Living a More Sustainable, Quality Life

Living a More Sustainable, Quality Life

Technology and a changing social view are game changers: Jeremy Rifkin

Can the developed world live a more sustainable, quality life, which can help to address the environmental and economic crises facing the planet?

Jeremy Rifkin sees the possibility for it, describing developments that are unfolding in support of his vision for a Third Industrial Revolution, which is based on mass-produced renewable energy and a collaborative commons economic system.

Rifkin, who is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends and the architect of long-range economic development plans in Germany and other countries and regions in the world, shared his vision at An Inspired Future, a forum for sustaining the future of the economy and the environment that is spearheaded by the real-estate management firm Brookfield Johnson Controls Canada.

During a question-and-answer session that followed his talk, Rifkin looked at how to raise the standard of living without exhausting the Earth's resources for 3.5 billion people whose wealth equals that of the world's 85 richest people.

  Author, economist and political adviser
Jeremy Rifkin signs his book at An Inspired
Future on June 5.

He said the millennial generation in both developed and developing countries are becoming social entrepreneurs with the evolution of technology and a changing social view.

Studies around the world are coming out on what makes people happy, which is generating a wider conversation in the developed world on how to live a more sustainable, quality life. The studies reveal that until a threshold is met where your basic needs are fulfilled, you are unhappy. After that, each increment of wealth makes you not quite as happy, and eventually wealth makes you unhappy because possessions end up possessing you.

These findings prompt the question of how to live a more sustainable, quality life, and the millennial generation provides possible insight with a deeper desire to make a meaningful difference. In one example, 9,000 high school honour students in the U.S. chose a renowned children's hospital as the employer they'd most like to work for out of 200 enterprises.

This generation has grown up during the recession and, in the last 10 years, they've completed service work in the community as a requirement of school graduation.

"We're beginning to see a shift in the millennial kids, who are saying, 'We want meaningful work,'" Rifkin said. "That's why kids are becoming social entrepreneurs — they create all sorts of projects that better the community."

He said they've "learned there's another way to contribute" and are using their entrepreneurial skills and talents to create a collaborative commons, which is an economic system where goods and services are produced with minimal cost and environmental impact, and then shared.

"We have social entrepreneurs graduating out of our schools," Rifkin said. "They're social entrepreneurs; they want to create social capital. They want to use their entrepreneurial spirit in a hybrid (economic system) — part market, part commons. It's already happening."

In poor and developing countries, social entrepreneurship is also taking hold. In rural India and Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, enterprises organized by young people and women are leasing solar panels to villages to power cellphones and other machinery, with credit unions as the mechanism for securing the power until the leases are paid off.

This collaborative way of doing business is creating a lateral movement of co-operatives that allow for economies of scale that can connect for wider benefit.

Electricity is also a game changer for a more sustainable future.

"We know that electricity liberates women," Rifkin said. "Anthropologically we know that when electricity has moved across the developed world, it frees women from being slaves at the hearth; they can get an education, and electricity allowed for new skills . . . and we began to create jobs that women could do in the workplace."

As women become educated and more independent, family size decreases, which can impact the amount of the Earth's resources consumed as well as the level of social entrepreneurship and economic opportunity.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made universal electricity his mandated legacy, Rifkin said, noting it can have the power to transform lives in areas of the world with little infrastructure, much poverty and patriarchal societies where women and children are subservient.

With these types of shifts, a more sustainable living pattern and healthier planet is possible.

"That's the wish," Rifkin said. "If we get only half of it, 10 per cent of it, with what I've outlined, that's a big leap forward to where we are now."

Related Story:
Inspired Future Brings Bigger Picture and Responsibility Into Focus

Changing for the Future Demands an Open Conversation Now: Jeremy Rifkin

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Lisa Bailey

Lisa Bailey came to Axiom News with reporting and editing experience at newspapers across southern Ontario. She has enjoyed a new approach to journalism based in appreciative inquiry and asking catalytic questions, and the variety of interviewing people from sectors as different as long-term care and engineering.

“It’s important to record history as it is happening, and that’s what journalism does. But there can also be deeper meaning," she says. "You can be forward-thinking and try to facilitate change for the better."

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