“Yes, of course!”, is probably the most common answer. How come we don’t react in order to stay alive in the near future? “What do you mean?” you might think. Well, we have a problem concerning our beloved H2O and our planet Earth, but there still is time to solve our problem, if you keep reading …
Spread the word like a fever
Scientists say that we are facing the 6th extinction event of life on Earth. How come nobody is talking about it? I get goosebumps just by writing it. Why isn’t a topic important as this one making the headlines? Why do we keep reading about stupid, unnecessary things like the Karshashians? Yep, I know that’s not their name. I don’t care and you should neither.
There have been 5 mass extinction events on Earth in 450 million years. Each time such an event happened, the chemistry of our planet shifts very quickly and causes a massive die out. The chemical shifting is called “a turning point”. The bad news: it takes upwards 10 million years for new life to develop on Earth again. Yes, everything will be dead, except for these little animals called Lepisma saccharina – those silverfish living in our bathrooms. They survive everything.
This may sound crazy
It’s not like scientists think of it as a model that will happen in the next million years. No, it is concerning us right now. Simply put: It concerns everyone living on Earth now and in the next seven decades, until the year 2088. You or somebody else you care about will definitely be around then. Within 70 years “we could lose over half the species of life that now inhabits this little oasis in the universe,” says Jeremy Rifkin, an American economic and social theorist, writer, public speaker, political advisor, and activist – believe me, this man knows a lot.
”We are not grasping the enormity of this moment“
Everyone knows about climate change and we acknowledge it as a fact, but we are going on as business as usual. Companies and politics do a little bit of green-washing and there are people like us, who might be a bit more concerned about it. Did you know that 99.5% of all species on this planet have come and gone? This is not a good fact concerning our future. I bet the silverfish are living on Earth from the beginning of time.
Not only are the anatomically modern human beings the youngest species, “the babies”, who are around for 200.000 years, we are also the ones causing this drama in such a short period of time.
A new study shows that the fresh water in the Arctic melts much quicker than we expected and it changes the ocean currents. Storms will be stronger than we can imagine, they will be the strongest storms “that we’ve ever seen in human history by the end of this century”. All of our coastal cities will be underwater.
So what do we do?
Rifkin says that we need a new, compelling economic vision of the world. We need a game plan, quick! Every country, whether it is a developing country or an industrial nation, needs to take part. If we have any chance to prevent the end of the world, we need to take it!
We need to be off carbon in four decades everywhere
This is not a joke, my friends. Unfortunately, this is beyond anything politics are talking about at global conferences. How can we make such an unrealistic “wish” – it is more our last chance – come true? Firstly, we need to talk about paradigm shifts. We need to think about how we can address this topic to every single person on this planet, but especially to the ones who make the big decisions.
Paradigm shifts are connected to the Industrial Revolution
When you think of historic paradigm shifts, can you name one? Interestingly, there have been seven major paradigm shifts in history and they are connected to Revolutions.
The First Industrial Revolution takes place in the 19th century in Britain. The Brits invented a new communication technology: steam-powered printing. It allowed us to mass produce very cheap print quickly. Just a second half of the century later, the Brits layout a telegraph system across the British Isles. At last, the new source of energy called coal was harvested with the newly invented steam engine. The steam engines were put on rails, so locomotives could transport energy sources and products all over the country. Rifkin summarizes it in: Urban life, the Industrial Revolution and steam power.
The Second Industrial Revolution in the 20th century takes place in the United States. It was all about centralized energy and the telephone. Imagine there was no way to communicate live, except using the telegraph system. The telephone was a communication revolution. Now you can talk to people in far distances at the speed of light – that’s mind-blowing! Later on, radio and television were invented. These new communication technologies were powered by cheap Texas oil – the new energy source. Henry Ford put everybody on the road with cars, buses, and trucks. Before that, we only had locomotives, bicycles, horses, and carriages.
What they have in common
All Industrial Revolutions have one thing in common: at a certain moment of time, three technologies emerge and create a new infrastructure. The way we manage, power and move economic life fundamentally changes. So what are these three technologies we need?
