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Jeremy Rifkin - Global Issues and the Future of our Planet

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I think we really are all asleep. What we're seeing here is a defining moment for the human race. Just today I read a report - little teeny report in the newspaper - it was the most significant piece of information - sober information - the human race has ever had, and it was this big. And what the report said is that the Arctic is going to have open waters in 20 years in the summer. We need to understand what that means. There's never been open waters there in 3 million years. We are seeing a cataclysmic shift in the climate of this planet in real-time right now. And if our scientists are right, we may see within 30-40 years, maybe a century at the most, the potential demise of our species. We’re really asleep, all across the world. So I think we're at a pivotal point. We have three crises right now that are feeding off of each other and they put us in the middle of a perfect storm. First the economic meltdown. Second the energy crisis. Third, the real-time impacts of climate change now in agriculture, our ability to feed ourselves. The economic meltdown... Let me say I disagree with some of my colleagues on this. This is not a financial meltdown or simply a bank crisis or deregulation of the market crisis. That's the result. Unless we understand the crisis we can't begin to understand the enormity of what we're presented with here. Here's what people have to know. President Obama's bailout program for the United States of America is $2 trillion. The total accumulated household debt in my country today is $15 trillion - we’re broke. So the whole base of globalization - American purchasing power saves the world and raises everyone's boat - it's over. This second Industrial Revolution is clearly on life supports. The technology’s old, the infrastructure’s old, the productivity is senescent. So that's crisis number 1. The second crisis that feeds off of that is energy, because the second assumption of globalization [is] cheap energy. So take your capital to cheap labor markets in Asia and elsewhere, let them produce the food and the manufactured goods and then ship it back, because energy's cheap. The problem is when oil went over $50 a barrel something interesting happened: inflation started to rear up from the food prices to petrol. When oil hit $147 a barrel in July of 2008, that's when the crisis hit. You'll recall the entire economic engine of globalization collapse in July at $147 a barrel, because the inflation was so high in all the prices, people stop purchasing. Then, the crisis hit 60 days later because you couldn't maintain that delusionary credit-based debt culture when the engine stops. Then the financial markets collapsed 60 days later. [Interviewer] - They're connected. - They're connected, and of course what I think people need to realize is: everything is based on fossil fuels. Our petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides for agriculture, almost all of our pharmaceutical products are fossil-fuel based, virtually all our clothes, our power, transport, heat and light, all of our construction materials. The entire civilization was built off the carbon composites of the Jurassic age. And now that price for oil is going up. Gas shadows oil, coal shadows gas, uranium all shadow each other. So when we hit 147 a barrel last year, the inflation was in all the prices across the supply chain. The engine turned off, energy prices went down because no one was using it. This is what I call peak globalization. We now know the outer limits of globalization based on these conventional energies. The energies are clearly sunsetting. I don't think anyone listening to me now believes that coal, oil, gas and uranium are sunrise energies. They're sunsetting. the whole infrastructure built from them is on life support, and now the energy, when it hits 147 a barrel, that's the outer wall of globalization - it'll continue to collapse every time we get the price up that high. Crisis 3 is the real-time impacts of climate change. We're paying the entropy bill - not a metaphor. That spent CO2 is entropy, and the methane and the nitrous oxide. It is much worse than the public is being told. Much worse. But what I realize in the last 30 years is we all got it wrong. We continue to underestimate the speed of climate change, because we continued in our hubris not to understand the subtle feedback loops that trigger the next stage. It's moving so much faster than we thought. For example, when you look at the fourth UN climate change report in 2007 - 2500 scientists, 125 countries - it's light years different in its projections than the third report in 2001. Because in 2001 we thought the glaciers were going to melt on our great mountain ranges maybe in the 22nd century. The fourth report in 2007 says they're melting in real-time across every mountain range. In the next 30, 40, 50 years, we‘ll lose over 60% of the glaciers. This is not about skiing. 