By Jas Kapela
When reading an American theoretician of the new economy, Jeremy Rifkin, one may believe for a while that a better world is possible. The fossil fuel age is coming to an end (and everyone knows that), global warming is a problem still likely to be solved, and the Internet makes the societies more democratic. We know what to do to leave the old civilisation model based on oil and coal and we boldly step into the period of the third industrial revolution. We have a plan and we know how to implement it. What is more, European Union is already doing that! Didn’t you know that? I didn’t.
If Rifkin was right, then the “third industrial revolution” – which appears also as the title of his penultimate book that puts together all this optimistic visions – has already in 2007 been recognized as a long-term development plan fo the EU countries. The rest of the world can only be jealous – nobody is as well prepared to laying the fundaments for the new ecological and economic order. According to Rifkin, until 2050 we wil have managed to step into the postcoal age what will allow us avoid an ecological disaster– but only if we realize the available opportunities. Rifkin presents us to them in an interesting and comprehensible way. That’s one of the reasons why “Third industrial revolution” is worth reading. Yet even more encouraging seems the fact that there is Waldemar Pawlak’s recommendation on the cover.
What is the “third industrial revolution” supposed to mean? Rifkin descirbes its five pillars. First: replacing the energy regime based on fossil fuels with renewable resources. Second: transforming world’s buliding base and making each building a micro power station able to charge renewable energy. Third: installing in the whole infrastructure hydrogen technologies allowing to store temporarily appearing renewable energy in order to guarentee constant flow of green electricity”. Fourth: using online communication technologies to create an intelligent energy network enabling millions of people to send ecoological energy generated in their houses to the net and sharing it with others in a common, open space in a way similar to this in which people create and share information online”. Fifth: replacing widely used vehicles – cars, buses, trains, trucks – for vehicles with electric or hydrogen fuel powered by renewable energy generated in millions of buildings and installing in each country numerous charging stations, where the consumers-producers could buy and sell electricity through a disperse network”.
Rifkin realizes that the dinosaurs belonging to the past era will not want to give up their money and power just because the time of their extinction is coming. He deliberately starts his book with a description of Tea Party. He also pays attention to an incredible paradox. Forty years ago he organized a protest in Boston Bay. Then empty barrels where being thrown into the sea as an act of protest against oil concerns. People were shouting: stop the tyranny of oil magnats! Something must have changed since the new mantra seems to be “drill, baby, drill”. It’s not a secret that American big fishes like Koch brothers and others sponsor the initiatives aimed at convincing us that there is nothing better for the economy and the world in general than making use of all the fossil fuels remaining on Earth and ignoring the consequences. At the end of the day global warming is a myth invented by greedy scientists who earn millions on emissions trading. In contrast to the modest businessmen who sell oil and coal at relatively low cost it’s a coincidence from which one should not draw any serious conclusions. Drill, baby, drill!
Who can fight a powerful energy lobby? According to Rifkin, devolepers can. Third industrial revolution works for them. Somebody will have to rebuild all these buildings to make them micro power stations, to build this whole infrastructure with solar panels, charging stations etc. And the employment that it generates! Which politician would not go for that? We could joke that for example the one with a retirement guaranteed by Gazprom, but it would not be that pat. Yet despite Schroeder, Germany effectively introduces the shift to the ecological path within its economy. This exception does not change the fact that three biggest companies in the world are oil concern. Have I already mentioned that there actually exists a foce that can oppose to them? I doubt it. And it is not very comforting that one day we will run out of oil. Until this time there will be an ecological disaster and the world will get divided for these who still can afford buying well-being and these who cannot, which will make them attack the first ones. The more clever ones feel heavy breathing on their fat asses. The rest, as usually, thinks that things will be ok. Let’s kick their asses.
As far as Ritkin’s vision is concerned, it is utopian and excessively optimistic, but what else is left? He writes that if there is any plan B, he would like to get to know it. Me too. Yet we won’t stop global warming and the destruction of the environment, we can still reduce the damage. We can try to rescue something. But the world does not seem to go in this direction.
We should look into the example of Poland. The subsidies for the less and less lucrative mining are bigger than the money for implementing and usage of renewable sources of energy. We coul comfort ourselves that Poland is meaningless. Despite the moaning of our rightist politicians, the EU will finally start acting in our case. Said all this, we have experience in dismissing miners. However, despite many examples of positive changes given by Rifkin, the world’s situation is not very good also. The dinosaurs of the oil age are still powerful and the faith that the oligarchic system will be overthrown by the new generation brought up by the Internet is, at least, naive.
As far as Rifkin’s view on my peers is concerned, he claims the notions of patriachal way of thinking, severe social norms and xenophobic behaviours of their parents have nothing to do with their lives now, which makes me feel quite confused. I also doubt if the author as ever seen what’s going on with Facebook whose “laterality” he praises.
New, more democratic, cooperative and equality-based humanity are supposed to be built on the basis of microcredits, food cooperatives and social networks such as CoachSurfing whose mission is to promote the idea that we are all members of a big global family. We may be, yet not everyone can afford the tickets. CoachSurfing became a website for rich middle class that visits rich middle class. Or poor middle class that has never been to Europe. Because they can’t afford the tickets.
It’s one of the blind alleys in Rifkin’s vision: global inequalities. Even if we build a superecological European Union, at it’s borders will appear immigrants from the countries omitted by third industrial revolution and still suffering the consequences of the second. Until 2050 Bangladesh may be flooded. Will we permit its citizens drive our electric cars? Or will we rather like Facebook fanpages “Say no to bangladeshization of Europe”? The latter, I suppose.
An argument that xenophoby, patriarchy and oligarchy will disappear because the new generation simply thinks differently is the weakest one in Third Industrial Revolution. The world is not getting fairer by itself. The other way round. Emancipatory movements and liberal civil society in whose power Rifkin deeply believes, seem to lose to the fundamentalist right which makes use of the trophies of modernity to proclaim random bullshit and to shout that the freedom of speech is violated when someone opposes its ideas.
Rifkin’s charming naivety cannot obscure the fact that there is no other way but being naive and trying to act despite the awareness of our weakness in comparison to the forces that we are supposed to fight. Undoubtedly, the more people will share the convictions and hopes of the author, the bigger the chance that they will one day come true.
PS: Besides that, I particularly liked the chapter about education. School really doesn’t have to be authoritrian. It can teach us how to work together and how to respect the complicated world instead of preparing for the rat race. Rifkin cleverl deals also with the utopian faith in free market and with the leftovers of Adam Smith’s interpretations who wanted to see the economy as Newtonian dynamics. The chapter about entrophy is really inspiring in its simplicity – to create energy we need energy. Most energy is wasted in the process. At least in case of fossil fuels. Sometimes it is enough to slow down to reduce the amount of wasted energy. What I wish for you and myself. Or we will get wasted by the entrophy. One day we will, anyways. Yet do we prefer this to happen earlier or later?
This work was originally created for Weather Stations, a project developed by Free Word, Internationales literaturfestival Berlin, Krytyka Polityczna, Tallaght Community Centre and The Wheeler Centre with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union.’