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How Can Empathy Save Our Planet?

  • Faiza Elmasry

A new book explains how the communication and renewable energy revolutions can determine the future survival of earth

We are at a turning point in human history, says futurist Jeremy Rifkin, and how we deal with the triple challenge of global economic meltdown, energy security, and climate change will determine humanity's fate. In his new book, The Empathic Civilization, Rifkin presents his prescription for a bright collective future.

"The Empathic Civilization" explains how the convergence of energy and communication revolutions throughout history impacted human consciousness

"The Empathic Civilization" explains how the convergence of energy and communication revolutions throughout history impacted human consciousness

Ten to 20-thousand years ago, early man's hunter-gatherer society was naturally insular, says Jeremy Rifkin.

"They had oral language and empathy could only extend to the range of their communication system, shouting distance," he says. "So, in those days foragers and hunters empathized with blood ties, tribal ties only.

In his new book, The Empathic Civilization, the futurist and economist chronicles how humanity has steadily become more globally aware. He links that progress to advances in energy generation - from water power to nuclear, and to revolutions in communication.

"We go to the great hydraulic-agricultural civilizations, with scriptures and writing as the communication vehicle: people began to empathize beyond blood ties to association ties," he explains. "Jews started to empathize with Jews, Christians started to empathize with Christian as an extended family."

The human family, Jeremy Rifkin says, is starting what he calls the Third Industrial Revolution

The human family, Jeremy Rifkin says, is starting what he calls the Third Industrial Revolution

Just as the printing press in the 19th century allowed the mass distribution of newspapers, enhancing the public's sense of national identity, the introduction of television and radio in the 20th century expanded the boundaries of community even farther. From the coal and steam-powered Industrial Revolution and the 20th century's petroleum-based age, Rifkin suggests we are heading into a renewable energy-powered digital era.


"We have experienced? a very powerful communication revolution the last 10 years, (with its) personal computers and satellite and wireless communication," he says. "This new communication revolution is very different than the first electricity (-powered) communication revolution – cinema, radio, and television – that was top-down and centralized (developed and run by large corporations or government agencies). Now, two billion people can send their own video, audio and text each other and distribute it to everyone,` with more power (in their laptops and mobile devices) than the most powerful television networks (once had at their disposal). When this distributed communication revolution converges and (is used to) manages distributed renewable energy, we have distributed consciousness. We begin to think of a human family."

The next step for the human family, as Rifkin describes in The Empathic Civilization, is the emergence of what he calls the Third Industrial Revolution… a revolution, he says, that will be based on a global energy network.

"We take the exact same technologies that created the Internet, then we take the power and transmission lines of Europe and hopefully Asia, Africa and South and North America, and the world, convert those power lines to an inter-media that's exactly like the Internet," he says. "So when millions and millions of buildings are collecting just a little bit of the distributed renewable energy on-site – storing it in hydrogen like we store media in digital – then we share it with our fellow human beings. That's the beginning of 'biosphere consciousness.' This takes us from geo-politics to biosphere politics."

Jeremy Rifkin says in order to start building that empathic civilization, we must start a global discussion about our collective future.

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