Are We Selfish Individuals or an Empathic Society? The Answer Could Determine Whether We Have a Future
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Today, we are on the cusp of another historic convergence of energy and communication--a third industrial revolution--that could extend empathic sensibility to the biosphere itself and all of life on Earth. The distributed Internet revolution is coming together with distributed renewable energies, making possible a sustainable, post-carbon economy that is both globally connected and locally managed.
In the 21st century, hundreds of millions--and eventually billions--of human beings will transform their buildings into power plants to harvest renewable energies on site, store those energies in the form of hydrogen and share electricity, peer-to-peer, across local, regional, national and continental inter-grids that act much like the Internet. The open source sharing of energy, like open source sharing of information, will give rise to collaborative energy spaces--not unlike the collaborative social spaces that currently exist on the Internet.
When every family and business comes to take responsibility for its own small swath of the biosphere by harnessing renewable energy and sharing it with millions of others on smart power grids that stretch across continents, we become intimately interconnected at the most basic level of earthly existence by jointly stewarding the energy that bathes the planet and sustains all of life.
The new distributed communication revolution not only organizes distributed renewable energies, but also changes human consciousness. The information communication technologies (ICT) revolution is quickly extending the central nervous system of billions of human beings and connecting the human race across time and space, allowing empathy to flourish on a global scale, for the first time in history.
Whether in fact we will begin to empathize as a species will depend on how we use the new distributed communication medium. While distributed communications technologies-and, soon, distributed renewable energies - are connecting the human race, what is so shocking is that no one has offered much of a reason as to why we ought to be connected. We talk breathlessly about access and inclusion in a global communications network but speak little of exactly why we want to communicate with one another on such a planetary scale. What's sorely missing is an overarching reason that billions of human beings should be increasingly connected. Toward what end? The only feeble explanations thus far offered are to share information, be entertained, advance commercial exchange and speed the globalization of the economy. All the above, while relevant, nonetheless seem insufficient to justify why nearly seven billion human beings should be connected and mutually embedded in a globalized society. The idea of even billion individual connections, absent any overall unifying purpose, seems a colossal waste of human energy. More important, making global connections without any real transcendent purpose risks a narrowing rather than an expanding of human consciousness. But what if our distributed global communication networks were put to the task of helping us re-participate in deep communion with the common biosphere that sustains all of our lives?
The biosphere is the narrow band that extends some forty miles from the ocean floor to outer space where living creatures and the Earth's geochemical processes interact to sustain each other. We are learning that the biosphere functions like an indivisible organism. It is the continuous symbiotic relationships between every living creature and between living creatures and the geochemical processes that ensure the survival of the planetary organism and the individual species that live within its biospheric envelope. If every human life, the species as a whole, and all other life-forms are entwined with one another and with the geochemistry of the planet in a rich and complex choreography that sustains life itself, then we are all dependent on and responsible for the health of the whole organism. Carrying out that responsibility means living out our individual lives in our neighborhoods and communities in ways that promote the general well-being of the larger biosphere within which we dwell. The Third Industrial Revolution offers just such an opportunity.