The seeds of our destruction

Does the weather ever affect your plans?

That picnic or ballgame was ruined because an unexpected squall surprised you. 

A snow storm was worse than predicted and you had problems getting around. 

Hurricane?  People went to the stores and hoarded useful stuff.  You didn’t get any.

Think about this:

IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.

A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation’s infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event – a violent storm, 150 million kilometres away on the surface of the sun.

It sounds ridiculous. Surely the sun couldn’t create so profound a disaster on Earth. Yet an extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in January this year claims it could do just that.

Over the last few decades, western civilisations have busily sown the seeds of their own destruction. Our modern way of life, with its reliance on technology, has unwittingly exposed us to an extraordinary danger: plasma balls spewed from the surface of the sun could wipe out our power grids, with catastrophic consequences.

There is a lot more.  Read it.

Would you be in any way ready for such a thing?   Even a future EMP attack?

I’m just askin’

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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50 Responses to The seeds of our destruction

  1. Patronus says:

    This is so true. People should think more about technology and whether we are losing touch with what it means to be human and a connectivity with creation (not in a touchy feely hippy “green” sense, but in a profound sense). I think Wendell Berry has some very interesting things to say about all this.

  2. chironomo says:

    Hmm… Solar Warming?? Wanna bet that the proposed solutions are eerily similar to the solutions for Global Warming?

  3. Andy K. says:

    It’s an interesting scenario.

    Is it *only* the power grid that is knocked out?

    If so, I think that America, while initially panicked and worried, would come around to it.

    And rural areas would be largely unaffected, I think?

  4. Roland de Chanson says:

    I am going to start purloining vigil lights just in the electricity does go off.

  5. Mark says:

    I believe that during the last solar storm that actually pointed our way, all of Quebec was deprived of electricity. This was in the nineteenth century, and all transatlantic telegraph traffic was knocked out too. If it could have such an effect 150 years ago, just think of what could happen now.

    However, I do believe that the effect will be temporary.

    I’m more worried about the sun knocking our magnetic field out.

  6. Ygnacia says:

    As I live in earthquake country, I’ve little by little been preparing for something similar on a smaller scale. However, it has been on my mind a lot lately that we are on the razor’s edge in many ways, one thing could push us over. For example, the Hayward Fault that runs under Oakland is past due – a major earthquake in the Bay Area could easily send California, and maybe even the whole country, over the edge.
    I have to admit a survivalist mentality at times, as I and some of my friends grow more of our own food and work towards living a more sustainable lifestyle…

  7. HQD says:

    I was reading this today and it brought to mind that Nicholas Cage movie, “Knowing” which came out this past weekend. It was interesting, if you can get past some of the kooky stuff, but such a catastrophe is mentioned in the movie. If you get a chance watch (or rent) it!

  8. Ohio Annie says:

    My response would be similar to what I used to say about a nuclear war. I would rather be vaporized by the first wave then to live in the aftermath. Sorry. And this is from somebody who considers herself very self-reliant. 8-P

  9. Romulus says:

    People here in New Orleans know all about living off the grid. September 22, 2012 will be the heart of hurricane season. I know I’ll have my stuff ready.

  10. Ohio Annie says:

    Andy, rural areas are even more reliant on technology in some ways, think of how much rural people rely on cars to get to work, etc. The Amish can only live their lifestyle because of English refineries to make their kerosene and steel for them.

  11. DarkKnight says:

    It may be possible.

    However, I question the timing of the “findings.” With Global Warming becoming more-and-more scientifically unteniable, I feel that those who would be our masters (even more) are looking for the next great disaster to cause us to cede our rights.

  12. Trevor says:

    I think we’ll be fine from an EMP. The Sentinels won’t be so lucky. If it takes the Matrix offline, it could cause problems…

  13. Noah Moerbeek says:

    Is anyone scared that this is the 3 days of darkness that has been prophesied?

  14. my kidz mom says:

    Today heard Rush Limbaugh quoting this article and laughing about it. Perhaps he’ll have
    a transcript of his response on his website later.

