Here is my review of The Third Industrial Revolution, by Jeremy Rifkin. After reading the 300 pages I daresay this book provides us a vision and a narrative to achieve it. Here are the five pillars of this revolution :
1. Shifting to renewable energy ; 2. Converting buildings into power plants 3. Hydrogen and other energy storage technology ; 4. Smart grid technology ; 5. Plug in, electric, hybrid, and fuel cell based transportation.
I quite enjoyed the two first parts where the author describe the world we are currently living in and how the second industrial revolution is coming to an end as our whole system is burning up.
(just like the planet). Then we are introduced to the third industrial revolution and its five aforementioned pillars.
The author also gives a lot of truly inspiring examples of cities, regions or countries that are already implementing a plan based on these pillars. From the city of San Antonia, Texas, in the USA to Monaco or the European Union as a whole, there are many examples of the various successes.
Creating a smart grid – dubbed as an Energy Internet – is a good goal, but we will have to make it continental, or even intercontinental. This led me to think automatically about the great Desertec project.
Some issues are just too big to be left within a single country. This leads to transnational – or continental – issues. I had heard about gloCalisation but not about continentalization. This is already the case between neighboring countries that are working together on environmental or economy issues.
The book offers a glimpse of what the economy could become in the late 21st century provided we succeed. Some great insight even if I am dubious that collaborative work based on the third economy sector will completely take over. Sure, we have 3D printing, but I don’t see that making cars, planes, trains or bikes. Nor will it reinsulate the million of housings that need to…
Now here are my criticisms, and there are many.
- A lot of politics. Mr Rifkin is a liberal and wants you to know it. He has been demonstrating in the 1970s, he is read by Chavez and the likes, he believes in what he calls lateral power (no more top down management are we are all equal… some good points but a lot wishful thinking)
- A big ego. Mr Rifkin loves to write about how he convinced so many people single-handedly to do the right thing and converge to a low carbon economy. The names abound and do not add to the narrative. (It’s not as if he was the only one to advocate a low carbon economy…) ;
- Very little mentions of energy efficiency. Renewables are great, smart grid too, but to make a transition happen, we are going to need to learn about conserving our resources and use them more efficiently. This gets little mention as it must not be sexy enough…
- If you read the book, you have the impression that the world almost ends with America and Europe. Quasi no mention of Asia, none of India, a couple for Africa and Latin America. As we live in a global and multipolar world, this is a bit astonishing.
- Banking on hydrogen and fuel cells. As I have stated in a previous article : ” Virtually all of the experience to date seems to bolster the case of the critics.“
Overall, it is a decent introduction to the topics I have been mentioning over the years on this blog : the rise of renewables, smart grids, the electrification of our transport… But there are too many criticisms for me to recommend it to you wholeheartedly and without warning.
Grade : 15/20. A decent book on the challenges ahead with very inspiring examples of what has already been done in the local scale.
If you are new to these issues, I would recommend you Hot, Flat and Crowded, by Thomas Friedman, provides the same vision but without the criticism of this one.