"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Monday, May 7, 2012

It's the End of the World - Buy Guns, Gold and Food

Civilization abolished by a massive solar flare.
A much larger than normal solar flare could easily fry the electronic systems of the entire planet as the earth turns.  What happens to a society run by electric power and computers when they have neither?  No power to run gasoline pumps, the city water system, no food deliveries, no internet, no ability to run a business.

Barbarism is the natural state of mankind.  Civilization is unnatural.  It is a whim of circumstance.  And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.

- - - - Robert E. Howard  -  "Beyond the Black River" (1935)

The ultra modern power systems, internet, computers and technology that the modern world takes for granted has only existed for a few decades.  But massive solar flares have happened for billions of years.

Solar radiation hitting the earth from 10,000 BC to 1900 would have damaged almost nothing.  Life would go on.

But what happens to a modern society when power grids and the internet are knocked out by a larger than normal solar flare or even by cyber-terrorism?

  • No power for gasoline pumps.
  • No gas, no food deliveries to cities.  Supermarkets cleaned out in hours. 
  • Pitch dark cities at night.
  • Electric powered city water systems shut down.
  • No power for perhaps several months!
  • No internet, phones or businesses operating.
  • Modern computerized and gasoline dependent farms unable to grow food.

Hurricane Katrina showed exactly what would happen on a small scale.  A total breakdown of law and order with even the police joining in on looting.

What happens when millions and millions of people are hungry and thirsty at the same time and there is nothing a government can do?  Hell, the government had trouble even bringing bottled water to the New Orleans Superdome for a very small number of people.

For lack of a better word, it will be one giant clusterfuck.

Law and order can break down in only a few hours
The 2011 riots and looting in London

The Los Angeles Times reports a stream of highly charged particles from the sun is headed straight toward Earth, threatening to plunge cities around the world into darkness and bring the global economy screeching to a halt.
This isn't the premise of the latest doomsday thriller. Massive solar storms have happened before — and another one is likely to occur soon, according to Mike Hapgood, a space weather scientist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford, England.
Much of the planet's electronic equipment, as well as orbiting satellites, have been built to withstand these periodic geomagnetic storms. But the world is still not prepared for a truly damaging solar storm, Hapgood argues in a recent commentary published in the journal Nature.

Katrina - Police officers join the looters

Live Free or Die Hard
In the Bruce Willis and Justin Long thriller computer systems controlling every aspect of everyday life were shut down by cyber terrorists.  This is a very real threat that could come from any nation or terrorist group.

What happens when those particles reach Earth?
There can be a whole range of effects. The classic one everyone quotes is the effect on the power grid. A big geomagnetic storm can essentially put extra electric currents into the grid. If it gets bad enough, you can have a complete failure of the power grid — it happened in Quebec back in 1989.  The worst thing is what happened in Quebec. In Quebec, the power system went from normal operation to failure in 90 seconds. It  affected around 6 million people. The impact was reckoned to be $2 billion Canadian in 1989 prices.
If you've got that, then you've just got to get it back on again. But you could also damage the transformers, which would make it much harder to get the electric power back.
You get big disturbances in the Earth's upper atmosphere — what we call the ionosphere — and that could be very disruptive to things like GPS [the network of global positioning system satellites]. Given the extent we use GPS in everyday life [including for cellphone networks, shipping safety and financial transaction records], that's a big issue.

Welfare Riots and Looting

Many systems have been built to withstand a storm as big as the 1989 event. Is that good enough?
A serious concern would be whole regions losing electrical power for some significant time. Here in the U.K., the official assessment is that we could lose one or two regions where the power might be out for several months.

What would the consequences be?
In the modern world, we use electricity for so many things. We require electrical power to pump water into people's houses and to pump the sewage away. [You can imagine] what could happen if the sewage systems aren't pumping stuff away.
If you don't have power, you can't pump fuel into vehicles. If you don't have any fuel, traffic could come to a standstill.

2012 Riots in Greece

Could the economy function?
Most of the time you're using credit cards, debit cards or you'll be getting money out of an ATM. If you've lost the power, the computers in the bank that keep track of our money will have back-up power, but not the ATMs or the machines in the shops. So if you had a big power outage, it wouldn't be long before we'd be trying to find cash.

What are the chances that something like this will happen soon?
A recent paper [published in February in the journal Space Weather] tried to estimate the chance of having a repeat of 1859 and came up with a value of a 12% chance of it happening in the next 10 years. That's quite a high risk.

(Los Angeles Times)

Looting and riots in London, 2011.

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