How Fragile is Modern Life

Life… an interesting word defined in many different ways. In thinking of the word life one needs to consider the many definitions given this most wonderful of words. Merriam – Webster defines life as “1a: the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body.” this is the definition all humans are familiar with. But Websters dictionary go’s on to give no less than twenty different descriptions, one of the more intriguing being “11: the form or pattern of something existing in reality”  But the definition of this word as used in the the phrase “this life we lead” or “the high life” is more an inventory of the environment in which thinking creatures exist. While biological life may indeed be thought somewhat fragile it is more the life we live in these times that arouses this cats curiosity today.

We live in a world surrounded by electronics, the “digital age” is the name we have given to these times. This cat has expounded on the wonders of modern living and on occasion has described it in less than flattering terms. Our reliance on automation has created a whole generation of digital information addicts who after finding an answer on the internet then often discard it without committing it to memory. Sort of a form of “lazy brain syndrome”, why learn something that can easily be “looked up” electronically. There are many who would be lost without their personal electronic devices, it is for them the very fabric of life. Sadly we no longer save information in that most remarkable of computers…  the human brain, relying instead on the ability to Google anything or to simply ask that phantom digital ghost  “Alexa” to find it for us. Most do not realize how fragile this system may be.

Everyone knows what an atom bomb is, as a youngster we were instructed to crawl under our desks during “air raid drills” held by the school. As I grew older, at about ten, I game to realize that this was a futile exercise. By the early 1960’s nuclear weapons had grown from kilotons to megatons making the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima a firecracker by comparison. Hiding under a cheap wooden school desk only meant that the last thing one would see would be the cheap linoleum tile covering the schoolroom floor. I had decided that if a thermonuclear explosion was going to be my last experience I wanted to see it. But nuclear weapons pose a greater and perhaps more insidious threat. When an atomic explosion takes place a huge EMP (electromagnetic pulse) is created, this massive surge of energy destroys all electrical and electronic devices in the “line of sight”. An enemy need not hit the target with such a weapon, all that is required to wreak havoc over a wide area is to detonate it in the upper atmosphere, the edge of space. The EMP will immediately wipe out all forms of electronic storage and communication. Goodbye Facebook, twitter, Google and Amazon. Your “Alexa” device will most likely utter one final “screech” as it is rendered useless and dies. I don’t know if children are still taught to grovel under their desks in the event of nuclear war, but should they survive they will crawl out from under that desk to a very different world.

Nuclear war is not the only threat to our digital society nature itself can end it all as well. Our beautiful yellow sun is a giant ongoing thermonuclear explosion sending gamma rays and electrical energy in our direction daily. Our atmosphere is a shield from the normal amount of “bad stuff” delivered to earth by the sun but sadly we are working diligently to destroy it as well. But it isn’t the “normal” stuff that should concern us, the sun has greater perils in store. That star that supplies us with life giving warmth and supplies plant life with the radiation required for photosynthesis can also deliver a death blow to all electrical systems. This comes in the form of an event known as a “coronal mass ejection” also known as a “Carrington event” named for the English astronomer who discovered it in 1859.  Put simply this is a massive ball of energy directed out into space and is only a danger if its direction is the earth. In 1859 when such an event did occur the only electrical system on our planet was the fledgling telegraph system which was instantly “fried”. All the telegraph wires were destroyed and several telegraph operators received severe electrical shocks. In today’s world this event would be catastrophic beyond measure. It would shutdown all public utilities, all electronic communication, it would destroy every computer, cell phone, and appliance on the planet. Every hard drive and memory stick would be wiped clean. The resulting struggle for resources among the people of the world would mean war on a scale never before seen on our planet. The military’s electronic assets are hardened against EMP’s and would likely survive the event. This might be to the detriment of the people as the ability to kill on a massive scale would remain intact. With the exception of the military mankind would be thrown back to a time before the industrial revolution.

This sounds like the script for a science fiction movie but unlike UFO’s and Bigfoot it is a very real thing. Scientific consensus places the likelihood of such an event between 2012 and 2022 at 12% which is a bit frightening. This phenomenon would not be fatal to animals or humans except those who rely on electronic medical devices to live. The only source of information outside of the military will be printed matter on real paper and that knowledge stored in the minds of human beings. This old cat has an affinity for real books (as stated in previous blog posts) and hope that should such an event occur enough of these will have survived to carry us through the dark age that will ensue. Teachers will be the most important people on earth and humanity’s only hope going forward. But this old cat has a reverence for teachers and believes that they are even now mankind’s salvation. On that final, hopeful note!

This is the somewhat scary Old Wet Cat saying “Meout”