In 1859 a solar storm, a geomagnetic event, sent a gale of charged particles through the vacuum of outer space and towards Earth. This storm was so powerful that it knocked out the only form of telecommunication that existed at the time, the telegraph. Such powerful storms occur on average once every five hundred years. If such a storm were to happen today, it would knock out the Internet, GPS, and most forms of broadcasting.


The last time this happened, the world was a simpler place. People ate food that grew nearby. Financial markets were not highly leveraged. Nobody expected to be able to deal with the kind of complexity we rely upon today.


If GPS goes, so will air and ship travel. Tropical fruits could no longer be part of a North American or European diet. Where would we get coffee or chocolate? Tourism will vanish for a while.


So will international banking and most trade. If the Internet goes, people will keep trying to log on to find out what’s going on. The organizations and systems the Internet replaced would have to be resurrected. That would take some time. During this period of crisis, it would not be unusual for other, bigger crisis to emerge. A Perfect Storm of problems, which could combine to amplify the sum effect and result in real catastrophe. 


When famine occurs, it doesn’t take as long as you might assume to lose a lot of people. It’s a matter of weeks until the tipping point is reached. And then bodies start piling up, usually on street corners, left there during the night. We don’t have much experience of this in the West, but in the East they’ve had plenty.


One would have to be foolish to think that such an event will never occur. Of course it’s not a case of “if” but “when.” So what are we doing to prepare for this day?


In a simpler era, amateur radio operators offered some form of mass communications during emergencies, but if this happens, I think we’re going to be looking at mayhem. Most of us no longer own a radio, much less a short wave radio. I used to be able to send and receive morse code, but that was a long time ago, and today my telegraph key lies moldering in some Midwestern antique store.


I do, however, still remember the morse code for SOS.