Catastrophic solar flares accompanied by coronal mass ejections and a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) could happen at any time, giving us very little notice. They are highly targeted and one of them could very easily be aimed at our planet.
The last major coronal mass ejection to hit the Earth, known as the Carrington Event, was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm in 1859, and statistically, was probably the biggest in 500 years. Its EMP caused telegraph lines to explode, setting fire to some telegraph offices, and electric power to fail across Europe and North America, (and there wasn’t much electric power anywhere else in the world at that time). [Since Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telephone until the 1870’s, this 1859 Carrington Event was way back in the days of morse-code telegraphy systems.]
In today’s far more advanced and technological world, the effects would be far more devastating since an EMP would destroy all unprotected semiconductors, which are now built into everything. The only ones to escape destruction would be those semiconductor systems which are securely housed, unconnected to the outside world, within Faraday Cages. We know this beyond any doubt because the very much weaker EMP produced in nuclear bomb tests in the Nevada desert have very certainly totally destroyed all unprotected semiconductor-based infrastructure over a remarkably wide area, specifically in areas otherwise untouched by any other bomb effects, leaving all non-conductive infrastructure, animal and plant life unaffected.
What the future most certainly holds for us
At some indeterminate time in the unforeseeable future, in anything from next week to a hundred years or so hence, we know beyond much doubt that our planet Earth will certainly be zapped by one of the solar flares that have hit our planet previously, long before our dependence on modern electronics. The following will be the inevitable consequences if nothing is protected by being totally enclosed in Faraday Cages, but these consequences are so serious that the world is choosing to turn a blind eye to them, since there is no solution.
- Communications. We will immediately and irrevocably lose all communications, other than face-to-face by voice. We will have no landline or mobile phones and no radio or television. We will not know what has happened, because the very few who might know would not be able to tell the rest of us. Museum pieces such as radio transmitters and receivers that depend only on thermionic valves (aka vacuum tubes) and not semiconductors would survive if used in tandem, but only as long as their batteries last. But their valves would almost certainly have gone ‘soft’ by now (i.e., lost their vacuum), and replacements have not been made for decades.
- Transportation. We will immediately lose all forms of modern transportation and will have to rely on vintage cars, pedal cycles, horse-drawn vehicles, steam locomotives, ‘shank’s pony’, and oared or wind-powered sailing vessels. All aircraft that are flying will fall out of the skies. All (non-vintage) cars, taxis, buses, trucks and trains will quickly grind to a permanent halt, (because their engine control systems all rely today on semiconductors), as would all traffic lights. But what does that matter, since all fuel pumps at garages will permanently close down anyway? Shipping will lose all power and the SatNav systems they rely on for navigation will no longer work.
- Electricity. We will lose the National Electricity Grid together with all Power Stations, permanently and irrevocably. Even if we had sufficient stock of spares to replace the destroyed components, which we haven’t, we would not have the workable trucks or cranes that we would need to carry out the repairs. In addition, with no communications there would be no system in place to organise and prioritise the necessary work. Furthermore, the trained staff would have more pressing things on their minds, such as stemming incipient starvation in their own families.
- Emergency Services. There would no longer be any emergency services; no effective police, ambulances, fire services or military support, since they would lack vehicles, communications and essential command and control. Hospitals would very quickly and permanently close. Once in-stock pharmaceuticals have run out there would be no resupply.
- Industry and Banking. All industry and banking will close down permanently. Neither money nor ‘valuables’ will any longer be of value.
- Our Homes We will immediately lose all electric lighting, heating and cooking. In most cases we would also lose our water supplies before too long. Fridges and freezers will soon warm up, reducing the life of their contents. Central heating systems will fail, since they all rely on semiconductor control systems, as well as relying on mains electricity.
- Food. Supermarkets and similar will close permanently, since without electricity they will be plunged into darkness, their tills will be inoperative, their cold stores will quickly warm up, and they will have no more trucks to resupply them, anyway. As starvation takes hold they will be broken into and emptied.
The Future of the Human race.
- The lone survivors will be those living in the Third World. They will be the only ones able to carry on as if nothing had happened. From their stock will spring, in time, the future of the human race.
- The so-called ‘civilised world’ living in an urban environment will very quickly face starvation, anarchy and very early deaths. The number of corpses will completely overwhelm us, and bodies will have to be left to rot, the starving short-term survivors not being up to the challenge of hand-digging the sheer quantity of graves that would be needed.
What steps could central governments throughout the world take to minimize the risk?
- They could pretend that keeping a modest stock of communications equipment in hardened bunkers (Faraday Cages) to survive the impending EMP is any sort of answer, but these will be far too insufficient in number to provide any meaningful benefit, and in the overall context, to what useful purpose could they possibly be put, anyway?;
- They could in theory disconnect and ground to earth all power transmissions grid lines until the event is over, but the very short notice they will get of the event would hardly permit this. The 1859 Carrington Event took just 17.6 hours to reach Earth from the Sun. It might be a pointless exercise anyway, since (a) all Power Stations will have permanently closed down anyway, and (b), with all semiconductors destroyed, the power transmission infrastructure would have no control system to operate it. Neither would anyone in charge have the necessary communications and ‘command and control’ systems to organise anything meaningful.
- Nearly everything electrically powered at home will immediately and permanently fail. The exceptions will be simple things like electric kettles and lights (but LEDs will fail since they are semiconductors). Everything used in shops, offices and factories (except lights) cannot work if their semiconductor-based electronics have been destroyed, so returning the National Grid might achieve very little.
- Or everything could be securely enclosed in Faraday Cages.
A Faraday Cage, named after Michael Faraday, the world’s greatest early electro-physicist, is a complete metallic enclosure, impervious to electromagnetic radiation. If it is breached by the necessity for electrical connections to the world outside, such as to the driver of a road vehicle or train, or to the pilot of an aircraft or skipper of a ship, it will not work. Access to radio communications or GPS signals would also breach the essential security. Fibre optics offer no solution since either the LEDs which originate the signals, or the semiconductors which receive them, would have to lie outside the Faraday Cage to be useful and would be immediately fried. Faraday cages are structures which sound excellent in theory, but their practical application is far from obvious. And anyway, currently, very little if anything is so protected.
The most obvious place for Faraday Cages is within the wall and roofing structures of theatres, cinemas and similar auditoriums, since they are impervious to mobile phone signals. School classrooms and examination halls are other obvious candidates, and so too, in the eyes of many, are restaurants.
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