Monday, January 19, 2009

Nightmares and reality

Sometimes the science stories I come across make a strong impression on me. The latest literally gave me nightmares...

Yesterday I listened to one of my favourite podcasts, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe (episode 182), and they were discussing a recent report that there could be a serious solar storm in the next few years, possibly in 2012. Such a storm, a electromagnetic bubble emerging from the sun to engulf the earth, could disrupt electrical systems and communications networks, and even cause fires. If it were severe enough, it could effectively destroy all the electronics throughout the world, throwing our civilization back into the dark ages.

The news items I have found suggest that we can prepare for such a possibility by protecting vital electronic systems. Whether that will actually be done in time is another matter. It seems difficult to find funding to protect against future risks of any sort, even earthquakes and hurricanes, which happen more often than solar storms.

My nightmare drew on familiar themes from many apocalyptic science fiction scenarios I have read. I was waiting for the solar storm to hit, getting news of whole cities burning, before the airwaves fell silent and the power failed. I knew that life would never be the same again.

I cannot imagine myself surviving long in a post-technological world, and that is not the life I have been aiming for. Like most people, I have based my life's plans, hopes and actions on the assumption that our current level of technological development will increase, and that the future will be generally similar to the present, or better in various ways. I am normally optimistic, but it seems that my subconscious has been primed to fear this sort of threat, by both my eclectic reading and my experiences of living through war and terrorism. There are moments when it does not seem irrational to fear the total and irreversible end of life as we know it...

From my reading I know that it is likely that if our civilization collapses (due to war or natural disasters), it will be incredibly difficult to recreate. First, the knowledge necessary would quickly be lost, since survival of the fittest would take over and our scientists are not necessarily among the strongest and most willing to fight... More importantly, it is likely that the remaining natural resources of the planet would be insufficient, now, to start rebuilding a modern civilization. This is one reason why it is imperative to get the human race out into space as soon as possible. All our eggs are in one basket, meaning that all the genetic material of our species is on one small planet.

Let us hope that neither natural events nor human stupidity can lead to the total destruction of our species.

1 comment:

Ivor Ludlam said...

To test your theory, I put all our eggs in one basket and placed them in the microwave at a temperature I calculated would approximate to a solar bubble.
My question is: does this count as human stupidity? I'll be out when you get back home.