The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World

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The industrial revolution, powered by oil and other fossil fuels, is spiraling into a dangerous endgame: the prices of energy and food are climbing, unemployment remains high, the housing market has tanked, consumer and government debt are soaring, and the recovery is slowing. Facing the prospect of a second collapse of the global economy, humanity is desperate for a sustainable economic game plan to take us into the future.Here, Jeremy Rifkin explores how Internet technology and renewable energy are merging to ...

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The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World

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The industrial revolution, powered by oil and other fossil fuels, is spiraling into a dangerous endgame: the prices of energy and food are climbing, unemployment remains high, the housing market has tanked, consumer and government debt are soaring, and the recovery is slowing. Facing the prospect of a second collapse of the global economy, humanity is desperate for a sustainable economic game plan to take us into the future.Here, Jeremy Rifkin explores how Internet technology and renewable energy are merging to create a powerful “Third Industrial Revolution.” He asks us to imagine hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices, and factories and sharing it with each other in an “energy Internet,” just like how we create and share information online.Rifkin describes how the five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution will create thousands of businesses and millions of jobs and usher in a fundamental reordering of human relationships-from hierarchical power to lateral power-that will impact the way we conduct commerce, govern society, educate our children, and engage in civic life.Rifkin's vision is already gaining traction in the international community. The European Parliament has issued a formal declaration calling for its implementation, and other nations in Asia, Africa, and the Americas are quickly preparing their own initiatives for transitioning into this new economic paradigm.The Third Industrial Revolution is an insider's account of the next great economic era, including a look into the personalities and players-heads of state, global CEOs, social entrepreneurs, and NGOs-who are pioneering its implementation around the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Rudy Provoost

More than thought provoking… a call for action to policy makers and business leaders to embrace the opportunity of a society and economy driven by sustainable innovation and powered by renewable and distributed energy.

Jeremy Rifkin argues that green energy and the internet will revolutionize society and the environment...With the European Union already on board, this is a big idea with backbone.
Chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental P Rajendra Pachauri

This is a remarkable piece of work from one of the foremost thinkers of our time…Rifkin has come up with a visionary and innovative economic development model that ensures the sustainability of our natural resources and ecosystems.
From the Publisher
"Impeccably argued . . . a compelling and cogent argument to overhaul our society and economy in favor of a distributed and collaborative model." —Publishers Weekly
The Barnes & Noble Review

Books about saving the world are always a two-part confidence game. First comes the story of a calamitous decline and fall, and then the corresponding road to redemption is unveiled. For this type of book to work, its narrative picture must be painted in a chiaroscuro style — bathed in both darkness and light.

Jeremy Rifkin's The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy and the World is a classic example of this type of work. Rikfin's Manichaean narrative is simple, sometimes perhaps a little too simple. Over the last century, we have been "fossil fuel people" of the "carbon era," according to Rifkin. But America, he argues, is now in the death throes of this second industrial revolution. It has become a "failed economy," and we are "sleep walking" into the "deceleration" of the "environmental catastrophe" and the "extinction of life on the planet."

That's the dark part. The bright bit is inevitably biblical in its promise of salvation. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously warned that there are no second acts in American life. But for Rifkin it's America's second act — the destructive carbon revolution of the twentieth century — that's the problem. And it's America's third act, he says, that will save life on our planet from the catastrophe of extinction. The early twenty-first century's third industrial revolution of green energy and the "lateral power" of the network, Rifkin promises us, offer a more democratic and "distributed" alternative to the hierarchical structures of traditional economic and political institutions. It's in what he calls the "marriage" of energy and communications that our salvation as both a nation and as a species lies.

The Third Industrial Revolution is sobering reading. Writing with urgency and authority, Rifkin skewers President Obama for failing to strategically confront the fundamental decline of industrial America — arguing that Obama lacks a "narrative" to unleash the third industrial revolution. Rifkin is provocative, too, relating the global revolt against government and corporations that now links the streets of London and Greece to today's populist uprising on Wall Street to the crisis of top- down institutions struggling to maintain their authority in the face of the breakdown of the old industrial order.

