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The sun is the source of most energy on earth; yet whilst it provides us with energy, which is vital to our survival, it can also take energy away from us, and leave us in darkness.
Solar storms are common occurrences, and whilst they are normally small affairs that have ltitel impact on our daily lives more than displaying a few bright colours in auroras across the sky; a giant solar storm could easily exceed the worst natural disasters ever faced.
Richard Andres, the program director of Energy and Environmental Security Policy at the National Defense University, painted a grisly picture to the Earth Magazine of the effects of a giant solar storm hitting the mainland US.
“Let’s just posit for the moment that we lost power in a large region of the United States for a few months or years. Immediately, most commerce shuts down. A few shops might be open and use cash, but as a general rule commerce stops immediately.”
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Some petrol stations have backup generators, but most would stop being able to pump fuel. Refineries and pipelines would all stop working, meaning that all hydrocarbons are stuck wherever they are. Most cities use electric pumps for distributing water, so taps would dry up. ATMs and banks would all stop distributing cash, and then a little later on all phones and communication devices would stop working.
About three days after the blackout began, households would start to run out of food. After five days the “police, firefighters and other emergency responders [would] start to leave their jobs to go home and protect their families, and people would attempt to find food and water wherever they could to feed their families, so we think there would be a breakdown of social order.”
John Kappenman, an electrical engineer who has spent decades studying the U.S. power grid’s vulnerability to geomagnetic activity, stated that all nuclear reactors would shut down and coolant systems would go offline, leading to nuclear meltdown for most reactors.
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All of this may seem farfetched, and bit doomsday, end of the world kind of talk, but it is still a possibility, and this year more than ever. Later in 2013 the suns activity will peak and lead to greater solar flares, and billion ton coral mass ejections which can cause huge magnetic fields. In fact it has happened before.
150 years ago, a huge solar storm, known as the Carrington Event, hit earth causing fires and electrical overloads to the young telegraph cables of the era; the damage was little due to the fact that technology was incredibly rare.
Now a days, standard solar storms cause around $3 billion a year in damage. A 2008 report by the National Research Council estimates that a flare on the scale of the Carrington Event could cost $1 to $2 trillion in the first year, and take between four and ten years for a full recovery.
Whilst the chances of such an event are very low, around two and three percent a year, the devastation that such an event actually causes means that preventative measures should be taken now, or at least a plan for survival should it ever happen. Technology has improved our standard of living dramatically over the years, but it has also made us vulnerable if the that technology should ever stop working.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com