  15. Trevor says:

    In all seriousness, I think solar weather could be a problem. Although, other articles I’ve read said that the really large storms happen every 500 years or so (and the last one happened in the mid-1800s).

    That would be a good sign for us.

  16. supertradmom says:

    We have friends who are stocking up on basic necessities such as rice, canned goods, etc. Our family cannot do that, as we do not make enough money to buy extra. We get by. I think that having faith means being ready to face Our Lord at whatever time He calls us. How many of our fathers and grandfathers were drafted for World War II and spent their youth in combat, as did my dad, who was in the Battle of the Bulge. He had to be ready spiritually, and so do we.

  17. Mary Jane says:

    I honestly don’t want to live in the Republic of Fear. Every day the media, the science establishment, the medical profession, not to mention the government and the financial services industry attempt to scare me to death.

    When I was in fourth grade, I worried about the sun burning out.

  18. Hanna says:

    Whenever I see a story like this, I think of the Y2K bug. Remember that? I had friends who were preparing for the end times.

  19. Kaneohe says:

    I live in rural Hawai`i – we have electricity but you can’t always rely on it so all of us have generators.

    We have NO County services such as sewers, water, or trash removal.

    We all have septic systems, all collect rain water in catchment tanks and use purification systems, and we all manage to recycle and dispose of of trash at a local commmunity place.

    I have cable but only for an internet connection – not for TV. We do quite a bit of reading, right now it’s Bishop Sheen’s Life of Christ, Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars, and Moyra Doorly’s No Place for God – The denial of the transcendanent in modern church architecture.

    Life is very simple in rural Hawai`i.

    So my question is: should I implement a move to Austin TX or stay put?

  20. Daniel Jackson says:

    Easy problem to solve, just load the ZPM onto the Daedalus and use it to project the shield off the bow so as to deflect the coronal mass ejection, saving the planet. All in a day’s work for the SGC…

  21. leo says:

    Yay!
    Wonderful!
    Enter the new Baroque age!
    Carriages instead of cars…
    Letters instead of eMail…
    Candles instead of light-bulbs…
    Viola and harpsichord instead of keyboard and bass-guitar…
    Princes instead on managers…
    Peasants instead of mall-rats…
    And who needs those medical advances anyways?

  22. Simon Platt says:

    Hanna – it’s possible.

    Trevor – “every 500 years or so” is probably the estimated average period for the largest events, but I don’t think they’re regular or predictable.

    Mark – the Quebec event I think you mean was about 20 years ago. I think the big event in the 19th century to which you refer was the Carrington event, as mentioned in the New Scientist article.

    Kaneohe should get by, I think.

  23. Jacques says:

    The melting down of the whole power grid including our own domestic power connections would be a more acceptable hypothesis for the next coming chastisement prophesied by the Akita apparitions (and probably those of Fatima), than an ET invasion or an asteroid strike.
    It would take years to completely rebuild the high voltage and long distance wirings, the power plants electric generators, the nuclear plants control systems, etc… much more time than is needed for our democratic societies to collapse definitely.
    This would result in humbling the richest countries while having a smaller impact on the poorest ones and bringing both almost to the same levels.
    This would have a few benefits, for example the greenhouse gases concentration increase would be stopped at once. The manual works would be better retributed. And best of all, people would revert to God and to the true Faith, leaving once and for all their confidence in the Science and in the everlasting cult of the “Progress”

  24. JohnK says:

    Unlike man-made global warning, which is implausible and has no precedent, the solar storm scenario described in the NASA/NAS report is more than plausible; it has already happened. The sun does do this — has done it. Which is to say, at some point, just like we count on 100-year floods happening every once in awhile, we can count on another solar storm of a magnitude similar to the previous event. Repeat: we can count on it. The difference is that, since the last bad solar storm, we’ve built so much more stuff ‘in the flood plain’, so to speak.

    As anybody (with any sense) who lives in a flood plain knows: 100-year floods happen. Just because they haven’t happened for awhile doesn’t mean they won’t, somewhere down the line. All the wishful thinking in the world doesn’t fool Mother Nature one little bit.