In contrast with Barack Obama, however, Jeremy Rifkin does have a story to tell about how to save the planet. In what he calls "the five pillars," he lays out a comprehensive plan to realize the third industrial revolution. Rifkin's "new narrative," borrowing from the very high-level consultancy work he has been doing for the European Union, is truly revolutionary and comprises the most confident part of the book. Turning the old hierarchies of the industrial revolution on their head, Rifkin argues in favor of a complete shift to renewable energy wind, solar, and garbage in which we can turn all our homes into "micro- power plants" that will then be shared on a grid via the Internet. "Renewable energies are everywhere," he explains as he charts the European ambition to make all of its citizens into new energy moguls by creating 190 million power plants in the Union.

The Third Industrial Revolution is a big, brash, bold book in keeping with Rifkin's forty-year career as an anti-corporate gadfly. So should we believe in it? "The economy is always a confidence game," Rifkin argues — and so, I've already argued, is this type of book. But for all its vigor and erudition, it's undermined by one fatal flaw. The heart of Rifkin's critique of industrial civilization lies in its top-down hierarchies, which, he says, have become anachronistic in the face of the "distributed," collaborative nature of today's Internet world. And yet Rifkin — who seems to be "friends" with everyone from European prime ministers like Angela Merkel and David Cameron to European royalty like Prince Albert of Monaco — is a classic example of a top-down technocrat who is anything but "distributed" in his glamorous, Davos- friendly lifestyle.

No, there's nothing lateral about Jeremy Rifkin or his green manifesto. Ironically, he's as top-down as they come, a classic example of a mandarin from the second industrial revolution, more Auguste Comte than Jimmy Wales, who implements change on behalf of everyone else. And The Third Industrial Revolution is a pretty conventional top-down twentieth-century text, too, written without the kind of interactivity or textual innovation that one might expect of a prophet of lateral power.

"Drill baby drill," is the Tea Party mantra for solving today's industrial crisis in America. Rifkin, of course, disagrees. "Drilling for oil won't get us out of the crisis because the crisis is oil," he argues. But the crisis, as he explains, goes way beyond oil, to the roots of an American democracy in which mandarin technocrats like Jeremy Rifkin are dismissed as "elitists." Perhaps that's why he has more confidence in Europe, rather than America, to realize the third industrial revolution. And that may be why, I suspect, The Third Industrial Revolution will evoke more confidence in top-down Europe than in bottom-up America.

Andrew Keen is author of The Cult of the Amateur, which has been translated into fifteen languages. He hosts "Keen On," the popular weekly media and culture show on and regularly tweets at

Reviewer: Andrew Keen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452635651
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/12/2011
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Library - Unabridged CD
  • Sales rank: 1,037,566
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeremy Rifkin, one of the most popular social thinkers of our time, is the bestselling author of The Empathic Civilization, The European Dream, The Age of Access, The Hydrogen Economy, The Biotech Century, and The End of Work. An adviser to the European Union and to heads of state around the world, his work has been translated into more than 35 languages. Jeremy is a senior lecturer at the Wharton School's Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania and the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C. Kevin Foley has over thirty years' experience in radio and television broadcasting, commercial voice-overs, and audiobook narration. He has recorded over 150 audiobooks, including Storm Rising by Gary Naiman, 100 Ways to Bring Out Your Best by Roger Fritz, The Last Witness by Joel Goldman, and River Thunder by Gary McCarthy, for which he earned a Spur Award for Best Audiobook from the Western Writers of America.

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Read an Excerpt

The Third Industrial Revolution

How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, The Economy, and the World

By Jeremy Rifkin

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2011 Jeremy Rifkin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-34058-9



It was 5 a.m. and I was running on my treadmill, only half listening to the early news on cable TV when I heard a reporter talking excitedly about a new political movement calling itself the "Tea Party." I stepped off the machine, not sure if I had heard correctly. The screen was full of angry middle-aged Americans hoisting yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags, complete with the coiled snake insignia. Others were thrusting signs at the camera declaring "No taxation without representation," "Close the borders," and "Climate change is a hoax." The reporter, barely audible above the chants, was saying something about a spontaneous grassroots movement that was spreading like wildfire across the heartland, protesting big government in Washington, DC, and liberal career politicians who cared only about enriching themselves at the expense of their constituents. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing. It was like witnessing a perverse inversion of something I had organized nearly forty years ago. Was this some kind of cruel cosmic joke?


