The Transition Network has published a wide variety of books. However I tend to find the books I recommend are from other sources. So I thought I would talk about just one of those books. Of course this could be the most boring thing ever so we won’t make it a regular occurrence! But let us talk about ONE book. Let’s try “The Third Industrial Revolution” by Jeremy Rifkin. It isn’t an old one, it was published just last year in 2011. It is one of several books written outside the Transition movement but which is highly relevant. It is talking about the transition. This is transition for everyone else. You should give it a try….
There are other books we could commend. It might be worth checking out “The Crash Course” by Chris Martenson. (He describes the financial crisis that results from economies trying to grow themselves out of the debts that created them.) Then there is “What’s the worst that could happen?” by Greg Craven. (That may well be the only book you ever need to read about climate change – and it’s entertaining too!) There is also “Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller” by Jeff Rubin (Chief Economist at CIBC World Markets in Canada). (As the name of his book suggests, Rubin questions the future of Globalisation in a resource-constrained world.) Of all the books I have read over the years, these (and a handful of others) are the game-changers. They explain why the next forty years is going to be nothing like the last forty. Transition just adds the happy ending. And we all like happy endings.
So, in the pursuit of that happy ending we have Jeremy Rifkin. He has enormous influence. His book reads like a who’s who of Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governments, Ministers, CEOs, Mayors, Heads of State, Kings, Princes, you name it, he has worked with all of them and they describe his work in glowing terms. This book made the New York Times Bestseller list. It is all because somebody has joined the dots between all this grassroots transition and the world of power-politics. Rifkin speaks THEIR language, not OURS. And there is nothing wrong with that. He can sell the sizzle.
Rifkin’s narrative is simple; coal and steam brought us the first Industrial Revolution. Oil and the internal combustion engine brought us the second. It is the author’s belief that this second revolution is coming to an end with peak oil and climate change. To replace it there must be a new revolution consisting of 5 “pillars”: 1) shift to renewable energy, 2) make every building a power-station, 3) deploy hydrogen and other storage technologies in the economy in order to cope with intermittent renewable energy, 4) implement a smart-grid that resembles the Internet and shares energy peer-to-peer & 5) change over the transport fleet to electric and fuel cells. It is these “hard” technology-driven factors that have so caught the imagination of World leaders. Some of us might recoil but anyone reading the experiences of Rifkin’s team in transforming the economy of the city of Rome, will be struck by the attention given to transforming the streets into areas that can grow food. Rifkin has praise for the demonstration of collaborative economics inherent in Community Supported Agriculture. Familiar? Sounds like Transition.
The philosophy of the ‘third industrial revolution’ has such appeal that it sweeps away all traditional divisions of left and right. Across Europe it has got support from cooperatives, communists, liberals, trade unions, conservatives, and so on. Rifkin believes that the old power system is on the way out, not only in terms of electrical distribution and generation, but also in terms of political power. These top-down hierarchical systems are a natural consequence of an industrial age that revolved around fossil fuels. Fossil fuels that originated from only a handful of places on the planet. Since renewable energy is naturally spread out, uniform and less dense then it must be collected everywhere. It will flatten and democratise the economy. To replace it Rifkin believes in a new generation of social entrepreneurship. He writes:
“The collaborative nature of the new economy is fundamentally at odds with classical economic theory, which puts great store on the assumption that individual self-interest in the marketplace is the only effective way to drive economic growth. The Third Industrial Revolution model also eschews the kind of centralised command and control associated with traditional Soviet-style socialist economies.”
He went on to write:
“Ideology is disappearing. Young people aren’t much interested in debating the fine points of capitalism or socialist ideology or the nuances of geopolitical theory. [..]We have come to discover what we suspect is a new political mindset emerging among a younger generation of political leaders socialised on Internet communications. Their politics are less about right versus left and more about centralised and authoritarian versus distributed and collaborative.”
This book is a genuinely good alternative view of our future that captures so many of the arguments I have been putting forward over the last couple of years: the repositioning of politics, the redefining of progress, the opportunities ahead, the re-discovery of community, the rebalancing of local with global economics, and so on.
So, how would High Wycombe look if it embraced the third industrial revolution? It will bring an economic renaissance. It isn’t about spending tax payers money on green energy. It is about moving on. THIS is progress. It’s modernisation. Heaven knows, we need some of that thinking here.