There have been three great economic revolutions in human history. Each one has laid solid foundations for the next revolution. I would argue that the foundations have now been firmly laid for the fourth revolution: one that is equally economic, social and environmental.
Two books by the same author had a profound impact on me when I first read them as a graduate in the early nineties. Futurologist Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1973) and The Third Wave (1980) were simply mind-blowing. The latter gave me the frontispiece quote for my degree dissertation, describing the newspaper industry as: “the last of the smokestack industries,” about which I was writing.
Toffler’s argument was that these ‘waves’ basically push the older society and culture aside and replace them with the nest wave. Toffler described three waves: agricultural society, industrial society and the post-industrial society. He was incredible prescient in predicting much of what we are experiencing. A more widely known concept are the economic revolutions.
The agricultural revolution/wave began about 13,000 years ago and proceeded at a glacial pace until things picked up a bit in the early 18th century, altering food production, rural communities, and giving rise to urbanisation as fewer people were required on the land. This helped launch…
The industrial revolution/wave which was altogether a little faster. Rising in the late 18th and running up to the First World War, it created a seismic massive shift in the world’s economy, its technology and society. This eventually gave rise to…
The information revolution/wave, which started just after the Second World War and was brought about by advances in computing and communications (many initially created for war). Almost indiscrete in its haste this revolution has given us the tools, technology and data for the next revolution…
The sustainable revolution/wave. With global and democratic communications and massive scientific progress in understanding our climate, we have never been more aware of our impact on the fragile planet we inhabit. This ‘pale blue dot’ is the only planet we’ve got but we treat it more like landfill than our home.
But the information revolution has given us all we need to create a new economy with sustainable growth and prosperity. We now know how to capture the energy of the sun and the tidal effects of the moon to enjoy abundant clean energy. We know how to feed ten billion, never mind the seven who already live here. We know how to get from A to B without ever burning a single fossil. We can communicate instantaneously to any point on earth.
If we all choose to (through dialogue, votes, spending and investment) we can help emerging economies leapfrog the deforestation, biodiversity exploitation and rampant pollution that has marked our own development.
We earnestly hope that COP21 builds the first storey of a sustainable revolution on the foundations of the three preceding revolutions.