December 16, 1973. Snow began falling just after sunrise. I felt a chilling wind against my face as I approached Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston, once the meeting place where firebrands and radicals like Sam Adams and Joseph Warren railed against the colonial policies of King George III and his corporate emissaries—the most notorious and hated being the British East India Company.

The city had been bunkered down for weeks. Traffic, which is generally heavy and often gridlocked in town, had been sparse for several days, largely because many gas stations had run out of fuel. At the few stations still pumping gas, motorists lined up for blocks, waiting an hour or more to fill up their tanks. Those lucky enough to find fuel were shocked at the prices being charged at the pump. Gas prices had doubled in just a few weeks, creating near hysteria in a country that, up to that time, was the largest oil producer in the world.

The public reaction was understandable given that it was America's abundant oil reserves and its wily ability to mass-produce affordable cars for a restless, nomadic people that catapulted the United States to commanding heights, making it the world's leading superpower in the twentieth century.

The jolt to our national pride came without warning. Just two months earlier, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) slapped an oil embargo against the United States in retaliation to Washington's decision to resupply the Israeli government with military equipment during the Yom Kippur War. The "oil shock" reverberated quickly across the world. By December, the price of oil on the world market had shot up from $3 per barrel to $11.65. Panic ensued on Wall Street and on Main Street.

The first and most obvious sign of the new reality was at neighborhood gas stations. Many Americans believed that the giant oil companies were taking advantage of the situation by arbitrarily spiking prices to secure windfall profits. The mood among motorists in Boston and around the country quickly turned sour. This was the backdrop for the tumultuous event that would unfold on the Boston wharf on December 16, 1973.

The day marked the two hundredth anniversary of the famed Boston Tea Party, the seminal event that galvanized popular sentiment against the British crown. Angered over a new tax imposed on tea and other products being exported to the American colonies by the mother country, Sam Adams spurred on a band of discontents, some of whom dumped tea cargo in the Boston Harbor. "No taxation without representation" quickly became the banner cry of the radicals. This first act of open defiance of British rule set off a series of reactions and counterreactions by the monarchy and its upstart thirteen colonies that would end in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Revolutionary War.

In the weeks leading up to the anniversary, a groundswell of anger was building up against the giant oil companies. Many Americans were furious over what they considered to be unjustified price gouging by callous global companies threatening to undermine what Americans had come to regard as a basic right as revered as free speech, free press, and free assembly—the right to cheap oil and auto mobility.

I was twenty-eight years old at the time—a young activist weaned on the anti–Vietnam War and civil rights movement of the 1960s. A year earlier, I had launched a national organization, the People's Bicentennial Commission, which I hoped would serve as a radical alternative to the official American Bicentennial Commission established by the Nixon administration to commemorate the various historical events leading up to the two hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

I conceived of the idea of an alternative celebration in part because of my growing alienation from my colleagues in the New Left movement. Having grown up in a working-class neighborhood on the deep south side of Chicago—a community of tradesmen and mechanics, policemen and firemen, and families who worked in the Chicago stockyards, rail yards, and nearby steel plants—patriotism was in my blood. On any given day, a visitor could not help noticing the flutter of American flags on front porches scattered across my neighborhood. Every day was Flag Day.

I was raised on the American dream and developed a deep appreciation for the radical sentiments of our founding fathers—Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, George Washington—the small group of revolutionary thinkers who put their lives on the line in pursuit of the inalienable human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Many of my friends in the New Left hailed from a more privileged background, having grown up in America's elite suburban enclaves. Although deeply committed to the pursuit of social justice, equality, and peace, they increasingly drew their inspiration from other revolutionary struggles abroad, especially the anticolonial struggles of the post–World War II era. I recall countless political gatherings in which the thoughts of Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara were called forth to provide guidance and spur selfless action. All of this was strange to me, having been raised to believe that our homegrown American revolutionaries were the inspiration for all other anticolonial struggles over the past two centuries.

The American Bicentennial Celebration offered a unique opportunity for a younger generation to reconnect with America's radical promise—especially when the official White House observance, overseen by President Nixon and a legion of commercial boosters, appeared to be more rooted in the monarchical trappings of aristocratic privilege than in a sense of economic and social justice more befitting those early American heroes we were supposed to be celebrating.

