As morbid as it is, we just can’t seem to get enough of doomsday scenarios. And we’re not just talking about movies. There’s a recent TV series that joined in on the trend too — History Channel’s “Doomsday: 10 Ways the World Will End”.
A killer asteroid, a super massive black hole, a rogue planet, a volcanic mega eruption, nuclear war, a gamma ray burst from 2 colliding stars, a solar storm, the Earth falling out of orbit, an alien invasion, and deep sea disaster caused by ocean currents coming to a complete stop.
Any of these events can wipe out our race — in the physical sense. And that’s considered a given. But then, there happen to be financial implications too. And that’s something we never get to think about because we’re too busy processing the idea that it’s the end of the world.
This is the focus of a new study published in Space Weather, a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Specifically, the research discusses the potential cost should the world get hit by a cataclysmic solar storm.
What exactly is a solar storm? Solar storms actually occur all the time on the sun’s surface, and ejection of charged particles into space as a result of these storms is quite common too. Occasionally, some of these particles head in our direction, but we don’t get affected because we are protected by the Earth’s magnetic shield known as the magnetosphere. So how can a solar storm become a global killer? It might not affect us directly, but it will destroy our technology. And that’s what will kill us.
For starters, a powerful solar storm can destroy our orbiting satellites, disrupting our lines of communication. And then it can cause widespread power outages, leaving us without electricity. And as we are in the digital age, no electricity practically means we can’t function, and everything in our daily lives becomes affected. Even our most basic need, that’s food, will become endangered because without electricity to run freezers and refrigerators, all perishable food items will soon get spoiled, and everyone will have to survive on the remaining produce and canned goods.
And that’s just a general thought. In terms of dollar figures, the study says that the effect of an extreme blackout will result in economic losses amounting to $41.5 billion on the domestic side, plus another $7 billion on the international supply chain side. And that’s just one day for the U.S. alone. Multiply that by the number of days without electricity in a scenario where we’re not even sure if we can still restore electricity at all, and we’ll soon be looking at a hungry and bankrupt world.
Of course it’s an extreme scenario. Because that’s exactly why it’s considered a doomsday event. But it’s not like we haven’t seen an actual preview of what a solar storm can do to us.
There’s the 1859 “Carrington Event“, wherein a powerful solar flare produced a CME (coronal mass ejection) that sped through Earth, causing a rain of solar particles, low-altitude auroras, and electricity surges that resulted in fires, equipment damage, and some minor injuries. Then in 1989, a strong solar storm destroyed the Hydro-Quebec power grid, causing a 9-hour blackout in Quebec.
Those events are far from being catastrophic, but a world-threatening solar storm is always a possibility. And like other disasters, it’s better to have some kind of contingency plan than be caught totally unprepared.
In a statement issued, Edward Oughton, one of the co-authors of the study, said: “We felt it was important to look at how extreme space weather may affect domestic U.S. production in various economic sectors, including manufacturing, government and finance, as well as the potential economic loss in other nations owing to supply chain linkages.”
This is the main idea behind the study done. A fighting chance, no matter how small, will always be better than no chance at all.