How to Survive Real-Time Climate Change

Esteemed futurist Jeremy Rifkin delivers a mind-blowing dose of reality.

At Green Builder Media’s 8th annual Sustainability Symposium 2024: Existential Solutions, internationally renowned futurist, author, and economist Jeremy Rifkin delivered a remarkable presentation that stopped us all in our tracks.

Not one to beat around the bush—especially given his sense of urgency around the climate crisis, Rifkin jumped out of the gates with a strikingly sobering message.  

“We’re in real-time climate change,” he began. “We have dug up the burial grounds of previous geological eras and exhumed the remains of the planet, which we have used to create a fossil fuel-based civilization that is now killing us.”

Rewilding Earth

Rifkin adamantly believes that humans suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of the world around us.  “We’re not a land planet,” he insists.  “We’re a water planet.  The hydrosphere is the animator of all life. It determines the lithosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere.” His theory is that the hydrosphere is now rewilding, causing the sixth extinction of life on this planet, in which we might see up to 50 percent species loss in the next 80 years.  

“We’re at a critical inflection point,” Rifkin avows.  “Humans believed we could harness the waters on this planet for our own benefit, but runaway pollution in our air, water, and soil has caused the hydrosphere to break loose.”  

He believes that the entire infrastructure of this planet –-including roads, bridges, buildings, power grids, and piping systems—is a stranded asset.  

“We have built our infrastructure on outdated model.  The ground is heating up and collapsing.  We’re beginning to realize that the planet is animated and powerful, and our species isn’t that important in terms of the planet’s evolution.  We’re using the same playbook that gave rise to global warming to try to move beyond it. It simply won’t work.”

He advocates for allowing nature to be wild rather than trying to harness it.  “We see nature as a resource, whereas it is really a life source.  We think we can organize it, but it needs to be free.”


He continued with a fascinating summary of past industrial revolutions, outlining the evolution of communications, energy, and transportation infrastructure.  He asserts that we’re currently in a third industrial revolution, which is powered by the internet, distributed renewable energy, and big data.  

He predicts the imminent arrival of a fourth industrial revolution involving a total overhaul of our water infrastructure.  “This next industrial revolution will be based purely on demand because the amount of water available today for each person is half what it was 50 years ago.  We have to adapt to our very real water limitations.”

Rifkin made an impassioned call for a new approach to building to accommodate climate refugees, led by additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

He believes that housing problems can be solved more effectively with bio-regional governance.  “It matters where we build. Climate disasters don’t care about political boundaries or national sovereignties. They impact ecosystems and communities.  If there is a climate disaster, cities, states, and nations need to work together to rebuild.”  

He also offered some stunning statistics about the future of pandemics.  “It’s no wonder that we’re in a climate crisis rife with pandemics,” he insisted. “In 1900, 85% of the planet was wild.  People and animals had plenty of room to spread out.  Today, only 19% of the planet is still wild, which is not a viable scenario.  Viruses have become climate migrants—hitching rides on animals and spreading to humans, partly because it’s so hot, creating optimal conditions for virus survival, and partly because we’re so packed together.”

Rifkin closed by explaining how the Age of Progress, which took humans to commanding heights as the dominant species on Earth—but resulted in the wholesale destruction of life on the planet—is on a death spiral.  

“A nascent Age of Resilience is emerging with a new meta-narrative that will fundamentally transform the way our species will live and flourish on a rewilding Earth.  Nature is always changing and adapting.  We need to do the same.”  

Fortunately,  Rifkin is encouraged by the emergence of youth climate activists.  “Younger generations think of themselves as a species that is part of the Earth, not separate from it. They have a new gestalt and narrative from previous generations, and they are using their voice to make change.”  This gives him hope for the future.

Didn’t get to see the live presentation?  Don’t fret! You can view the recorded session here.

Need an infusion of inspiration? Check out the full playlist of Sustainability Symposium 2024 presentations.  

A heartfelt thank you to Trane Technologies and Whirlpool Corporation for their continued support of our annual Sustainability Symposium, as well as their total commitment to corporate sustainability.