doesn’t address is the uncomfortable truth that, Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) or not, there are now rather more than 7 billion people living in a global ecosystem that can sustainably support around a half of that number, or maybe less. Some of us, mostly in the rich North, have lived wonderfully well up to now by drawing down the excess physical capacity of the system, but the signs are pretty clear that those days are ending.

    So the question might be: who is going to implement and benefit from the TIR, thereby becoming the likely survivors? Fifty or even thirty years ago the answer would have been obvious: the clever, technologically advanced, innovative folks in the First World, with the poor, backward South bringing up the rear and getting picked off by the inevitable results — war and famine etc.– of what Paul Gilding has predicted as “The Great Disruption”

    Now, not so clear.

  2. “The Great Disruption” — what a glorious euphemism!

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