GDP has been in decline for the past two decades while unemployment (particularly among young people) is quite high. Economists talk of slow growth for the next 20 years as well. Furthermore, Oxfam supplies numbers indicating that 8 people are as rich as half of the globe. Not only that, climate problems are reported to be driving the sixth extinction wave in the planet’s history for the first time in 65 million years.
To combat these compounding crises, Jeremy Rifkin, an economic theorist, has a plan for what he calls a “third industrial revolution which will be driven by renewable energy making automation possible along with a prosperous new economy supported by the internet of things. Rifkin’s work has influenced the EU’s “Smart Europe” plan, and a similar plan is moving in China after Premier Li Keqiang read Rifkin’s book, The Third Industrial Revolution and made it a key part of his country’s 13th Five-Year plan that was announced last March, and features billions in investments in renewable energy by 2020.
Multi-Media Exploration of the Third Industrial Revolution
A film variation Rifkin’s Third Industrial Revolution was recently shown at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of an effort to explore how it applies to the U.S., where President Trump and lawmakers are assembling a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Rifkin’s plan would give power to ground-level people, businesses and local officials instead of the back and forth bickering of politics.
On Communication, Energy, and Transportation
Rifkin identified at least major paradigm shifts in history that drive industrial progress. New communication technology, new energy sources, and new transportation and logistics which can make logistics happen more effectively.
Steam-powered printing led the first industrial revolution in printing converging with cheap coal and the steam engine’s move to coal. The second industrial revolution began when the U.S. introduced centralized telephone communication, later followed by radio and TV. The telephone merged with cheap Texas oil powered by the combustion engine, it drove 20th-century advancements.
Rifkin now has identified digital communication as the new paradigm, specified as a digital renewable energy internet, and a digital automated transportation and logistics internet merging to form an infrastructure of a super-internet of things. This includes everything from the smartphone in your pocket to ideas in their infancy, like decentralized renewable energy power and an automated transportation system. The potential in bringing these concepts up to speed? Decades of employment growth, says Rifkin. Humans will have jobs retrofitting cities, and organizing analyzing and improving automated systems as well as the data they collect.
The Rise of the Rust Belt?
The Rust Belt of the U.S. could experience growth parallel to that of the Haut-de-France region, the country’s own former graveyard of steel and auto factories. Political and business leaders worked with Rifkin in 2012, and the region began buzzing with 970 new projects in setting up its own industrial revolution future, with a 2016 report found innovative small and medium smart-energy enterprises, along with new research and development laboratories, are currently based in the region, with 11,000 new jobs being created in the energy sector, which at the time counted 16,582 employees representing 7% of the region’s industry sector.
The Third Industrial Revolution, and America
Ford CEP Mark Fields impressed with not a car, but a plan at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It unveiled its plan for a “City of Tomorrow,” an outgrowth of what Bill Ford outlined in a 2011 TED talk, that Ford would be a mobility company rather than a car company in the future. Ford’s mobility developments have included:
Hiring fresh talent and doubling the company’s presence in Silicon Valley
- Creating the FordPass app,
- Launching Ford GoBikes in San Francisco,
- As well as acquiring San Francisco-based Chariot, A private transit service.
- In December, Ford unveiled its plan for a fully autonomous car by 2021, as well as its plans for electric vehicles over the next decade.
Fields has seen the Rifkin film, reportedly.
Ford’s chief information officer Marcy Klevorn noted that what connected with her most in The Third Industrial Revolution was Rifkin’s point about energy, transportation and communication. “In our quest to become a mobility and technology company, we’re thinking very seriously about all three of these inflection points, our role in society, mobility trends, what’s going on in cities, and how we can help see these come together to improve people’s lives, which is our mission,” Klevorn said.
Meanwhile Anne Pramagiorre, the CEO of ComEd Chicago, is a big enough fan of Rifkin’s work to describe it as required reading for her leadership team. She sees the ideas Rifkin lays out as in line with the future of utilities, and her company has developed a pilot project with the Illinois Institute of Technology to create a micro-grid in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, which is underway despite legal roadblocks so far.
“The way we think about this is we’ve got two parallel paths to walk simultaneously,” says Pramagiorre. “One is running the business for today, as efficiently as possible for our customers and taking care of shareholder investment. At the same time we’re designing the business of the future, and we have to understand we don’t know all the parameters and features that will have, but we do know enough to start to make steps into that new future business. It’s our job to figure that out. If you look at the history of businesses that have gone through digital transformation, you do not succeed by putting a moat around the old business model, and you don’t succeed by not designing your business model to serve what the customer is telling you they want. Customer orientation and a willingness to adapt is the key.”
Rifkin does not hesitate to point out that the ideas he lays out in The Third Industrial Revolution film aren’t only his, and making them happen is going to take a tremendous effort from a wide range of people going forward. “The narrative isn’t from just me, we just brought together like-minded interests over years and years,” he says. “It didn’t happen overnight, it isn’t a eureka moment. From a business perspective, it’s just the next step in the journey. Can we get there? There is so much that can go wrong, even with ideas whose time has come. I said in the film that we need not only be on mission for three generations, we have to have passion and commitment that sees this as the primary narrative if we’re going to save this planet. But we have to have a little luck along the way.”
Make sure to also check out the Vice documentary:
To watch the full documentary, click here.