I think more people should fear the apocalypse. Well not the apocalypse, exactly, as if it were one single ominous event, but the myriad things that could cause an apocalyptic scenario.
First there’s the risk of pandemic—the rapid spread of contagious disease like SARS, bird flu, ebola, etc. Then there’s nuclear war, asteroids, alien invasion, and a robot/AI takeover. But most people have heard of all these before.
What people don’t seem to know about is the risk of a giant solar storm. Most solar flares are small, but a big one could cause a geomagnetic storm that wipes out our electrical power grid for weeks, months, or even years.
If that was possible, wouldn’t it have happened already?
It did happen already. In 1859, a solar storm called the Carrington Event caused fires, electrocutions, and system failures at telegraph stations (Wikipedia).
“In 1989, Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid collapsed within 90 seconds, leaving millions without power for up to nine hours” (Wired).
And in July 2012, we came close to being struck by a massive storm; it would have hit us if it had happened just a week earlier (National Geographic).
Not a conspiracy theory
If a Carrington-level solar storm happened today, we would be plunged into the early 1800s, with no wifi, GPS, cell signal, lights, heating, or water treatment systems. As reported by NASA, “The total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.”
This isn’t a one-in-a-million event, either. In 2012, scientists calculated there was a roughly 12% chance of an enormous solar storm striking Earth within the next decade (see Wired, “1 in 8 Chance of Catastrophic Solar Megastorm by 2020”). As far as I can tell, their estimates haven’t gotten any more optimistic.
What should we do about it?
If I believe the threat is so imminent, why am I not stockpiling canned beans on a farm somewhere? The short answer is: love to, but can’t.
Survivalism done halfway isn’t worth doing at all. To do it right, you’d have to buy some land with its own water supply, stockpile enough supplies to last you and your family for the rest of your lifetimes, acquire weapons, set up a perimeter defense system, and have a way to get to your bunker/farm once the emergency actually happens.
How—a tank? Bulletproof helicopter? (You’d also have to store your escape vehicle inside a Faraday cage, or something, to protect its electronics from being ruined during the solar storm.)
Sadly, I cannot afford such accoutrements.
“But life without wifi wouldn’t be an apocalypse…”
My friend Karen says a solar megastorm doesn’t count as an apocalypse because the majority of Earth’s population would still be alive afterwards. According to her, we should be far more afraid of apocalypses caused by nuclear war and climate change.
Sure. I guess. But it still sounds pretty bad to me.