- the communication technology, to allow us to more efficiently manage our economic activity
- new sources of energy, to allow us to more efficiently power our economic activity
- new modes of mobility, to allow us to more efficiently move the economic activity
For a quick moment, we need to talk about the Second Industrial Revolution again. It took the whole world through the 20th century and peaked in July 2008. In this month, Brent crude oil hit a record price of $147 on world markets and the whole global economy shut down. Sixty days later the financial market collapsed, which was an aftershock. People today are still dealing with this aftershock. What we might forget, while we think about money is…
The entire Industrial Revolution is dependent on the carbon deposits of a previous period in history
How come we are still dependent on old energy sources – the fossil fuels? Did we miss the alarm, so we cannot awake from this nightmare? Almost everything is made out of fossil fuels, like construction materials, pharmaceutical products, synthetic fiber, transport, heating lights. When the oil prices get too high, all other prices for products connected to it increase also. It is a rhythm between growth and shutdown. We are looking into an unstable world. Where do we head from here?
It’s about productivity
Although new products come to life, productivity is declining. The BIP is declining. What economists don’t like to admit: they believe better machines and better-performing workers drive productivity. But these factors only account for 14 percent of the productivity. So what are the other 86 percent? Nobody knows. Funnily, all economic theory is based on Newton’s metaphors in physics. Newton said: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” To name one example: the Economist Adam Smith used this theory to explain the invisible power between supply and demand: “For every action on the supply side there is an equal and opposite reaction on the demand side.” According to Rifkin, Newton’s physics has absolutely nothing to do with economics.
What governs the Universe, governs our economy
There are two laws you need to know about. The conversation law says: “All the energy in the universe is constant.” and the second law says “Energy always changes form, but only in one direction.”
What Rifkin says, what we do is: “We extract low entropy, available energy in nature – a rare earth, a metallic ore, a fossil fuel – we extract it and then, through our value chains, we store it, we ship it, we produce goods and services from it, we consume it, we recycle it back to nature. At every step of conversion – when we take nature’s resources – we have to embed energy into that good or service to get it to the next stage of what it becomes. But we lose some energy in the process. This is called aggregate efficiency.” Now it gets even more interesting…
The Second Industrial revolution started in 1905 with a 3 percent aggregate efficiency. About 97 percent of energy was lost and not transformed into the product or service. 85 years later, by 1990, the US got up to about 14 percent aggregate efficiency. That’s a lot more, but that is the ceiling – nothing has changed since then!
As long as all businesses use resources from the Second Industrial Revolution, nothing will change. Japan has the highest rate with 20 percent and it also stagnates since the 1990s. Besides better machines and better workers, aggregate efficiency was added to the factors of productivity.
The Third Industrial Revolution – a new smart infrastructure
It can be explained in short as “The Internet of Things”, which combines communication internet, renewable energy internet, and automated transportation-logistics internet into one super internet to manage, power and move economic life. By 2030 everything will be connected to everyone. This new platform works best when it is collaborative, open and transparent, rather than closed and proprietary. If more and more people join the network and contribute their talent, the network will benefit, and so do we.
A big question mark and a big opportunity
But there are also challenges like internet neutrality and equal access. How do we make sure governments don’t purloin the platform for political purposes – which already started. It is the same when it comes to big companies. How do we ensure privacy and data security? How can we prevent cybercrime and cyber terrorism?
If we can ensure to create a network-neutral world, everyone can have access to all the data. This will help us to increase the aggregate efficiency, which will dramatically increase our productivity at the same time as it reduces our ecological footprint and marginal costs. When the last point, the marginal costs hit near zero, they give rise to a new economic system.
Within the next 15 to 20 years, everyone will be connected to the Internet of things. The fixed costs are gonna be as cheap as your cell phones in 20 years. Everyone’s a creator, an entrepreneur, everyone’s gonna produce their own green electricity. The cause: exponential curves.
Germany will use only green energy by 2040
Being from Germany, it is funny to hear Jeremy Rifkin talking in his speech about my home country. Did you know that 32 percent of all the electrical power is produced from solar and wind – and we don’t have a lot of sunlight! By 2020, it will be 35 percent. The goal is to be at 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.
A solar watt used to cost $78 in 1978. Today, it only costs 50 cents to generate one watt solar. And in 18 months from now, it will be even cheaper. The biggest power companies in Germany only produce less than 7 percent of the new power. The rest is contributed by small companies and players who joined together to create a new force of green energy. The sun and the wind need to be collected in little amounts all over the country. We don’t receive an invoice from the sun or the wind: the marginal costs are zero, once the solar panels or wind crafts are built.
