The Coming of the Third Industrial Revolution
How will the Third Industrial Revolution allow us to sculpt a new approach to globalization?
May 3, 2010
We now have colonized virtually every square inch of the planet and established the scaffolding for a truly global civilization. It is connecting the human race in a single embrace, but at the expense of an entropic bill that is threatening our extinction.
Through all of the great stages of human history, human consciousness expanded to encompass the complex energy/communications structures we created. And with each successive reorientation of consciousness, empathic sensibility reached new heights. But the increasing complexity of human social arrangements also came with greater stresses and more terrifying implosions.
The empathic predisposition that is built into our biology is not a fail-safe mechanism that allows us to perfect our humanity. Rather, it is an opportunity to increasingly bond the human race into a single extended family, but it needs to be continually exercised. Lamentably, the empathic drive is often shunted aside in the heat of the moment when social forces teeter on disintegration.
We may be approaching such a moment now. The Third Industrial Revolution and the new era of distributed capitalism allow us to sculpt a new approach to globalization, this time emphasizing continentalization from the bottom up.
Because renewable energies are more or less equally distributed around the world, every region is potentially amply endowed with the power it needs to be relatively self-sufficient and sustainable in its lifestyle, while at the same time interconnected via smartgrids to other regions across countries and continents.
While some level of globalization will continue to exist in the Third Industrial Revolution, it is likely that continentalization will play a more dominant role in the extension of commerce and trade, because the Third Industrial Revolution intergrids and the logistical systems that accompany them favor sharing renewable energy across contiguous land masses.
When every community is locally empowered, both figuratively and literally, it can engage directly in regional, transnational, continental and limited global trade without the severe restrictions that are imposed by the geopolitics that oversee elite fossil fuels and uranium energy distribution.
Continentalization is already bringing with it a new form of governance. The nation-state, which grew up alongside the First and Second Industrial Revolutions — and provided the regulatory mechanism for managing an energy regime whose reach was the geosphere — is ill-suited for a Third Industrial Revolution whose swath is the biosphere.
Distributed renewable energies generated locally and regionally and shared openly — peer to peer — across vast continental land masses connected by intelligent utility networks and smart logistics and supply chains favor continental governing institutions.
The European Union is the first continental governing institution of the Third Industrial Revolution era. The EU is already beginning to put in place the four-pillar infrastructure for a European-wide energy regime — along with the codes, regulations and standards to effectively operate a seamless transport, communications and energy grid that will stretch from the Irish Sea to the doorsteps of Russia by midcentury.
Asian, African and Latin American continental political unions are also in the making and will likely be the premier governing institutions on their respective continents by 2050.
In this new era of distributed energy, governing institutions will more resemble the workings of the ecosystems they manage.
Just as habitats function within ecosystems, and ecosystems within the biosphere in a web of interrelationships, governing institutions will similarly function in a collaborative network of relationships with each integrated into the other and the whole.
This new complex political organism operates like the biosphere it attends, synergistically and reciprocally. This is biosphere politics.
Geopolitics has always been based on the assumption that the environment is a giant battleground — a war of all against all — where we fight with one another to secure resources to ensure our individual survival.
Biosphere politics, by contrast, is based on the idea that the Earth is like a living organism made up of interdependent relationships and that we each survive by stewarding the larger communities of which we are a part.
The new bottom-up continentalization and globalization allow us to complete the task of connecting the human race. It opens up the possibility of extending the empathic sensibility to our species as a whole, as well as to the many other species that make up the life of the planet.
The era of economic entrenchment that we now find ourselves in, during the twilight of the Second Industrial Revolution and the dawn of the Third Industrial Revolution, is likely to last for a generation.
That period should be used both to rethink the conventional wisdom that has brought us to this dangerous impasse in human history. And we should use it to prepare a powerful new narrative for the generations that will follow — and in whose hands will rest the awesome responsibility of rehealing the Earth and creating a sustainable planet.
Ironically, climate change is forcing us, as never before, to recognize our shared humanity and our common plight, in an essential way, rather than a superficial way. We are truly all in this life and on this planet together — and there is simply nowhere any longer for any of us to escape or to hide.
My sense is that while the initial response to climate change, which has teetered somewhere between disinterest, denial and, at best, weak acceptance — that is, without commensurate emotional and political commitment — is fast changing.
We are entering a new phase in which the "real-time" impacts of climate change are beginning to impinge on whole regions of the world, affecting large segments of humanity.
The first reactions coming in are fear and anger on the part of the early victims and feigned interest among those not yet affected. That is going to change rapidly in the coming decades as the effects of climate change ripple out and impinge on larger pools of humanity.
Editor’s Note: This feature is adapted from EMPATHIC CIVILIZATION by Jeremy Rifkin, published by Tarcher. Copyright 2010 Jeremy Rifkin. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
While some level of globalization will continue to exist, it is likely that continentalization will play a more dominant role.
When every community is locally empowered, it can engage directly in regional, continental and limited global trade.
Geopolitics has always been based on the assumption that the environment is a giant battleground — a war of all against all.
The new era of distributed capitalism in energy and communication allows us to sculpt a new approach to globalization.
Biosphere politics is based on the idea that the Earth is like a living organism made up of interdependent relationships and that we each survive by stewarding the larger communities of which we are a part.
President of the Foundation on Economic Trends Jeremy Rifkin is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C. Since 1994, Mr. Rifkin has been a fellow at the Wharton School's Executive Education Program, where he lectures to CEOs on new trends in science and technology and their impacts on the global economy, society […]