1 out of every 6 human beings relies on those glaciers for their water, irrigation, sanitation. How do we repopulate a sixth of the world's population in 40 years? The third report in 2001 you’ll recall, said look to the Gulf of Mexico, we'll see more intense hurricane activity from the heating up of the waters in the planet by the 22nd century. The fourth report - Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, we are in real-time climate change, with double the intensity of hurricanes: categories 3’s, 4’s and 5’s. And actually it's not academic. If you live in the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Texas, during hurricane season every home has the weather dialed, TV dial on: is another hurricane coming? Is this it? Do we evacuate? They can't even get insurance anywhere on the coast, for their homes. The third report, the Arctic, said the Arctic may begin to see open waters sometime in the mid-22nd century. The fourth report, and the new report this week, open waters, clear, in the summer 20 years now, after millions of years. So this is moving much quicker because of all the feedback loops. The projections now is a 3 degrees Celsius rise in temperature but that's looking optimistic. But every parent should understand what 3 degrees means in this century. If we go up 3 degrees in this century, that takes us back to the temperature on Earth 3 million years ago. Human beings have only been here 175,000 years; we’re the youngest species. If we go 2 to 3 degrees - and that's looking super-optimistic, we'd have to radically change civilization - at 2 to 3 degrees the UN climate panel reports models show that we lose on the bottom end, maybe 20-25% of all the plant and animal life on Earth. On the top end, wipeout: 70% of all the assessed species - gone. Now, we have had 5 waves of biological extinction on Earth in the last 450 million years, in the geological record. Every time there was a mass extinction, it took 10 million years to recover the biodiversity we lost. As my wife says we're not grasping the enormity of this moment; it’s eluding us. And it’s worse now than we thought it was a year ago. For example, in the fourth assessment report they mentioned the permafrost as a potential problem in Siberia - no studies in. Now the studies are coming in and we're terrified, because Siberia is all covered with frost. Under the frost is a time bomb: it's all the carbon deposits from the pre-ice age. Because that was a teaming grassland full of animal and plant life. And when the climate tips it tips very quickly in a few years. It tipped way back when, and all that carbon was captured under the ice. The ice is melting, across Siberia. Carbon is coming up as CO2 and on the lake beds it’s coming up methane, which is 23 times more potent. And there's more carbon underneath there than all the tropical rain forests - it's all going up into the atmosphere, it is a ticking time bomb. And the Journal of Nature this year said it’s accelerating 6 times faster than we thought 12 months ago; that's just one feedback loop! So let me end this part of the discussion with this thought. James Hansen is our chief climatologist in the United States government. He's the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. So in Brussels, the EU was going to Copenhagen, hoping to talk the world into mitigating carbon at 450 parts per million, by 2050. And nobody wants to play that game. Nobody. Even Obama, who we had high hopes for. Their goal by 2020, based on 1990 levels, is a 4% reduction in global warming. The EU, at 1990 levels, is at 20%. So the Obama administration is nowhere to be seen here. But even if we go to Copenhagen and try to get it to 450 ppm, the EU says that would maybe keep us at two degrees. Devastating, but we may survive. Then James Hansen comes along. His team goes under the oceans and they looked at the core samples in the geological record, and he said to Brussels: you got it wrong. Because if you try to get the world to mitigate to 450 carbon ppm, which no one wants to do, you go up 6 degrees Celsius in this century and this is a quote: “The end of human civilization as we’ve come to know it.” That’s the chief climatologist for the United States government. I hope he’s wrong. My suspicion is that scientists not only are not wrong, they keep underestimating the speed of this. So, we have this triple threat: a global economic meltdown, the second Industrial Revolution clearly on life support (it's old technology, old infrastructure), we have an energy crisis (at 147 a barrel the engine turns off), we've got real-time impacts of climate change, and the UN says we have upwards of a billion people on the verge of starvation. I've never seen a moment like this in history. There is no moment like this. So... we need to ask the question: what do we do? And what is missing from Copenhagen is we need an economic vision, an economic game plan, for the whole human race, everyone on the same page, that may give us the precious time we need to move into a new post-carbon world. The first question we need to ask is: when did the great economic revolutions in history happen? How do they occur? They occur when two things happen. First, we change the way we organize the energy of the Earth, and we've done that in many occasions in our small sojourn here as human beings. But second and equally important, we have a communication revolution that allows us to manage the new energy revolutions. It is those infrequent moments in history where energy and communication revolutions converge, when they come together, those are the pivotal points in history: they change the human equation, they even change consciousness. I'll give you an example. Many people take an anthropology course at the university and they study the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. Why? They created the first urban life and the beginning of civilization. They captured the Sun in photosynthesis in cereal crops: barley and wheat. That stored Sun in the grain was