Three causes of climate change
Buildings, meat, and cars are the biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. But especially meat is a topic, which is never addressed. 1.3 billion cows take up about 23 percent of the landmass of the Earth. They produce methane, which is a major contributor to global warming. Many prophetic voices and leaders around the world talking about climate change would never suggest people change their diet, but times are changing.
Thanks to car sharing we are going to eliminate around 80 percent of the vehicles in the world. The next generations don’t want to own cars. The remaining 200 million vehicles are going to be electric. These facts make a little sad…. I love the charm of old cars.
We have to change consciousness
Rifkin sees himself as guardedly hopeful, not naive. He knows that what he says in his speech is a tough challenge, but his hope comes from the characteristics of human beings. We are the most social creature on this planet. The Internet of Things will change the way we think about life.
This and future generations move from ownership to access, from markets to networks, from consumerism to sustainability, from capital to social capital. It is a revolution.
In addition, there is a change in the definition of freedom, power and community. Older people find it strange. Freedom was very simple: to be free is to be self-sufficient, to be independent. For the millennial generation, autonomy is death. Being an island is death. This generation wants to share their talents. They want to be part of a big community, the access to it creates freedom. Freedom is not exclusivity.
We also have a different sensibility about power. The essential belief was that power goes from the top down as it does in a pyramid. For the young generation power is not vertical, is it lateral. It means engaging with a mesh of networks, where we benefit from each other. Open source is just one example.
Young generations change their thinking
Most importantly, he says, a younger generation perceives identity to community. Instead of competing with sovereign individuals, individuals see each other as a community. He is beginning to sense a shift from geopolitics to biosphere consciousness. The biosphere is the space of 19km between the ocean and the stratosphere. It is the space where all life and chemicals on the planet interact in order to maintain ecosystems.
Now, teens and young children come home and ask their parents things like: “Why do you keep the water running, while you are shaving? We are wasting water. Why is the red light of the TV still on? We are wasting electrical power. Where does the hamburger on my plate come from?” They connect the dots. If the hamburger came from a rainforest, where they had to cut trees so cows could gaze on topsoil, rare species of plant and animal life go extinct.
If the trees disappear, those trees cannot absorb CO2 from industrial emissions. That means the temperature of the planet goes up. The higher temperature creates floods, droughts, and wildfires. Children learn about ecological footprints.
Everything each of us does intimately affects some other human being, creature and the planet Earth. In our minds, we grow empathic concern to the rest of the human family. We have no right to end existence for fellow creatures on the planet we share together.
The true reason Rifkin speaks out
Just to make it clear: he is terrified of climate change. When he started to work on energy issues in 1973, he did not expect that our problems concerning climate change would speed up. “We are really really scared”, he says, with a calm and quiet voice.
The water cycles are changing, not in a good way. The good things are the new infrastructure paradigm and a Third Industrial Revolution. Zero marginal cost is the ultimate metric for reducing the ecological footprint. Technology will help us to increase the aggregate efficiency, which means we are using less of the Earth and getting more out of it. What we produce is shared, like shared cars, home, toys, clothes, food – there are endless possibilities. A circular economy is a future economy. Nothing needs to go to the landfill.
What about Water?
You have to have energy to move water. Only 1 percent of all water is available for human beings to use. 8 percent of all the energy we have in the world is used for extracting water, treating water, moving it through pipelines and recycling the waste. We also need water to move energy. Over half of all the water we use goes to the power industries.
This is a surprising fact about France: almost 50 percent of the freshwater is used to cool down the nuclear reactors. In summer the water gets so hot due to climate change, they cannot use it to cool the nuclear reactors, so they have to slow down the electricity.
What’s next? Rifkin says, we need to create a new plan, so people get control over their water. We need a distributed system that brings water together with energy.
Now it is your and our turn
What can you do to support the needed change? We need to move these new thoughts from our minds into all the networks we are in. We need to share this information with friends, families, and strangers.
If you have better ideas, speak up and share your thoughts. Together we can save our planet, our environment, and our lives. We have no other choice, but to come together and unite. In the next 25 years, we can lay down this new consciousness. It is our responsibility and we can already feel a weight on our shoulders, that no generations had in history. We are calling to save the species, we are the digital revolution, we are the millennial generation.
If you are interested in watching Rifkin’s two hours speech click here. Let me know how you want to be a part of the Third Industrial Revolution in order to save the Earth.
P.S.: I saw a tweet by Jim Carrey that included the video of Jeremy Rifkin’s speech. That’s what inspired me to write this text.