Operation Save the Planet

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Jeremy Rifkin Explains Why the Weight of the World Is in Our Hands


Author, international economist, and futurist Jeremy Rifkin didn’t waste any time getting down to business in “The Third Industrial Revolution — Powering a Greener, More Just Global Economy,” his Main Stage presentation yesterday afternoon. The president of TIR Consulting Group LLC and founder of the Foundation on Economic Trends presented a litany of solemn facts and figures that affect each and every one of us.

“GDP [gross domestic product] is slowing all over the world,” Rifkin said. “The reason: productivity has been declining for over 15 years.” Unemployment, overconsumption, and climate change — marked by extreme temperatures and weather events — have become the new norm, and according to Rifkin, it’s our responsibility to correct this.

His solution is the Third Industrial Revolution, a digital transformation that exists at the convergence of the economy’s infrastructure trifecta: “New communication technologies to more efficiently manage economic activity. New energy sources to more efficiently power economic activity. New modes of mobility to more efficiently move economic activity.” These come together via the Internet of Things (IoT).

What the Third Industrial Revolution really boils down to is the realization of a “sharing economy,” Rifkin said, which equates to “using less of the Earth and sharing what we have.” It requires us not only to use and take, but to contribute and give back, which lowers or eliminates marginal costs. Rifkin passionately spoke about this theory, which is the subject of The Zero Marginal Cost Society, one of his 20 books. For example, over the course of 40 years, the cost to power one watt of solar electricity has shrunk from $76 to less than 50 cents.

So what does our future hold? Cars that are self-driving, electric-powered, and made of 3D-printed, recyclable materials. It will also feature extensive job creation in order to complete all the upgrades that the Third Industrial Revolution’s infrastructure requires.

The burden is not light and the work is not easy, Rifkin said, but it is possible. He has been working with the European Union for 10 years, and they have made hopeful progress toward these goals.

Of course, there are complications that come with universal connectivity: open access and network neutrality; digital security and privacy, especially with regard to the government; and cyber crime and terrorism. In the United States specifically, people have to “change consciousness” and shift their focus in three areas: freedom, power, and identity and community. Rifkin said that the Millennial generation will lead the charge, but that it will take everyone’s commitment to succeed.

“Everything we do every day intimately affects some other person,” Rifkin said. “We have to be committed to saving the planet. There’s no alternative, except — perhaps — our extinction.”

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  1. Daniel Chua says:

    How amazing if world leaders in religion, politics and business worked hand in hand with their constituents to solve all the issues raised by Jeremy.

  2. […] Tuesday’s lunchtime keynote was also a strong reminder of what we can do with our time here. Jeremy Rifkin talked about world economics, environment, and reminded us of the enormous sphere of influence the meetings and events industry has on these issues. […]