Our plan was to turn the Tea Party anniversary into a protest against the oil companies. We were unsure whether anyone would come out onto the streets and join us. After all, there had never been a protest against big oil, so there was no way to predict what people might do. My fear of an embarrassingly low turnout grew as the snow began to fall. During the 1960s, we always scheduled antiwar protests in the spring because we were more likely to draw a crowd. In fact, none of the seasoned activists organizing the event could recall a single mass protest ever held in the dead of winter.

As I turned the corner onto Faneuil Hall, I looked in amazement. Thousands of people were lining the streets leading to the building. They were hoisting signs and banners reading "Make the oil companies pay," "Down with big oil," and "Long live the American Revolution." People were packed into the hall chanting, "Impeach Exxon."

After I delivered a short speech calling on the protestors to remember this day as the beginning of a second American Revolution for "energy independence," we took to the streets, following the exact route that the "tea partiers" from two hundred years ago took to Griffin's Wharf. Along the way, thousands more Bostonians joined our ranks—students, blue-collar workers, middle-class professionals, and entire families. By the time we reached the docks where the official Salada Tea Company ship (a recreation of the original ship) was anchored, upwards of twenty thousand protesters lined the waterfront, chanting, "Down with big oil." The protest overwhelmed the carefully orchestrated ceremony. An armada of local fishing boats from towns as far north as Gloucester broke through the police blockades and headed toward the Salada Tea ship, where federal and local dignitaries awaited the official ceremonies. Fishermen came aboard, seized the ship, climbed the masthead, and began throwing empty oil barrels, rather than tea crates, into the river, to the cheers of thousands of protestors. The next day the New York Times and other newspapers around the county recounted what had happened in Boston, dubbing the event "The Boston Oil Party of 1973."


Thirty-five years later in July 2008, the price of oil on the world market peaked at a record $147 per barrel. Just seven years earlier, oil was selling at under $24 per barrel. In 2001, I suggested that an oil crisis was in the making and that the price of oil might tip over $50 per barrel within a few short years. My comments were greeted with widespread skepticism and even derision. "Not in our lifetime" came the retort from the oil industry, as well as most geologists and economists. Shortly thereafter, the price of oil dramatically rose. When the price went over $70 per barrel in mid-2007, the price of products and services across the entire global supply chain began to rise as well, for the simple reason that virtually every commercial activity in our global economy is dependent on oil and other fossil fuel energies. We grow our food in petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. Most of our construction materials—cement, plastics, and so on—are made of fossil fuels, as are most of our pharmaceutical products. Our clothes, for the most part, are made from petrochemical synthetic fibers. Our transport, power, heat, and light are all reliant on fossil fuels as well. We have built an entire civilization on the exhumed carbon deposits of the Carboniferous Period.

Assuming our species somehow manages to survive, I often wonder how future generations living fifty thousand years from now will regard this particular moment in the human saga. They will likely characterize us as the fossil fuels people and this period as the Carbon Era, just as we have referred to past periods as the Bronze and Iron Ages.

When the price of oil passed the $100-per-barrel mark, something unthinkable just a few years earlier, spontaneous protests and riots broke out in twenty-two countries because of the steep rise in the price of cereal grains—tortilla protests in Mexico and rice riots in Asia. The fear of widespread political unrest sparked a global discussion around the oil-food connection.

With 40 percent of the human race living on $2 per day or less, even a marginal shift in the price of staples could mean widespread peril. By 2008, the price of soybeans and barley had doubled, wheat had almost tripled, and rice had quintupled. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported that a record one billion human beings were going to bed hungry.

The fear spread as middle-class consumers in the developed countries began to be affected by the steep oil price rise. The price of basic items in the stores shot up. Gasoline and electricity prices soared. So did the price of construction materials, pharmaceutical products, and packaging materials—the list was endless. By late spring, prices were becoming prohibitive and purchasing power began plummeting around the world. In July of 2008, the global economy shut down. That was the great economic earthquake that signaled the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era. The collapse of the financial market sixty days later was the aftershock.

Most heads of state, business leaders, and economists have yet to fathom the real cause of the economic meltdown that has shaken the world. They continue to believe that the credit bubble and government debt are unrelated to the price of oil, not understanding that they are intimately tied to the waning of the oil age. The longer the conventional wisdom remains mired in the belief that somehow the credit and debt crisis are merely the fault of failing to properly oversee deregulated markets, world leaders will be unable to get to the root of the crisis and fix it. We will revisit this point shortly.