energy; it built an urban civilization. It was complicated because before that time people lived in small tribal units: garden agriculture and pastoralism. All of a sudden they had to bring them together and indenture thousands of men to build those canals. Then they had to create craft skills to create the dikes and the mechanics. They had to put together graineries, royal roads and distribution systems. So hydraulic agriculture was extremely complicated and required a communication revolution to manage it. The Sumerians invented cuneiform: writing. Everywhere you see these great hydraulic agriculture civilizations - in the Middle East, the Indus Valley in India, the Yangtze in China, Mexico - it's fascinating: independently humans created some form of writing to manage hydraulic agriculture. That's the agricultural age: 10,000 year multiplier effect. In the 1820s we introduced steam technology into print, so it wasn't just manual. It was linotype, rotary steam technology - allowed us to really create cheap, mass-produced efficient print. Then, in America and Europe between 1830 in 1880, around that same time, we introduced public schools: mass literacy. And we prepared a communication revolution and a workforce that was literate, that could then manage coal, steam and rail, and the complexities of the first Industrial Revolution. We could not have organized it in oral culture and with codex. It's obvious but no one actually stops to think about it. We had another convergence of communication and energy in the early 20th century: first-generation electricity (telegraph was transitional between the first and second Industrial Revolution), [and] the telephone. And then as marketing tools: cinema and radio, and later TV. This communication/electricity revolution converged with oil and the internal combustion engine and suburban roll out to give us a second Industrial Revolution. Those energies are in sunset now (coal, oil, gas and uranium for that revolution), and the technologies and infrastructure (that second Industrial Revolution) is old, senescent and on life support; it collapsed last summer. We are however on the cusp now of a third Industrial Revolution. It could get us through the door maybe - maybe, I don't know - to address the enormity of climate change. I don’t know if we'll get there in time. We had a very powerful communication revolution in the last 15 years: the personal computer and the Internet, satellite, wireless and WiFi connectivity. What is so interesting about this second-generation communication revolution is it's quite different than the first. I grew up on the first: centralized communications, top-down. This second revolution is what we call "distributed" and this is the key word. People that hear nothing else about what I'm saying: distributed, distributed, distributed. Now, two billion young people can send their own video, audio and text to each other at the speed of light, open source, peer-to-peer; it's completely distributed. Think file-sharing, YouTube, Wikipedia ... It’s a revolution, the blogosphere. This ICT revolution - communication information revolution - is just now, in the last year, beginning to converge with the new energy regime: distributed energy. When distributed communication converges and begins to manage distributed energy, we have a powerful third Industrial Revolution that could jumpstart the global economy, take us to post-carbon era, create a sustainable quality of life, if we get there in time. Alright? So, what are distributed energies? We have to distinguish them from elite energies, which I grew up on. Elite energies are coal, oil, gas and uranium because they're not found in the back yard. They’re only found in certain places in the world. So right away they require huge military investments to secure them, because everyone wants them, huge geopolitical investments to manage them, everyone wants them, and massive capital to organize them. Coal, oil, gas and uranium are the most centralized elite energies for complex civilization ever created. They're on life support. What are distributed energies? After this interview go outside in your home and you'll have all the energy you need in the back yard. The Sun shines all over the world every day. The wind blows across the planet every day. We have hot earth underneath us; the core of the Earth is red hot for geothermal heat, everywhere. We have garbage that can be recycled energy. We have rural agricultural and forestry waste, into energy. Wherever you have your water you can have hydroelectricity. The ocean tides are coming in every day: energy. So we have what we call distributed energies, renewables. They're found in every square inch of the water and land mass of this planet. So we have to think distributed. And the way to do that is pillar 2, and that is everyone listening to this should imagine that their building they’re in right now, becomes a power plant. I'm talking about every home, office, factory, technology park, every single building in this world, in 30 years is converted to a partial power plant. So that you can put a solar roof and suck the sun's energy into your house, into electricity. You could have vertical wind coming up the wall of your building, put it into electricity. The heat under the ground, with a heat pump - geothermal - turn it into electricity. The small water supplies near you, turn it into electricity with hydro. The rural agricultural waste, turn it into electricity, and your house collects it. If your home or your building, your office is on