The future of the Planet is at risk, and we are at a crucial point and need a change of direction; otherwise our very existence is threatened. This is the view of Jeremy Rifkin, American economist, an activist in the peace movement in the sixties and seventies, the author of several books and personal assistant of Romano Prodi on energy issues when he was President of the European Commission.
"The wealthiest part of the Planet’s population wants to eat more and more meat, and in 20 or 30 years from now, 60 percent of arable land will be used to feed animals that we in turn eat. This is a terrible injustice to the whole of humanity and it is also an environmental disaster. What we need to do to avoid all this is to go down a few steps on the food chain. We are omnivores and we can decide to eat more vegetables with a small amount of meat, unless of course we become vegetarian. If we want to begin feeding the planet we must direct our diet away from meat and towards vegetables. At the same time we have to move from an agriculture that uses chemicals and is GM-focused to one that is more organic and sustainable. The approach of 20th
century agriculture was to "kill everything around food" but I am in favor of ecological, organic and sustainable food and, instead of pesticides and GMOs, a more advanced biology – namely, the selection marker system. Food says a lot about us. Heavy use of chemicals will translate into a deterioration of our health. Italy - continues Rifkin, who is also an Ambassador of Expo Milano 2015
- is the perfect place to hold this Universal Exposition
because anyone thinking of Italy will think about food. The world will look to Italy to discover new ideas related to food."
We are going through an unprecedented economic crisis. Your answer to overcoming it is human capitalism. Can you explain what that is exactly?
"What we need is a third industrial revolution. The second revolution was based on fossil fuel energy. It had hugely positive impact on the economy, but at the expense of the environment, leading to pollution of the entire planet and our potential extinction. It’s rather a high price to pay. The third industrial revolution is happening in some countries in Europe and in the rest of the world. The Internet is turning into a super-Internet of things and this potentially allows billions of people to produce goods and services, and share them with everyone. We already have millions of young people who produce green energy with wind and solar. It's free, non-polluting and environmentally sustainable. Then there are young people who also share in transport, with car-sharing for example. For each shared car, fifteen are eliminated from production. We are also seeing house-sharing with AirB&B. We are facing an economy hybrid, part capitalist and part sharing. The Internet of things, thanks to the possibility that it gives everyone to produce goods and services at a marginal cost which is almost zero, is equivalent to the democratization of the economy. In 25 years this will lead people to be 'pro-sumers', both producers and consumers with less use of natural resources."
The planet then is in the hands of young people. Do you believe strongly in the next generations?
"Thanks to social media like Facebook and Twitter, young people are engaged in a global discussion. It is starting to look beyond divisions to the whole of humanity as an extended family. When young people return home, they ask their parents why they use so much water, why the TV is on even if no one is watching it, why there are two cars in the family and why there is a hamburger on their plate. To raise cattle for hamburgers, in fact, a section of tropical forest was cut down which, in turn, has an impact on climate change. Young people are learning that every action has a consequence and that tracks are being left on the planet. This is good news for the Earth. The primary mission for the next generation in the 21st century is to maintain a healthy biosphere."
Is climate change the greatest risk we are facing?
"We are at a crucial point for our planet, at a turning point. What people do not realize is just how horrific climate changes are because they have the potential to change the water cycle. What must be understood is that for every extra degree of global warming, the atmosphere absorbs 7 percent more water from the surface and as a result we have more and more extreme natural events. Scientists tell us that we are in the sixth period of extinction in Earth's history. Every time that happened life was eliminated very quickly and it took about ten million years to restore biodiversity. 70 percent of the life that there is now could be wiped out by the end of this century. What we need to do is to create a more sustainable planet to live in."
Are there forces that do not want us to take this step, that are opposed to the third industrial revolution?
"The problem is old versus new. We have traditional industries, such as Oil and Telecommunications, who have not yet realized that by now they have had their day. Younger generations are moving towards a more environmentally sustainable society. The older generation sees power as a pyramid, the younger generation understands it as flat, transparent and open. We are seeing a change in our way of thinking."