Uncomfortably Close to the 19th Century

My whole career is about managing and mitigating risks. To do that effectively, one must size up the worst risks and put the emphasis on major risks that might reasonably occur. 

Two postings down, in the comments, I talk about U.S. society and U.S. government failing to deal with enormous risks while we put far too much emphasis on smaller risks. Turns out I’m not the only one thinking about the close call with this week’s solar flare.

We need to stop spending tens of billions on the TSA’s nonsense and the EAS and start hardening our electrical infrastructure. Think about it: Another Carrington Event and we are back in the 19th Century without the 19th Century infrastructure (i.e., gristmills that run on the currents from streams to make bread).

From Wikipedia

3 thoughts on “Uncomfortably Close to the 19th Century

  1. "Another Carrington Event and we are back in the 19th Century without the 19th Century infrastructure (i.e., gristmills that run on the currents from streams to make bread)."

    I presume the same would happen in the event of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, which some say would lead to the death of 90 percent — that's right, 90 PERCENT — of the U.S. population within 1 year!

    That seems kind of high to me — I realize people who are medically dependent on devices like pacemakers, etc. and on surgery or medical treatment that requires electrical power would be in big trouble; lack of refrigeration would lead to food shortages; plus there would be many deaths from accidents and violence as public order disintegrated (a la Katrina), but would that many able-bodied adults (and children who had someone to care for them) really not be able to last a full year?

    But even if that's an exaggerated estimate of a potential death toll, the question remains, why on earth are the powers that be not taking this issue MUCH more seriously?


  2. Hi Elaine,

    I don't know about the 90%, but 50% certainly seems possible in either a Carrington Event or an EMP attack.

    We know how to protect the electrical grid and appliances from EMP (regardless of source). Why we spend billions on the TSA and zero on this and other far bigger threats than airline hijackings is a complete mystery to me.

    If I had to speculate, I think part of it is "security theatre." The politicians are seen to be "doing something" about terrorism as long as there is a TSA. If they reign in the TSA and there is another attack, they fear their opponent will say they are "soft on terrorism."

    So, we get an ineffective TSA (there are still GAPING holes in airline security) which doesn't do anything (except theatre) and no dollars to mitigate real threats.


  3. (Note: My original comment said the flare was X1.5, but I misread – it was X1.9, sorry about that)
    X1.9 is a big flare for sure, but it is nothing compared to several other big ones that have had an actual effect. An X15 flare in 1989 for example caused the March geomagnetic storm that caused a blackout in Canada. A X20 flare the same year allegedly fried disk drives in Toronto stock exchange if New Scientist's article from that year is anything to go by. Now a real dodging of a bullet was in 2003 on 4th of November when an X28+(according to some sources even X45) flare occurred. Fortunately it was not aimed towards us. I dread to think what would have happened if it had been. As far as the recent activity goes… I am not quite sure that descending to hype is going to be helpful. X1.9 is hardly a Carrington event. That said if there was going to be one, we are in big big trouble. Now whether calling Carrington event an EMP as it is done in the linked blog is right either… well… I am having hard time finding phrases Carrington and EMP within a single article in the scientific literature. Perhaps someone can point me to some.