the coast, ocean tides. So the buildings, interesting enough, are the problem - they're also the solution. A third of the energy used in the world is buildings, and they commit of a third of the CO2. They're the number 1 cause of climate change. By the way, while we’re on this, the number 3 cause of climate change is worldwide transport. Does anyone know what the number 2 cause of climate change is? We never talk about it. The number 2 cause is meat production, especially beef. Beef production and consumption is now, our scientists tell us, the number 2 cause of climate change, because we have 1.3 billion cows out there, the methane release is enormous, and the nitrous oxide from the fertilizers, and the CO2 from the processing. What's interesting to me is not one world leader in 192 countries has made one sentence statement on the number 2 cause of climate change. Al Gore, who I deeply respect, has never made a statement that I know of on the number 2 cause of climate change. How serious are we? So, the way to jumpstart the global economy is construction, construction, construction. That's when you create millions of jobs. So we're going to have to convert the existing real estate stock all over the world, and create new stock that's turned into power plants. Think mainframe computer, then you had your own desktop. Think centralized energies, now you produce your own. That's pillar 2. Then pillar 3. Pillar 3 is, we had to raise the question in Brussels: how do we store renewable energy? Because unfortunately the Sun isn’t always shining, the wind isn't always blowing and sometimes your water tables are down because of climate droughts, you have less hydroelectricity. They’re intermittent energies. So, we have to think: how do you store these energies so that you have a safe, secure asset? We're going to use batteries, flywheels, capacitors, water pumping, they're all good storage technologies. But there's one universal technology that's going to be, I think at the center: it’s hydrogen. Now we all know that hydrogen's a basic element in the universe; it’s what were made out of. It's the lightest element, when we use as power the byproducts are water and heat. Now hydrogen's not a basic energy, it carries other energy; you got to convert other energies. Our astronauts have literally been circling this planet for 30 years and I don't think people know this, but you know how they power their spaceships? The power is hydrogen high-tech fuel cells. Time to bring it back to the Netherlands and Europe. Here's how it works. Say you, in your factory or your office or your home, you're producing 20% of the electricity with a solar roof. At any one time if you have a little electricity you're not using, electrolyze water. Remember high school chemistry? the anode, the cathode, stick it in the water. The electricity allows the hydrogen to come out, you store it, in a tank. When the sun's not hitting your roof, convert it back to electricity. Now people say isn't that an energy loss? Of course, it’s the second law of thermodynamics. Anytime you ever convert energy, you lose. That's what the second law of thermodynamics is about. If people understood how much energy they lose when we convert coal, oil, gas and uranium, it's through the roof. Alright? So we need hydrogen storage and the European Union is committed an 8 billion euro public-private joint technology initiative this last year, to put hydrogen storage across buildings and power and transmission lines. So, Pillar 1 - renewable energies: the EU’s committed to a third of the electricity, 20% of the energy. Pillar 2 - we convert all of our buildings to power plants. Pillar 3 - we store it with hydrogen, and then Pillar 4 - this is where that communication revolution converges with the distributed energy revolution. We use the exact same technology that created the Internet; it's identical. We take the power grid of the Netherlands and the EU and in 25 years, we convert [those] transmission lines into an inter-grid, an intelligent utility network that exactly operates like the Internet. The technology’s already here. So that, let’s say millions and millions of buildings across Europe are producing just a little bit of their own electricity. If they don't need some of it during peak or off hours, they can store it with hydrogen, like we store digital and media, convert it back to electricity, share it across Europe. Share it across Europe: this is distributed capitalism. What this does is it answers a question we couldn't answer for 30 years, and this is really critical. For 30 years governments that I advise would say “Mr. Rifkin, we like windmills and solar roofs, and all of the things you're talking about, but how the heck are you going to run a global economy on windmill, solar roofs, garbage, ocean tides, waste? They're soft energy. They’re important, we'll put them in, but you can never substitute for hard energy which is coal, oil, gas and uranium. That gives you the energy to run a global, highly industrial economy.” For 30 years we couldn’t answer that question. We had an intuition we were on the right track because those old energies are elite, they’re finite, they create pollution, and they're running out. The new energies are everywhere, [and] they're basically free, you just have to harness them. But we didn't get the answer until our IT friends came up with second-generation grid IT, which you know is the cutting edge revolution in IT; it's only 7 years old. Now the IT revolution, they now have software that allows us to connect