    Mr. Shannon Love over at Chicago Boyz discusses why we need “disaster-resistant energy sources” here and <a href=”http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/6415.html”here, and what they might look like.

    As Mr. Love points out, “increased use of solar and wind power will increase this sensitivity to solar disruption.” That is, solar and wind are very ‘fragile’ energy sources. They are the opposite of what we want to do if we want to move toward more disaster-resistant energy sources.

  25. JohnK says:

    Unlike man-made global warning, which is implausible and has no precedent, the solar storm scenario described in the NASA/NAS report is more than plausible; it has already happened. The sun does do this — has done it. Which is to say, at some point, just like we count on 100-year floods happening every once in awhile, we should count on another solar storm of a magnitude similar to the previous event. Repeat: we can count on it. The difference is that, since the last bad solar storm, we’ve built so much more stuff ‘in the flood plain’, so to speak.

    As anybody (with any sense) who lives in a flood plain knows: 100-year floods happen. Just because they haven’t happened for awhile doesn’t mean they won’t, somewhere down the line. All the wishful thinking in the world doesn’t fool Mother Nature one little bit.

    Mr. Shannon Love over at Chicago Boyz discusses why we need “disaster-resistant energy sources” here and here, and what they might look like.

    As Mr. Love points out, “increased use of solar and wind power will increase this sensitivity to solar disruption.” That is, solar and wind are very ‘fragile’ energy sources. They are the opposite of what we want to do if we want to move toward more disaster-resistant energy sources.

  26. DocJim says:

    I had the occasion this morning to discuss this with an engineer who attended a recent (few weeks ago) meeting about redoing the electrical grid. He explained that there is a particularly vulnerable area from Quebec to Massachusetts where long power lines from Canadian hydroelectric power puts long, long runs of heavy lines that are ORIENTED in the same direction as the earth’s magnetic field. So blobs of plasma from the sun can stir things up from Quebec to Massachusetts.

    Since there is a lot of interconnection with the rest of the US, there is SOME anxiety.

    BTW, he says the grid cannot be safely made better with computer control around the whole USA–hackers can and will chew it up. The Obama administration is setting up another giant fund to help some company which will get a grant to “do this” and won’t be able to do so realistically.

    (The electronic health record is not only touted, but funded. The man who will be in charge praised it in 03/27/09 New England Journal of Medicine this wondrous event. His work for past few years has been sponsored by GE (yes, General Electric) who has a “certified” ready to use (expensive) electronic health record system.)

    This is called crony capitalism, where govt sponsors “wonderful” new programs that make lots of money for a friendly corporation at the taxpayers expense.

    Kaneohe has the right idea. Stay where you are and avoid Austin, Texas. They have plenty of sunshine for solar panels, but they remain too expensive. They also have natural gas that can run electric generators, but you cannot count on it as low cost or in times of great national stress. (WInd power is available, but it is mostly a joke there.)

  27. Hanna says:

    Simon-
    Oh I don’t think it’s not possible. I’m just not about to freak out about it. I’ve lived without electricity for long periods before, and I keep a well stocked pantry anyway. I’ve just learned to be skeptical of the “scientists”, so often they don’t know as much as they think they do. If it did happen, it might not be as bad as all that. Eventually it will be the end of the world, but a lot of people have already been wrong about when and how.

  28. Father James Reynolds, STL says:

    Father “Z”:
    Being an electrical engineer and a technologist before receiving Holy Orders, I must comment that the scenario that you and the US National Academy of Sciences predict as the eventual future is a wee bit over the top. [Will you point out the words in which I "predict" this is going to happen?]
    Remember, please, that the calamity presented in that article by US National Academy of Sciences says that it COULD happen — not it WILL happen, or there’s a (NN)% probability that it is inevitable.
    So, everyone: Take a deep breath and calm down. And recall the panic and economic apocalypse promised by certain pundits predicting doom as the year 2000 approached? In case you’ve forgotten that false prophecy:
    Trillions of dollars were supposed to be lost;
    The entire global financial enterprise was supposed to collapse;
    Billions of penniless people were going to die from hunger;
    And yada, yada, yada.
    How many people were frightened into believing that vision of technological/financial Armageddon? And . . . it never came. The year 1999 lapsed peacefully into 2000, with nary a peep.
    When the Lord decides to bring the curtain down on the present age, I believe the Holy Spirit will send a message to prepare us: through the Church’s modern prophets.
    So, as I urged above: Everyone take a deep breath and calm down. Keep your faith that God will not let His Holy People go “poof” into that dark night

  29. Jim of Bowie says:

    Father
    When are you going to blog about the ending of BSG?

