[Viewpoint] Bold ideas needed to counter calamity

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[Viewpoint] Bold ideas needed to counter calamity

Japan’s nuclear crisis underscores how a disproportionately concentrated energy system can jeopardize an entire country when it becomes an epicenter. But most in the modern market system, which runs on the principles of mass production and distribution to maximize efficiency and the economy, are vulnerable to unforeseen risks. It is therefore important to pay attention to resilient technologies of nuts and bolts regardless of their downside in efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

The popular revolution in Tunisia that sparked a wave of democracy uprisings against despots in the Arab world served as the tipping point for the role and power of the Internet. The Internet was conceived through the U.S. government’s desire to connect its networks and keep its data intact if under attack.

The previous data network had been wired by point-to-point interconnectivity, susceptible to a total breakdown if any one of the key terminals were disrupted. But the Internet connection stays alive when all other communication networks break down. An example is what happened after a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti last year, when journalists and free-lancers sent footage and stories through YouTube and other Web services.

Citizens of autocratic governments in Arab societies were able to brave heavy censorship and send scenes of protest and brutality through various online streaming media. The Internet has evolved to have indestructible viability and accessibility regardless of glitches.

The energy sector, too, requires such evolution in renewability and survivability. We need continued efforts to develop technology to secure energy through various means - wind, solar and hydroelectric - and through easier mechanisms.

Swedish renewable energy start-up Minesto has been testing a prototype underwater kite consisting of a lightweight turbine, generator and rudder tethered to a fixed point on the seabed. It catches the currents and through this tidal power, one kite can produce as much as 500 kilowatts of electricity. This means that each kite, working for an hour, could provide two weeks worth of power for the average home.

The company has already tested a prototype off the coast of Northern Ireland this year. If the pilot program succeeds, the idea will go into commercial production and the company would build about 10 tidal kites.

Similar creativity has been displayed in the medical field. The aid group Doctors Without Borders has developed what they call a “plug and play hospital,” a facility of inflatable tents with generators and sanitation equipment designed to be independent from water and power systems, which typically are unavailable after catastrophes. The mobile hospitals played an important role in earthquake-devastated Haiti.

The nonprofit organization set up nine inflatable tents in Haiti equipped with 100 beds, an intensive care unit, operating rooms, recovery beds and other basic necessities, with each tent running a separate generator and sanitation equipment.

What is more stunning is the ingenuity and preparedness behind the endeavor. The Geneva-based organization runs research and development centers in Bordeaux, France, and Brussels to come up with new ideas and solutions for field hospitals.

During service in Pakistan in 2005, a tent shrank due to the sharp temperature difference between day and night. To solve the problem, the group came up with equipment to automatically adjust air pressure in the tent.

The future of mankind depends on human ability to build resilience and strength as well as survival mechanisms against unpredictable, monstrous natural calamities like the one that has swept Japan.

We must stop fretting over the logic of capital and markets and pay more attention to nurturing diverse and ingenious technologies that can uphold self-sufficiency.

Such technologies cannot be incubated from the market. The government should lead the way to invest in building fortresses and creating new public-oriented technologies for use against disasters.

*The writer is a professor of IT Convergence Center, Kwandong University College of Medicine.

By Jeong Ji-hoon
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