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  Number 466 | Mayo 2020
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International

We are facing the threat of extinction

This activist for a radical transformation of the oil- and other fossil fuel-based system has for decades called for changes in industrial society toward more sustainable models. He has written more than 20 books proposing formulas that could ensure our continued existence on this planet, in balance with both the environment and our own species. These are some of his ideas.

Jeremy Rifkin

We cannot say this pandemic has taken us by surprise. Everything happening to us stems from climate change, a phenomenon researchers and I have been warning of for some time. We have witnessed other pandemics in recent years and alarm bells have been sounded signaling that something very serious could happen. Human activity has generated these pandemics, because we have altered both the water cycle and the ecosystem that keeps the planet in balance.

It’s a planetary warning


Natural disasters—pandemics, fires, hurricanes, flooding—are going to keep happening because the Earth’s temperature continues to rise and because we have destroyed the ground. There are two factors we cannot ignore. The first is climate change, which causes the displacement of human populations and other species. The second is that every day animal life and human life are coming in closer contact as a result of the climate emergency and thus their viruses are co-travelers.

Nothing will ever
go back to normal


This pandemic is a wake-up call for the whole planet. What we must do now is build the infrastructure that will allow us to live differently. We have to assume that we are in a new era. Otherwise, there will be more pandemics and natural disasters. We are facing the threat of extinction.

The first thing we must do is craft a different relationship with the planet. Each community must take responsibility for creating this relationship in the environment closest to it.

Globalization is over


And yes, we must undertake a revolution toward the global Green New Deal, a digital, zero-emissions model. We have to develop new activities, create new jobs and reduce the risk of new disasters. Globalization is over; we must think in terms of “glocalization.” This is our civilization’s crisis, but we cannot continue to think about globalization as we have up to now. “Glocal” solutions are needed to develop energy, communication, transportation, logistical infrastructures...

We aren’t changing
our way of life


South Korea is fighting the pandemic with technology. Other countries are following suit. But we aren’t changing our way of life. We need a new vision, a different vision of the future, and leaders in the headline countries lack this vision. The new generations are the ones that can really act.

We have to start with the way we organize our economy, our society and our governments—with changing our way of being on this planet. Ours is the civilization of fossil fuels, based for the last 200 years on exploiting the Earth.

The land had remained unbroken until we began to excavate its bedrock to transform it into gas, oil and coal. And we thought the Earth would always be there, intact. We have created a whole civilization based on the use of fossils.

We have used so many resources that we are now using up the land’s capital rather than enjoying its benefits. We are using a land and a half, when we only have one. We have lost 60% of the planet’s ground surface. It has disappeared and it will take thousands of years to recover.

We are the water planet


We are truly facing a change in climate, but we are also still in time to modify it. Climate change, caused by global warming and CO2 emissions, alters the Earth’s water cycle.

We are the water planet; thanks to water, our ecosystem emerged and has evolved over millions of years. The water cycle enables life to exist and develop. And that’s the problem: for each centigrade the temperature increases as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, the atmosphere absorbs 7% more precipitation from the ground. This warming forces that precipitation to fall more rapidly and in greater concentrations, thus causing more natural, water-related catastrophes: heavy snowfall in winter, flooding in the spring around the world, droughts and fires throughout the summer, and hurricanes and typhoons sweeping our coasts in autumn.

We are facing
the sixth extinction


We are facing the sixth extinction and people don’t even know it. Scientists say that half of all habitats and animals will vanish from the Earth in eight decades. This is where we find ourselves, face to face with a possible natural extinction for which we are in no way prepared.

How much time do we have left? I don’t know. I have been part of the movement for change since the 1970s and I think we have already spent the time we needed. We will never return to where we were, to the right temperature and an appropriate climate.
Climate change will be with us for thousands of years. The question is: Can we, as a species, be resilient and adapt to completely different environments? And can those with whom we share this planet have the same opportunity to adapt?

We are heading toward
the Third Industrial Revolution


If you ask me how much time it will take us to shift to a non-contaminating economy, at the 2018 European climate change summit our scientists said we have 12 years left. We have even less than that to completely transform civilization and begin this change.

The Second Industrial Revolution, which caused climate change, is dying. And that is thanks to the low cost of solar energy, which is more profitable than coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy. We’re heading toward a Third Industrial Revolution.

The European Union and China have come together in collaboration, and the United States is moving forward because states are developing the necessary infrastructure. Don’t forget that we are a federated republic. The federal government only creates the rules, regulations, standards and incentives. It works similarly in Europe: member States have created the infrastructure.

Many changes are happening
in Europe, China and the US


What happens in the US is that we give Mr. Trump a lot of attention, but 29 of 50 states have plans for renewable energy development and are incorporating solar energy. Last year at the European climate emergency conference, US cities declared a climate emergency and now they are launching their own Green New Deal.

Many changes are taking place in the US. It would be great if we had someone different in the White House; nevertheless this Third Industrial Revolution is emerging in the European Union and in China, and has begun in California, New York state and parts of Texas.

The three internets of the
Third Industrial Revolution


The new Industrial Revolution is ushering in new means of communication, energy, transportation and logistics. The Internet is today’s communications revolution, as were the printing press and the telegraph in the 19th-century’s First Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom, or the telephone, radio and television in the 20th-century’s Second Revolution in the United States.

Today more than 4 billion people are connected and soon we will have all human beings in the world communicating over the Internet.

In a period like the one we are experiencing, technologies allow us to integrate huge numbers of people in a new framework of economic relationships. The knowledge Internet is accompanied by the energy Internet and the mobility Internet. These three Internets comprise the infrastructure for the Third Industrial Revolution. They will converge and be developed on an object Internet infrastructure that will reconfigure the way all activity is managed in the 21st century.

We will unite the world “glocally”


We are creating a new era called “glocalization.” The zero-emissions technology of this Third Revolution will be so cheap it will enable us to create our own cooperatives and businesses, both physical and virtual.

Most large companies will disappear. Some will carry on, but they will have to work with small and mid-size companies, with which they will be connected around the world. These large companies will be network providers and will work together instead of competing among themselves.

In the first and second revolutions, infrastructure was made to be centralized, private. The third revolution, however, has intelligent infrastructure to unite the world glocally, in a distributed manner with open networks.

The role of women and
their relationship to energy


We are 7 billion people, soon to be 9 billion. This progression, however, will come to an end. The reasons have to do with the role of women and their relationship to energy.

In the past, women were slaves; they provided energy and had to tend both water and fire. The advent of electricity is intimately related to suffragist movements in America. It liberated young women, who went to school and were enabled to continue their training in university. When women became more autonomous, free and independent, there were fewer births.

The revolution
of millions of Millennials


My hope lies wholly with the Millennial generation. Millennials have left their classes to express their concern. Millions and millions of them are calling for the declaration of a climate emergency and passionately demanding a Green New Deal.

What’s interesting is that this is unlike any other protest in history—there have been many, but this one is different: it promotes hope and is the first planetary uprising in the history of humankind where two generations have seen themselves as endangered species.

They propose eliminating all boundaries and borders, all that separates us; they are beginning to see themselves as an endangered species and are trying to preserve the rest of the planet’s creatures. This is probably the most transcendental transformation of human consciousness in history.


Jeremy Rifkin is a US economic and social theorist, writer and activist. This text is extracted from an interview by Juan M. Zafra published in the Fundación Telefónica’s Revista Telos No. 113.

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