  30. DocJim says:

    Father James Reynolds touts his credentials as an electrical engineer. My source was a senior engineer at the Federal Power Commission and he continues to be involved in the work of the electrical grid.

    My source this morning thought the idea was a BIT over the top, but he says it has indeed caused serious problems several times with moderate blobs of plasma streaming out of those “sun spots.” He does not believe it will be as widespread in terms of maximum severity as “every where” on the earth that “faced” the solar storm.

    True, there is not reason for quick panic. Over the next few years, being ready for protracted loss of electric power in vast areas is a real threat. For me, pushing all my office records to scanned pdf files is not looking as good this week.

  31. Simon Platt says:

    Dear Father R.,

    I’m an electrical engineer, too, and I work in radiation effects – studying failures caused by phenomena like cosmic rays and solar particle emissions. Now I have to admit that I don’t work in this particular field of geomagnetic effects, but the basic scenarios seem pretty plausible to me. We saw something similar on a small scale in 1989.

    Of course the New Scientist article is sensational, but the groups looking at space weather protection do need to consider likely worst cases. I agree that the y2k thing was synthetic, but I don’t think this is. I think a big space weather storm is inevitable. We don’t know when it will come, but I’m sure it will come. This story seems to me to be about prudent contingency planning – although spiced up by journalists, to be sure. I shall read the report with interest.

    Mind you, I quite agree that no one should worry about this. The engineers concerned should make sure that their systems are robust, and the rest of us should get on with our lives.

  32. Jim: When are you going to blog about the ending of BSG?

    ARE THE CYLONS COMING TOO?!?

  33. my kidz mom says:

    Lighten up y’all, and read Rush’s analysis of this article:
    http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_032609/content/01125107.guest.html

  34. opey124 says:

    It would be hard, but I am sure we could make do. We did something similar during Katrina, but not to that extend. Those solar flares have already taken Brazil off grid, forget what year so it is a great possibility. I like solar weather and keeping up with it. They claim these flare ups also affect water, such as toilets. Very interesting.

  35. Damien Horn says:

    My take as an electrical engineer and former Air Force officer is that intense solar flares could put us in a world of hurt. Of course, this depends on the length and intensity of the flares and where they strike.

    According to Fox News, the telegraph went out 1869 due to solar flares so there some history of this. EMP would have similar effects but would probably be more regionalized versus solar flares, which might affect continents or a hemisphere.

    If electrical infrastructure is damaged, electric-powered machines, like water pumps for municipal water systems would be down, too. Suburbs and places more dense (like the eastern seaboard) will be vulnerable since people will need heating, cooling, and ventilation (many larger buildings don’t have windows that open, like hospitals); water for drinking and sanitation; food preservation and storage; food; cooking; waste disposal; etc. The problem isn’t day one; the challenge will be day 30. Plan to get outta Dodge early if your car works and even if it doesn’t.

  36. Anita says:

    Before Katrina we never really thought about it. The aftermath was horrible – don\’t get me wrong – but although the most extreme conditions lasted much longer than we had expected… We only had to make it three weeks without electricity, telephones, running water (drinkable or otherwise.. not a drop), transportation, news, access to food, or access to money. What REALLY caught our attention is that during that time there were rumors — some rather official rumors spread by local news radio — that we would have to continue in such conditions for months… some said as much as 14 months for some areas. It was a terrifying time.

