Dec 23

Alvin Toffler and Jeremy Rifkin: Do we still need industry in the “post-industrial era”?

Bookcover_of_The_Third_Wavethird_industrial_revolutionTheir books “The Third Wave” (1980) and “The Third Industrial Revolution” (2011) were divided by over 30 years, but had plenty in common. Both authors referred to the limits of our existing development path. Environmental destruction, reliance on finite resources, and even climate change (already in the late 1970s when Toffler wrote his book) were referred to by Toffler and Rifkin. Taking into consideration the oil glut of the 1980s, something that Toffler couldn’t predict in the midst of the second oil crisis, one of his statements was especially apt:

Statistics vary. Disputes rage over how long the world has before the ultimate crunch. The forecasting complexities are enormous and many past predictions now look silly. Yet one thing is clear: no one is pumping gas and oil back into the earth to replenish the supply.”

This applied as much to the 1980s, as to 2014, when the price of oil fell by almost 40% within a matter of months. The major difference is that back then we consumed 54 mbd, now we consume over 91 mbd. Many times we could hear that the “era of oil is near”, and many times these predictions were wrong. So many times, that we started to believe oil will be there forever. And yet Toffler is bringing this to the point – sooner or later it will run out. The question remains how dirty it will get in the meantime. The lower the prices are now, the less investment in energy efficient cars will be made, the higher the consumption and the higher the landing when we reach the peak will be. And sooner or later we will reach one. A fivefold increase in the price of oil between 1998 and 2007 shows how fast things can change. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec 16

25 years later – Europe at the crossroads

cross-roadsIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times (…), it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

No other words than these, written by Charles Dickens over 150 years ago, can better describe the state of the union, the European Union, at present. Over 50 per cent youth unemployment and seemingly never-ending policy of austerity in Southern European member states, corruption and restriction of the press freedom in others, the threat of another (cold) war with the EU’s biggest neighbor – these are the challenges that our generation of Europeans has to face. These are daunting challenges and at first sight leave little room for optimism.

But our generation is not the first one, and with high probability not the last, with great challenges to deal with. A quarter of a century ago, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the mostly peaceful revolutions in the Eastern European countries, another generation had to make momentous decisions about the future of Europe. In the mood of celebration it is easy to forget that the road taken at that time – EU enlargement and deeper integration – was not the only possible and not the most obvious one. Whereas in Eastern Europe there was a lot of hesitation to accept German reunification, in the West there was not much willingness to finance economic development in the countries economically devastated by decades of central planning. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec 15

The governance of the future?


Fewer texts are more sacred for an average American citizen than the Constitution of the United States of America. You either have to be very brave, or very, very stupid to publicly undermine its sanctity and suggest radical changes. Without doubt I would classify Alvin Toffler as belonging to the first group. In his imaginative letter “To the Founding Parents” included in his book The Third Wave from 1980, he used the words of Thomas Jefferson to justify his – in some cases radical – suggestions:

I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions… But I also know that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.

For Toffler, not only the human mind has changed over the preceding two centuries. The whole civilization was gearing up to enter a completely new phase of development, a phase in which mass production, standardization, maximization and centralization was to be mostly replaced by individualized products produced locally by prosumers, increasing individualism and freedom from the established patterns of living and thinking. In the “third wave” civilization the power of machines was to be replaced by the power of the brain enhanced by the rapidly increasing performance of computers. Read the rest of this entry »

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May 26

Quo Vadis EU?

The EU without borders - how long?

The EU without borders – for how long?

First of all, the bad news. The European Parliament moved to the right. Far right. The Landslide victory of the Independence Party in the UK, Front National in France, People’s Party in Denmark and some smaller right-wing and populist parties in the other EU member states, has the potential to make the EU less tolerant and open than the one we are enjoying at the moment. This is very bad, because these are the traits that make the EU so different from Putin’s dictatorship that the EU sees itself confronted with at the moment. But maybe we got so used to the freedom we enjoy every day that we forget to appreciate it anymore. Now, during the debates in the European Parliament, we will much more often hear about “them” and “us” – them, who come to our countries, cities and villages to abuse our social system, take away our jobs and impose on us their religion, and “us”, hardworking, preferably white, heterosexual Europeans, who NEVER take advantage of the unemployment benefits or parental allowances. Some of us may however soon find themselves among…. “them” – as soon as another scapegoat will be needed. Much less will we hear about real solutions to the problems we are facing: economic crisis and climate change (according to UKIP not human made). As soon as we get rid of “them” everything will be fine…

And here is the good news: sooner or later Europeans will realize, that the simple solutions offered by the populists do not solve the problems. Sending a few East European families back to their home countries will not save our budgets. Blatant lies and ignorance of the facts, of which UKIP’s Leaflet is best example, will not make the greatest threat our civilization has ever faced disappear. Democracy is a lesson and European voters now have another five years to learn. Hopefully this time we will all be slightly more into the subject. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr 20

Is the EU ETS dead?

CarbonEmissions-thumb-610x335-48964-300x164I have to admit I was caught off guard by the recent veto of the European Parliament of the proposal of the Commission that would withdraw 900 million allowances from the market and put it back at the end of the current decade. I keep telling my students that European Parliament is the greenest of the European institutions. Did I miss something? Determined to find out I decided to take a look on minutes of the debate preceding the voting in which the proposal of the Commission was rejected 334 to 315 votes.

The most convincing arguments for the proposal came (not surprisingly) from its initiator, Connie Hedegaard. According to her, an effective ETS is simply a practical implementation of the principle that “polluters pays” enshrined in the European Treaty. Although one can disagree with her statements that the economic crisis is the “one overriding reason” for the ineffectiveness of the ETS (one can argue that some member states cheating on their emissions to get free allowances also played an important role in leading to the oversupply), she was right in stating, that many times since the beginning of the economic crisis different governments heavily intervened in the market to spur up the economy. So why shouldn’t the European institutions react to the economic crisis by modifying the ETS? According to her, backloading is simply giving us time to work on a more lasting solution. But overall she stressed, that the alternative to ETS as such is the renationalization of the European energy and climate policy, that especially the Parliament wouldn’t really want. Read the rest of this entry »

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