New technology can improve our living standards but, if misused, it can also become a threat. In a continuously globalizing world, there is a growing concern around being able to react to natural and technological threats. Last Thursday the representation of the British Council in Berlin staged a panel discussion bringing together three experts to discuss perspectives on future global threats.
Terence Taylor: We need adaptable and decentralized structures
In his keynote speech, Terence Taylor, President of the International Council for the Life Sciences, underlined that the most important characteristic of defence and diagnostic systems in order to have an effective reaction should be adaptation and decentralization. He mentioned as an example the Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance, which has been able to bring together health and medical professionals from Jordan, Israel and Palestine. Regardless of the wars shattering the region, they were able to manage grassroots collaboration, improving health information between their countries.
In Southeast Asia, the Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance applied a similar decentralized approach, said Taylor, which made it possible to stay efficient, even in case of conflict, as in 2008, for instance, as the Cambodian-Thai border dispute intensified.
Elke Hoff: Too little resources to invest in recognizing new threats
In a very honest manner, the German MP Elke Hoff explained how political decision-making often lacks the particular insight which grassroots organisations have. Hoff complained that politicians often don’t have the financial and personal means of investigate future global risks, their job consists rather in reacting to imminent crisis: “We don’t have so much time for proper reflection, and for proper strategic thinking.”
As an MP who voted against Germany’s participation in the NATO intervention in Libya last year, Hoff highlighted the need of pursuing negotiations in conflict situations: “It is become a pity that the international community uses military means as first solution”.
To improve Europe’s global strategic answers, she pointed out the necessity for European countries to cooperate more closely together and to learn to rely on one another. “But it’s still quite wishful thinking,” she added, disappointed.
Dr. Rainer Wessel : Forbidding green biotech is totalitarian
But it’s not the only competency Europeans should learn, seems to think Dr. Rainer Wessel, director of the CI3 excellence research cluster in the German Rhein-Main region. “One of the conclusions of our European heritage, is that everything bad comes from man.” Therefore Europeans remain closed to new technology such as green biotech.
“Europeans basically think: we don’t want it, we don’t need it!” But “biology is global,” said Wessel, “there is no way that Europe can stay out of it”. He strongly condemned this “totalitarian approach against a technology which is worldwide endorsed”. Indeed, how can we be able to react to GMO-enhanced terrorist attacks if we don’t have the correspondent know-how?
“For the biologist there is no difference between a terrorist attack or an influenza outbreak.” Working as a tight network of small and medium sized businesses, the CI3 cluster works on red biotech and contributes to shorten the preparation time for an influenza-like vaccine from 5 months to 6 or 8 weeks. This fosters the reaction capability against biological risk, of natural or terrorist origin.
According to the assessment of three high profile experts, there is still a lot to do to adapt our way of recognizing and dealing with risk. But is the public ready to see decision-making being given to small decentralized structures or to give complete freedom to research? A debate in the civil society will be necessary.