Correspondent's Choice

This interview with author Jeremy Rifkin was published on 16th June 2010 by EurActiv.

Despite the economic crisis and the struggle to save the euro, the European dream is not dead yet: what Europe needs is an “economic vision and game plan that would create a seamless, distributive energy grid” to build a third industrial revolution, said Jeremy Rifkin, author of ‘The European Dream’, in an interview with EurActiv.

The EU is in the best position in the world to make the transition from a second to a third industrial revolution, said Rifkin, refuting arguments that Europe is doomed to fail.

“For all its faults, Europe is still the laboratory of the world,” argued the US economist, who heads the Foundation on Economic Trends. He explained that the United States is moving further and further back in time and China is a top-down centralised regime that is going to implode.

However, EU leaders should stop looking at the “side-show”, Rifkin said, claiming that the financial crisis is merely an after-shock of the economic earthquake caused by oil prices hitting $147 a barrel in 2008.

“That’s what I call peak civilisation and it is an end game for the second industrial revolution,” he claimed, adding that for over a decade, industrialised countries spent their savings to move ahead with globalisation.

Rifkin predicted that when the recovery picks up, oil prices will increase and eventually “short circuit”, cutting off the economic engine again and throwing the world into panic. “It is going to be a boomerang effect,” he warned.

Four-pillar third industrial revolution

According to the US economist, who became well-known across the Atlantic after publishing his best-seller The European Dream, the exit strategy to push the EU into the third industrial revolution rests on a four-pillar infrastructure revolution that will give the EU the same economic multiplier effect that drove previous industrial revolutions: the railroad in the 19th century and more recently the interstate highway in the US.

Apart from increasing the use of renewable energy to move towards zero-carbon emissions and a post-carbon economy by 2050, Rifkin called for the transformation of every home, office and factory into a partial power plant.

“A bit of sun on the roof, a little bit of wind on the walls and heat from the ground, and buildings become partial power plants,” he said, stressing that buildings are not only the major cause of climate change, but also the solution.

Hydrogen is the third pillar of Rifkin’s vision. The EU must commit to hydrogen as a means of storing intermittent energy sources, he said. “We have to set up hydrogen infrastructure across all buildings, infrastructure and power lines in Europe.”

The fourth strand of his strategy combines the Internet and communication technology revolution and the distributive renewable energy revolution.

“Millions and millions of buildings producing their own energy, throwing some of the surplus in hydrogen – like you store digital and media – then what they don’t use, they can share across 27 states with 500 million people on an intergrid that acts exactly like the Internet,” he said, insisting that the technology exists.

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