    Ever since we have worked day by day not only to rebuild our house… but also to \’get off the grid\’ as much as possible in our suburban neighborhood. Rather than simply stock up on the standard supplies – we have begun collecting solar-powered radios, flashlights, and fans. We have been growing food and medicinals among the flowers in our gardens and I am learning how to can and dry it. I am also learning how to hand-sew. We have purchased a marine head (Oh MY how I wish we had had one of those back in September 2005) and are planning on having a deep-water hand-pump well dug on the property (We will tell the neighbors it is decorative…). We CONSTANTLY ask ourselves what we would do if the world that we are used to just stopped tomorrow… (It has happened for us before, afterall) and what we would do. I truly believe this is an exercise for all of us.

    Oddly enough – I had started a blog post on this very topic this morning that I never got around to finishing.. Thanks, Fr. Z, for bringing it up! :)

  37. Ger says:

    Prepared? ready ofr it? storing up provisions?
    I pray that I have my daily bread, not a six-month supply…

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  38. Jerry says:

    There are military weapons that can have the same effect though on a smaller scale per attack.

  39. Trevor says:

    Simon Platt,

    The article I read actually said scientists can track when the Earth experienced large solar storms. Supposedly, the radiation collects at the poles (hence the auroras). During particularly large storms, the raditation will affect nitrogen atoms, which are then deposited in the ice. By boring deep into the ice, scientists can determine when the Earth experienced large solar storms. The 1850s event (which saw auroras near the equator) was the largest in the past 500 years (and for that reason the “500 year mark was chosen).

    Of course, the Sun is a giant fusion bomb, so we currently don’t know how to predict flares. So its quite possible we could see a large storm in our lifetime, although its just as possible that we won’t.

  40. Simon Platt says:

    Dear Trevor,

    Thanks for the link to the NASA website. I had not seen that. You can see a facsimile of Carrington’s original paper online, too. Here is the link to Carrington’s paper.

  41. Simon Platt says:

    Oops, sorry.

    Now that I have actually gone to read your reference, I find that it links to mine. They’re very helpful, these NASA people.

  42. I was a Cub Scout in the early 1960s, when we viewed one of those Civil Defense films, the kind that talk about the Bomb and fallout shelters. I can’t imagine why they felt it necessary to show us this stuff at our age. But that night, I went home very unsettled. I told my father that I was scared that something like this might happen. He said: “We trust in God that he will know what is good for us.” Something like that. I’ve been listening to dire predictions of one thing or another for years. At the end of 1999, there was a rented building in Washington, near the White House, where government employees from various agencies manned the phones to monitor a possible national or global emergency. There are many things that could happen in 2012. Among them are things that have been possible before, either with or without fulfillment. Of at least one of them, “thou knowest neither the day nor the hour.”

  43. Immaculatae says:

    This being said, perhaps we should also donate generously to help bank supplies for those men and women living in holy monasteries, and those in seminaries.

    On a lighter note we also need to think of the BirdZ :)
    Hopefully we won’t have to eat them in the future.

  44. Ohio Annie says:

    David, you are probably remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis year. the year of the famous film “Duck and Cover.” i remember thinking what little cover my desk would provide from heat as hot as the sun.

  45. Irish says:

    Miracle of the Sun, anyone? The date of September 22 is off by a couple of weeks. Try Oct 13, 2012. I’ve always had the impression that the Miracle of the Sun experienced by tens of thousands at Fatima was a taste of what would happen if the sun sent a powerful flare or “plasma ball” our way. Maybe that’s how the chastisement begins.

  46. Ohio Annie:

    The affair with Cuba happened in October 1962, when I was making my first Communion. I recall we were asked to offer it up for the sake of world peace. My experience with Cub Scouting was shortly thereafter.

    And for what it’s worth, it was in Ohio.

  47. priest up north says:

    Could this be the “fire will fall from the sky, killing the greater portion of humanity” that Our Lady of Akita gave warning over? For a long time, I considered the “fire from the sky” the nuclear threat, especially because of the N. Korea proximity to Japan and the site of the apparition. This possiblity seems much more global than even N. Korea could do…

  48. Ohio Annie says:

    david, i was outside NYC that year, surely a primary target. My desk seemed very flimsy. And i wasn’t in a church then either!

  49. LarryD says:

    I just don’t like the fact that it’s predicted for September 2012. That means Obama would call off the election and we’d have him for 4 more years!