I recently saw a Jeremy Rifkin lecture. An economist from University of Pennsylvania, author of numerous best-sellers, and advisor to Francoise Hollande of France, Angela Merkel in Germany, Li Kequiang of China, and many other foreign governments; Rifkin offers insight into the ways our economic world is changing toward a low-carbon society. He has worked with countries in the European Union to develop a vision of a post-carbon economy that has been embraced by the European Union. In his lecture he reported that every once in a while mankind comes up with an invention that is so radical that it changes culture and the culture's economic structures along with it, a paradigm shift. The printing press is one such example and the development of fossil fuels was another. These inventions were so game-changing that they altered the way our culture functioned and the way our economic systems supported the change.
Today's younger generations are not driven by the need to own things in the way that my generation was. They want access to things but they are not interested in the burden of ownership and maintaining things. This has given rise to companies like Zipcar, Sparkbox, Air BnB, Rideshare, and Uber. Rifkin envisions a world where consumer goods are freely shared on the Internet and the costly material and energy burden we place on the planet is lightened.
The Internet, the rise of computer technology, and the development of PV is another one of these moments in history according to Rifkin. He illustrates the ways that the Internet has already changed culture. He is actively working on an Internet of Things where that would serve as the infrastructure for a shared economy and the Collaborative Commons.
He sees the decline of capitalism as the Internet begins to provide goods and services that are free or at a marginal cost and are abundantly available. People are already sharing cars, homes, expertise, education, clothes, and toys, via social media sites for no or very low cost and the increasing popularity of these sites will only drive the costs down further. Social entrepreneurs are by-passing the banks with crowd-funding. Access is becoming more important than ownership.
In Germany, one of the countries with the largest concentrations of power generation from renewable sources, the price of electricity has plummeted causing the near collapse of the coal-generated and nuclear power giants. Germany has converted over one million buildings to renewable energy. The value of the top 20 European Utility companies in 2008 was 1.3 trillion dollars and today they are worth half of that. Germany is powered today with 30 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources. They have an aggressive plan to phase out of fossil fuels and are looking at a 50% reduction by 2030. Rifkin predicts the adoption of smaller locally or on-site generated and supplied power grids in conjunction with the rise of renewable energy that will mean an end to all of the large energy companies. Transportation will also shift to renewables and he predicts the building of a new smart-grid that will allow independent users to share power. All of this change will translate into jobs.
Rifkin's case for the development of green power and the Internet of shared goods and services, illustrates a strong societal shift that ultimately will make a large dent in our carbon problem to create a more stable future.