On Monday 1 October, I boarded a train in Springfield, MA at ugh o’clock AM to venture down to Washington DC. I had never been before, so I was looking forward to having a good look around and to getting a first-hand feel for the place. But the main purpose of my journey was to attend four days of talks and demonstrations at National Defense University, Fort McNair.
The event was hosted by STAR-TIDES, a DoD research initiative dedicated to helping to overcome the difficulties faced by people in disaster areas and humanitarian crises around the world. The esteemed Master Gupta had recommended that I meet the cool people working there and see what happens.
What a week it was.
Exhibitors showcased technology ranging from solar/wind kit, including some solar cookers that made some gorgeous chocolate chip cookies; water storage and filtration (I spent the week there drinking water from the Potomac, and lo I still live and breathe); off-grid IT networks to bring remote places online; and of course a variety of shelters including the good ol’ hexayurt.The entire set up was off-grid, so nothing powered up there was plugged into the mains. With the amount of stuff juiced up and going there, that in and of itself was an impressive feat.
Speakers included one of the Energy Policy movers and shakers for the US Marines, and the Goddess and Force of Nature behind Burners Without Borders. I also encountered this man who, while seeming mild-mannered albeit obviously a heavyweight of some variety, was revealed through a bit of research to be one of the most astonishing people I have ever had the privilege of speaking to. Combine all this with a chance to finally meet the venerable Lin Wells, the man-wot-runs-this-operation who I’ve been told I had to meet for years now, and…
Well, can you tell I had a good time?
To say that my perspective was shifted and my horizons were broadened is, to borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, like saying the Hundred Years War went on for a bit. I had been aware of most of these technologies for some time now, but to actually see them working and doing concrete things rather than just reading about potentials was really eye-opening. Furthermore, getting first-hand accounts from amazing people doing amazing things all around the world was both fascinating and inspiring.
I made what offers of assistance I thought appropriate. I encouraged designers and engineers to think about earlier solutions to the problems they’re trying to tackle for possible inspiration. A lot of people don’t think of it this way but, even in areas dealing with massive infrastructure challenges at present, it was not always thus. People in these places knew how to get food, water, and shelter once upon a time, else they would not have continued to live there. Thus, many of the disruptions to essential elements of survival around the world are potentially fairly new. While the old solutions may not be entirely practical anymore, it could be quite illuminating to consider how their/our ancestors dealt with similar problems.
So, when I returned to Springfield the following Saturday (at a much more civilised hour, thank the gods), I stepped off that train a very different person from the one who got on six days earlier. I was more aware of the possibilities that certain new technologies can offer for helping to solve life-or-death problems for may humans alive today. I became reinforced in my belief that old solutions to ongoing problems can, at the very least, serve as food for thought today when we are attempting to come up with new solutions. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, my beloved tribe of brilliant and interesting people around the world saw its ranks swell by a number of new members after this week; the connections I made with these amazing people will, I have no doubt, be long-lasting.