Climate Change: the need for an new industrial revolution
A new industrial revolution is needed to realize the global low-carbon economy. From a European point of view, there are two areas of action – accelerating European Eco-Innovation and transforming economic development in newly industrialised countries (NICs) and developing countries towards a sustainability path. There is also, more or less, a consensus that the reform of modes of production and the styles of life need to combine a locally rooted cultural sensibility with a global horizon of thinking. The necessary technological innovation thrust has to reach the particular conditions of rural and sparsely developed areas, and it has to be complemented by a thrust of lifestyle innovations.
This is only feasible given a vast network of supporting institutions, structures and basic technologies. The numbers, in China and India alone, of those uprooted from the old agrarian economy and flocking to Megacities in search of a better life, is enough to beat our power of imagination. This situation cannot be mastered if we approach it by employing an old style of industrialization extended to the global scale, supplemented with some new technologies.
Humboldt and the industrial innovation boost
Historical research has brought to light that an important element of Germany's transformation towards an industrial power house was conceiving and establishing certain institutions, not merely those to channel and make available the capital for certain sectors, but also to organize social life in ways that provided opportunities to interact and innovate. An important aspect of this was bringing forth a specific idea of higher education and embodying it in an institutional form:
About two centuries ago, Prussia had to face the challenge of being backward in science and technology compared to its neighbours, for example France and Great Britain. The challenge was met by erecting a specific education system, particularly regarding higher education, wherein the task of teaching was conceived as involving the students as participants in the research and reflection process of the teacher. This approach was novel in its emphasis on knowledge as a process rather than as a product, and contrasted sharply with the then established idea of teaching as conveying predefined knowledge in a top-down fashion. This model came into existence during the Wilhelm von Humboldt's tenure as Prussian Education Minister. The unfolding dynamic of the institutional structure for teaching and generation of knowledge is of tremendous importance: it not only initiated an innovation thrust in Germany, enabling it to catch up with its neighbours and securing for itself a top position in the sphere of scientific and technological achievement, but also brought about the conditions for boosting science and technology in general.
Humboldtian Knowledge Centers as a bridge in the future
In order to initiate a new industrial revolution by precipitating today an innovation thrust comparable to Prussia's advancement sketched above, we obviously have to widen the base of application of the Humboldt model.
We require institutional nodes that provide a global perspective for the local milieu and knowledge by establishing relationships, exchanges and perspectives on a global scale. For this, we need something more than familiarity with local needs: we require centres of alternative life-styles compatible with, but at the same time alternative to local agrarian economy. These centres need to generate a global horizon of thinking, combining it with local knowledge and local roots, bringing about both a higher level of reflection and adaptation of the locally integrated life-styles and the lived-in world. The new Knowledge Centres are intended to be small centres for liberal education in the Humboldtean sense. They are located in rural areas and in the poorer districts of cities. They are endowed with 1- 2 classrooms and a library the scale of which is comparable to a central European city district library.
A Knowledge Centre is under the care of 1-2 permanently employed Animators. These Animators are well aquainted with the local setting and the local culture, they underwent academic training and dispose of excellent general education. They do not function like school teachers, they are not the agents of a literacy campaign. Rather, they function as facilitators for reflection who act as „education carers“ in a local community and who steward the Knowledge Centre as an ideas smithy for a sustainable life. After having been called to their Chairs, the Animators enjoy autonomy within the framework of their activities comparable to academic autonomy.
For these knowledge centres, service centres for dissemination of technologies (biogas, solar cooking gear, solar panels et cetera) and consultation centres for other skills (cultivation methods, husbandry and others) could serve as a base. The internet provides fast cross-linking of knowledge centres, for example by generating special online platforms. Solutions and ideas developed in a suburb of Bangalore may prove useful for a local group in the area of Rio de Janeiro, and similar phenomena might occur when knowledge generated by a rural community in Kenia proves helpful in Bangladesh.