Way Kuo on the Power of Knowledge

The 231st ECS Meeting took place last week in New Orleans, LA, where Way Kuo, president at City University of Hong Kong, delivered the ECS Lecture, “A Risk Look at Energy Development.” In his talk, Kuo highlighted the many risks we face every day, ranging from air pollution to auto accidents to cyber-attacks. While those risks exist, Kuo pointed out that the biggest risk today is energy and energy safety, including issues of energy consumption, global warming, and sustainability.

“Renewable energies have witnessed rapid development in recent years worldwide in a concerted effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions,” Kuo wrote in his meeting abstract. “And yet, wind power production still constitutes only 4% in the global power mix and solar PV represents 1%, while fossil fuels remain the world’s dominant energy source, accounting for around 65%. Coal, the main culprit for greenhouse gas emissions, represents 43% of fossil fuels, even though the coal-fired generation share of total electricity production is declining, and still causes 7 million death a year due to air pollution, according to the United Nations. Any discussion of energies today cannot neglect nuclear energy as a key base-load power, despite concerns about possible radiation leaks and nuclear waste.”

Recently, Kuo wrote an article in the South China Morning Post, where he discussed the importance of properly capturing and analyzing scientific data, which will improve our ability to predict and respond to disasters. The article, which was adapted from Kuo’s ECS Lecture, analyzes security issues related to everything from terrorism to foodborne illness.

This from the South China Morning Post:

In order to provide society with a reasonable level of security, we urgently need to improve our knowledge and strengthen our capacity to mitigate against risks, both locally and globally. Knowledge accumulation requires data as its fuel. In this regard, advancement in big data technology offers enormous possibilities for understanding the complexities and uncertainties of human behavior and the globalized world.

Ironically, the biggest crisis we face today is the risk of having insufficient data, or no reliable data, for how to analyze, predict, prevent and respond to the numerous crises and hazards, potential or real, in our everyday life. This is true with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2011 Fukushima accident as well as with the problems of smog, environmental protection, epidemics and national security, among others.

We need a paradigm to adopt a pragmatic approach and to make use of scientific analysis to improve predictions and responses, free from the interference of ideological biases and presuppositions. Policymakers need to have the right mindset and an open attitude to invest energy and resources to harness the predictive power of data to enhance human security in all spheres of life, at both the global and the local level.

Read the full article.

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