Do you like movies like Hunger Games, Divergent, Omega Man, Escape From New York and Mad Max?
Did you get a boot out of the Batman Epic , “No Man’s Land”?
And who doesn’t just love Zombie Apocalypse’s (or is that Zombie Apocalypsi?)
Or to paraphrase Buffy , “When the apocalypse comes, beep me”
Yes, post apocalyptic and dystopian fiction is all the rage these days and has been for a very long time. One of my personal favorites is Soylent Green (is people!)
And every so often we see documentaries that discuss real life possibilities like nuclear war, pandemics, or collisions with asteroids wiping us all out in a rather spectacular fashion. We are all reassured though that such events are about as likely to happen as me hitting a $ 350,000,000 lottery by picking the numbers by throwing darts. Which is to say not very likely.
BUT! Did you know that there WAS an event in 1859, that if it hit the planet today would literally plunge us back into the Dark Ages? Did you know that the odds of another event just like it happening within a century or less is a near certainty?
In September, 1859 amateur astronomer Richard Carrington observed a massive solar event through his telescope. He observed two patches of intense white light, solar eruptions that triggered coronal mass ejections (CME) towards the earth. Within three days a massive geomagnetic storm struck the earth, blowing out telegraph lines all over the world. Telegraph lines were seen to spark and operators received shocks. Scarlet auroras began to appear all over the planet so bright that night turned into day.
All the result of a solar flare with the power of 10 billion Hiroshima Bombs.
Fortunately the planet did not yet possess a worldwide electrical grid. Life went on with no long term consequence.
This has become known as a Carrington Event. They happen every so often. According to NASA there is a one in eight chance of such an event happening by 2020. And a near certainty within a century. We are not talking about 100,000 years here. It’s just around the corner cosmically speaking. The only question is “will we be in the way?”
So what happens if we DO get struck by a Solar Storm on the level of a Carrington event?
Let’s jump for a moment to July 2020…
A geomagnetic storm with the power of the 1859 event strikes the earth head on and lasts for several days effectively destroying the power grid of the entire planet with what is essentially a Solar EMP. When the electricity failed worldwide the following happened:
• Transportation systems failed
• Fresh water supplies became scarce
• Emergency services failed
• Police and military were compromised
• Government services became nonexistent
• Worldwide finance crumbled
• Communications and the Internet disintegrate
• Fuel oil and gasoline become unobtainable.
Within six months all the major governments collapse. The population is decimated by starvation, thirst, disease and exposure.
The fact is that a head on Carrington event would destroy our civilization. We would quite possibly never recover as a technological species.
Perhaps this is a common occurrence in the Cosmos and explains why starfaring cultures don’t seem to exist (at least not in these parts). Maybe their technology is wiped out by Carrington events.
So are we destined to go the way of the Dinosaurs?
Only if we are foolish. People are a lot smarter than Dinosaurs (with the possible exception of Red Sox fans!). We are entirely capable of shielding our essential technology from the effects of a Carrington storm. Most importantly we are capable of protecting the massive power transformers that are the very heart of our global power grid and are irreplaceable on any large scale.
We haven’t done that yet. Doing so would be EXPENSIVE!
But there have been a few events recently that one would hope is waking the decision makers up to the fact that some up front expense will save us all a ton of grief…if we are forward thinking enough to act.
We suffered a glancing hit in 1989 that caused power outtages in the US and Canada. In 2012 we had a near miss that, if it had hit us would have had an immediate economic impact of 2 trillion dollars and would have taken many years to recover from.
While there is no need to get one’s affairs in order quite yet, the lesson we can learn from this is two fold.
First, the Earth is a fragile, beautiful place. It is actually tiny on a cosmic scale and can easily be ravaged by solar events.
Second, we can protect this fragile, beautiful planet. We’re pretty smart that way….if we act.
A Carrington event is certainly not as sexy as a Zombie Apocalypse but it’s far more likely to happen…and sooner than later. Bear that in mind when Mockingjay II comes out.