What occurred in July of 2008 is what I call peak globalization. Although much of the world is still unaware, it is clear that we have reached the outer limits of how far we can extend global economic growth within an economic system deeply dependent on oil and other fossil fuels.

I am suggesting that we are currently in the endgame of the Second Industrial Revolution and the oil era upon which it is based. This is a hard reality to accept because it would force the human family to quickly transition to a wholly new energy regime and a new industrial model, or risk the collapse of civilization.

The reason we have hit the wall in terms of globalization is "global peak oil per capita," which is not to be confused with "global peak oil production." The latter is a term used among petro-geologists to denote the point when global oil production reaches its zenith on what is called the Hubbert bell curve. Peak oil production occurs when half of the ultimately recoverable oil reserves are used up. The top of the curve represents the midpoint in oil recovery. After that, production drops as fast as it climbed.

M. King Hubbert was a geophysicist who worked for the Shell Oil Company back in 1956. Hubbert published what has subsequently become a famous paper forecasting the peak of oil production in the lower forty-eight states sometime between 1965 and 1970. His projection was ridiculed by colleagues at the time who noted that America was the leading producer of oil in the world. The very idea that we might lose our preeminence was unthinkable and dismissed. His prediction, however, turned out to be correct. US oil production peaked in 1970 and began its long decline.

For the past four decades, geologists have been arguing about when global peak oil production will most likely occur. The optimists believed, based on their modeling, that it would probably happen sometime between 2025 and 2035. The pessimists, which included some of the leading geologists in the world, projected global peak oil to occur between 2010 and 2020.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), a Paris-based organization that governments rely on for their energy information and forecasts, may have put the issue of global peak oil production to rest in its 2010 World Energy Outlook report. According to the IEA, global peak production of crude oil probably occurred in 2006 at seventy million barrels per day. The admission stunned the international oil community and sent shudders down the spine of global businesses whose life line is crude oil.

According to the IEA, to even keep oil production flat at slightly below seventy million barrels per day—to avoid a precipitous plunge in the global economy—would require a staggering investment of $8 trillion over the next twenty-five years to pump the difficult-to-capture remaining oil from existing fields, to open up less promising fields already discovered, and to search for new fields that are increasingly harder to find.

But here we're primarily concerned with global peak oil per capita, which occurred way back in 1979 at the height of the Second Industrial Revolution. BP conducted a study, which has since been confirmed by other studies, concluding that the available oil, if equally distributed, peaked in that year. While we've found more oil since then, the world population has grown much more quickly. If we were to equally distribute all of the known oil reserves today to the 6.8 billion human beings living on Earth, there would be less available per person.


Excerpted from The Third Industrial Revolution by Jeremy Rifkin. Copyright © 2011 Jeremy Rifkin. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


1 The Real Economic Crisis Everyone Missed,
2 A New Narrative,
3 Turning Theory to Practice,
4 Distributed Capitalism,
5 Beyond Right and Left,
6 From Globalization to Continentalization,
7 Retiring Adam Smith,
8 A Classroom Makeover,
9 Morphing from the Industrial to the Collaborative Era,

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  • Posted December 15, 2011

    A Blueprint for Sustainability - Thoughtful and Exciting

    Jeremy Rifkin renders enormously complex ideas accessible. He lays out a blueprint for a sustainable future that is not without problems to solve, but with problems that clearly can be solved, and solved in a way that keeps everyone whole. The most difficult problems are not those of science or technology, they are humanity's entrenched ways of being. Rifkin, and like-minded thinkers such as Amory Lovins and Paul Hawken, among others, understand history in a way that frees rather than binds, and the possibilities they identify are rooted in what is, and from that, what can be. This book is not about outlandish fantasies of a utopian future, it is about the path we are on now, the obstacles in that path, and the decisions to be made.

    I have savored this book, at times like a feast, at others like tapas, and it always stays with me, a constant heady companion. Someone said that history, and I¿m paraphrasing, is the great human conversation. Like Bucky Fuller¿s World Game, this book provides the structure for a compelling conversation, one that recognizes that we create scarcity by what we believe, how we behave, how we treat and manage resources, that in fact there is abundance on this planet, plenty for all. The Third Industrial Revolution is all about how to manage abundance and how to do so in context of humanity¿s highest aspirations.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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