The competitive dynamics of industrial capitalism are well-known, and they are all about scale. Timing for economies of scale (producing more of a unit in order to lower the cost) works well in periods of energy ‘ascent,’ when the supply of energy increases, but less in periods of energy ‘descent,’ says writer Michel Bauwens. He argues that “the whole system of globalizing the advantages of scale fundamentally rests on cheap global transportation and, thus, the continuous availability of fossil fuels. Once the era of cheap oil ends, it is more than likely that the whole regime will come tumbling down. Competing on the basis of scale, even if it is still effective today, ultimately can only be played by those who do not care about the destruction of our planet. What game can the others play? Rising fossil fuel prices mean that innovation and competition have to find another outlet. Actually, it's about inventing another game altogether.”
‘Changing the game’ is no easy feat, but Bauwens maintains that the system of production that relies on pseudo-abundance (the belief of infinite growth and the endless availability of resources, despite the fact that we live on a finite planet) and enforced artificial scarcity (notably through planned obsolescence schemes and highly repressive IP regimes) is bound to come to an end. Instead, he claims, we should focus on economies of scope, which happens, in his view, through the mutualizing of knowledge and tangible resources.
The mutualization of knowledge is akin to what Chris Anderson calls ‘crowd-accelerated innovation’ with peer production at its core (encompassing open knowledge, free culture, free software, open and shared designs, open hardware and distributed manufacturing). “Peer production communities believe that knowledge is a commons, for all to share. Therefore, no innovation can be withheld from the human population as a whole. In fact, withholding a life-saving or world-saving innovation is seen as distinctly unethical.”
The second principle of sharing physical resources, is exemplified by the trend towards collaborative consumption, such as the world's largest car-sharing and car club service, ZipCar. “According to a study cited by ZipCar, for every rented car, there are 15 fewer owned cars on the road. Furthermore, car-sharing members drive 31% less after they join. So, in 2009 alone, car-sharing diminished global carbon dioxide emissions by nearly half a million tonnes.”
American economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Third Industrial Revolution, echoes the mutualization idea through his five ‘pillars’ that will shape the energy revolution: “Imagine hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices and factories, and sharing it with each other in an ‘energy Internet’, just like we now create and share information online.”