hundreds of thousands or millions of desktop computers; they can connect them. When they connect them the distributed computing power of these little desktop computers - millions of them - exceeds anything you can imagine with the most centralized supercomputers you could ever put online. We can take grid IT now to the power and transmission lines for energy. If you have millions and millions and millions of buildings across the EU producing just little amounts of their electricity from local renewables, if some of it they don't need the share it across a smart grid, an inter-grid, the amount of distributed energy exceeds anything you can ever imagine with nuclear and coal-fired power plants. Everyone under 40 gets it. Everyone over 40 has a little problem with it. The music companies did not understand file sharing: distributed. It wiped out the music companies in 7 years, 8 years! Microsoft laughed at Linux: said a bunch of hippies from Scandinavia. Open source? what is it? They didn't understand the power of distributed. Encyclopedia paid no attention to Wikipedia. Now Wikipedia is the giant on the block; it's all distributed now, it's collaborative spaces. The newspapers did not understand the blogosphere: distributed. Now the newspapers are becoming blogs, and even television now has to rely on the Internet. So, what I'm saying is that powerful revolution now is about to go to the next stage which is to connect with distributed energy, so we have power to the people. In other words you don't have to rely on far-off geopolitical powers. You can leap ahead and create your own energy locally, put your microgrids together, and leapfrog into this. This way we can create some form of sustainable justice, because the injustice here is that the real beneficiaries of the first and second Industrial Revolutions were the northern industrial countries. The first victims of climate change, because of the nature of the planet, is south of the Equator. So everyone's going to Copenhagen saying “What about the developing countries?" Well you have to have an economic game plan that works, that creates new opportunity, and it's practical and can be put in place. So what we need to do is we need to begin to move from geopolitics - that's Copenhagen - to biosphere politics, after Copenhagen. Geopolitics is everyone's coming to Copenhagen and fighting each other, competing, in that old idea that human nature is self-interest, it's me against you, it's win-lose, geopolitics, post-West failure: it's going to fail. Because the reality is we're in one biosphere. We're all interdependent and connected. We all depend on each other for our survival. It all serves like one big organism, the biosphere; that's not just a metaphor. We have to move from geopolitics to biosphere politics, we have to think as a human species, we have to think as homo sapiens, we have to create global consciousness, if we're going to move this third Industrial Revolution and create a new civilization, and empathic civilization. It can be done. The Netherlands has an enormous opportunity here. An enormous opportunity. Because the Netherlands is going to be the first victim of climate change in Europe, for sure. But secondly, the Netherlands has always been a country that understands how to balance the market and social model, and the dream is quality of life - that's the Netherlands. The Netherlands has always been more advanced than other countries on more tolerance, more openness, more inclusivity, because it began as a great sea power and trading power so it's much more cosmopolitan. So it has the mental ingredients, it has the challenge of climate change, and it's been fairly far advanced on renewable energies and the new technologies. What I would like to do, I would love to sit down with the Prime Minister and his cabinet (I advise many heads of state in Europe, Zapatero in Spain, Chancellor Merkel in Germany), I’d love to sit down with him and our global companies and our Dutch companies, and say: how do we create at the the Netherlands level and the federal level, the kinds of codes, regulations and standards that would get rid of all the red tape, and let this thing move? Then how do we create the financial incentives at the federal level that would allow the regions and metropolitans to move on this third Industrial Revolution? And the question I would ask the government is: where do you want the Netherlands to be in 20 years? In the sunset energies and industries of a second Industrial Revolution that's on life support? Or in the sunrise energies and industries of a third Industrial Revolution that gives us a sustainable future? The federal government can clear the way on codes, regulations and standards, provide incentives, provide direction. The regions can then create their own master plans to lay down these four pillars, as we're beginning to do in other regions. Together they create a cooperative partnership, and I think the Netherlands could be a major, major player in advancing the third Industrial Revolution across the EU, and for many reasons across the world. I hope it happens.

Video Details

Duration: 27 minutes and 19 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: EenVandaag
Director: EenVandaag
Views: 75
Posted by: ltiofficial on Feb 21, 2015

Forget the credit crunch, as it cannot compare with problems yet to come. In this exclusive interview with EenVandaag, Rifkin says that everything depends on the question 'How will we deal with energy?'

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