A land of free renewable energy, zero to low production costs, and autonomous vehicles is what Jeremy Rifkin, an influential economic and social theorist, envisions for the world.

It is possible — and essential for the planet to survive, he said, during a Feb. 6 talk at Virginia Tech in the Moss Arts Center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre.

Rifkin, who is the author of 20 books on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the global economy and the environment, is president of TIR Consulting Group and a lecturer at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s also a political advisor and activist who has advised the leadership of the European Union since 2000. He also advises the European Parliament and prominent heads of state on issues related to the economy, climate change, and energy security.

Rifkin spent two days at Virginia Tech, where he participated in workshops on Feb. 7 with faculty, staff, and students to discuss strategic planning and the new industrial age. He also visited with leadership for the Virginia Tech Carilion Partnership, with representatives from Virginia Tech, the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and Carilion Clinic.

His Feb. 6 lecture was hosted and moderated by Richard Blythe, dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

“We need a new economic vision for the world,” Rifkin said to the crowd. “We need a game plan to deliver on that vision. I believe there is a razor-thin path to get us there.”

Rifkin said the world needs a new kind of digitized infrastructure that he sees already forming around renewable energy, smart communications, and new kinds of transportation. This all combines into a general engineering platform that Rifkin coins the Third Industrial Revolution.

Rifkin’s principles, which he believes would provide for long-term economic security and development, are being implemented across parts of Europe and in China.

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands joined Rifkin for an on-stage conversation following the lecture. Sands said Virginia Tech is working in many of the areas that Rifkin discussed.

“Your being here is not an accident,” Sands said. “I think that you probably picked up over the last several hours that there is a convergence of your ideas and your future vision with the kinds of conversations that we’ve been having here in Blacksburg, Roanoke, and Northern Virginia over the last four or five years."

He added that Virginia Tech’s focus on transdisciplinary learning and research is driven by its Beyond Boundaries vision for the future and its Destination Areas, which are teams across Virginia Tech working to address complex problems.

“One of the things that we’re trying to do with our students is to be systems thinkers,” Sands said. “They can start the process of thinking beyond their box and learning how to put disparate ideas together and how to work with others to make that happen.”

Rifkin said Virginia Tech is in a good place to implement his Third Industrial Revolution vision.

“Virginia Tech is one of the great schools in this country,” Rifkin said. “You are a great land-grant university, but you’re also one of the great tech universities. Make it happen at Virginia Tech and make this a lighthouse for the rest of the United States of America.”

Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

Jeremy Rifkin talk
From left, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands; Richard Blythe, dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; and Jeremy Rifkin, economic and social theorist, discuss Rifkin's principles on Feb. 6 at the Moss Arts Center.