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Hope and Economics with a Green New Deal

Jeremy Rifkin

  • Review by Heather Wilson, May 2021

  • 290 pages

  • St. Martin's Press

  • September 2019

It is easy to despair.  The world is not only facing a global pandemic but it is also confronting increasingly dire news about the impacts of climate change.  Even in the best-case scenario of a 1.5-degree Celsius warming, our planet will be subject to increasingly acidified oceans, extinct species, more severe weather, and deadly droughts.  Rifkin, in his new book, acknowledges the enormous challenges posed by climate change but also details a plan for a “fourth industrial revolution” that, if followed, would steer the world away from the abyss – the Green New Deal.

Rifkin offers hope by outlining how we can transition from an old fossil-fuel based economy (the “third industrial revolution”) to a fourth industrial revolution based on green energy and interconnected computer networks.  Rifkin also convincingly describes the reasons why the fossil fuel industry will face a sharp decline as key industries such as communications, utilities, logistics and others transition to green energy sources.  Renewable energy is becoming cheaper and is beginning to seriously compete with carbon-generated fuel sources for market share.  The fossil fuel industry is also facing a potential crisis as it is increasingly unable to attract the financial support it needs to operate. The prospect of stranded assets is impeding the ability of fossil fuel companies to raise capital.

Rifkin argues that the transition away from a fossil-fuel based economy will not only help mitigate climate change but will also create green jobs, helping those who have struggled recently to find sustainable and satisfying work.  The book offers 23 actions that can be taken to embrace a green economy including a carbon tax, a green bank, industrial support for green industrial innovation, service programs similar to the Peace Corps (“Green Corps”), among other actions and policy prescriptions.  Most of Rifkin’s actions are directed at corporations and government but individuals wanting to make a difference can access proposed tax credits and use them to install solar or wind-generated technologies in their homes and businesses, connect to community microgrids and purchase an electric vehicle. 

The book is densely packed with statistics which can bog down the reader and interfere with the compelling arguments being presented. A more judicious use of footnotes may have allowed the rich ideas and calls for change to shine through more effectively.  The text is also very U.S-focused but still offers plenty of food for thought for others about how to move the economy away from fossil fuels and to a brighter, more prosperous and clean future.  Rifkin provides a convincing roadmap to help get us from here to where we need to be – along with another important element – hope.