A shared future: The zero marginal cost vision

If you’re going to wear a tie in front of Richard Branson, expect to have it swiftly removed. This is what happened to Jeremy Rifkin – thinker, doer and prolific author on the subjects of the impact science and technology on the economy and environment – before he had even introduced his talk.

It was a playful start to a theme that demanded attention from the assembled crowd... it’s time for a new industrial revolution, and one that delivers a smart green, digital world.

With a pace that showed the unique workings of this man’s remarkable mind, Jeremy exposed the crumbling legacy of the last industrial revolution, the unquantifiable future of the sharing economy, and the impact of ubiquitous connectivity between new technologies.

His central premise rests on the convergence of three specific kinds of technology – communication, energy and transportation – which organise our social and political lives. In 2015, we are plugging our new world reality into an old world order, and it’s time for a paradigm shift, or a third industrial revolution, which will allow us to live comfortably within the boundaries of our planet:

You can create all the killer products you want, but plugging them into the old energy infrastructure, you won’t change anything.

Jeremy talks about zero marginal cost as the economic driver behind radical transformation. He argues that capitalism can no longer be the exclusive arbiter of economic life, saying “capitalism has given birth – its first and last baby is the sharing economy” – moving traditional industries towards new models with low overheads.  

As a case in point, he refers to the rise of car-sharing as a key indicator of the millennial shift in consumption and ownership: “We have a digital generation that prefers access to mobility rather than ownership of the mobile device.” This generation will never own vehicles again, he firmly points out. He also quickly reminds us that cars are the third largest reason for global carbon emissions.

When we began to see the sunset on the economy, we saw the sunrise of new a paradigm shift… We have a roadmap and a compass to navigate our way into the new journey.

On this journey, Jeremy explains, we must revel in the rise of the machines to do the hard work so that we may enjoy more expansive lives alongside one another. We must redouble our efforts to fight the rising tide of climate change; and we must reprioritise public and private sector relationships to ensure that global investment goes to the right place.

Speaking of the generational shift in consciousness, Jeremy points to the teenagers of today asking their parents where the food on their plate comes from as an indicator that they are curious about their ecological footprint, and learning that “we are living in one indivisible community.”

Mindful of the urgent planetary deadlines ahead of us, Jeremy urged us all: “Tomorrow morning we have to look at a horizon for the next 20 years, when we’ll all be creating our own energy.” And then, with a moment’s reflection on the enormous task ahead, he gave a small smile and said: “Tomorrow morning, we start again.”

– This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 


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