Cheap Seats 2016
A Threat Unlike Any Other - 08/31By Rich Trzupek
We Americans spend an awful lot of time worrying about crap that doesn’t actually matter, like climate change, cops supposedly hunting minorities for sport and how hell freezing over would affect our lives should the Cubs get into the World Series.
But, there is one threat out there, hanging out in the sky a mere 93 million miles away, that could fling civilized societies back to the stone age in an instant, with billions dying all around the globe. Should it happen the survivors will – and should – pound their heads against a wall shouting “stupid! – stupid! – stupid!” because this would have been a preventable catastrophe. It’s high time that we took steps to prevent it.
On September 1, 1859 an amateur British astronomer by the name of Richard Carrington noticed an unusually large cluster of sunspots on the sun. Suddenly, Carrington observed “two patches of intensely bright and white light” erupting from the cluster.
What Carrington witnessed was the second of two massive solar flares that occurred that summer. The first blast hit the earth on August 28, 1859, rendering many telegraph lines inoperable, shocking some telegraphers and starting small fires.
When Carrington’s flare hit on September 2, the results were even more spectacular, as well as more frightening. An excerpt from an article at History.com concerning what became known as “the Carrington Event” describes the science-fiction like drama that unfolded:
“Newspapers from France to Australia featured glowing descriptions of brilliant auroras that had turned night into day. One eyewitness account from a woman on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina ran in the Charleston Mercury: “The eastern sky appeared of a blood red color. It seemed brightest exactly in the east, as though the full moon, or rather the sun, were about to rise. It extended almost to the zenith. The whole island was illuminated. The sea reflected the phenomenon, and no one could look at it without thinking of the passage in the Bible which says, ‘the sea was turned to blood.’ The shells on the beach, reflecting light, resembled coals of fire.”
The sky was so crimson that many who saw it believed that neighboring locales were on fire. Americans in the South were particularly startled by the northern lights, which migrated so close to the equator that they were seen in Cuba and Jamaica.”
In retrospect, the Carrington Event seems almost whimsical. It was a spectacular demonstration of the sun’s power, but nobody really got hurt and life soon returned to normal. One might even be tempted to claim that we had taken the worst the sun had to offer and came through just fine, or to dismiss the Carrington Event as a quirk – spectacular to be sure, but unlikely to occur again.
Both views are not only wrong, they are dangerously wrong. Earth dodged a Carrington-sized solar flare by the cosmic equivalent of a hair’s breadth as recently as 2011.
Our modern electrical grid is far, far more vulnerable than the still primitive telegraphic networks of 1859. The soft spot involves high-voltage transformers. We know it, our enemies know it and presumably whomever is in charge of operating the sun these days knows it as well.
Moving electricity over long distances is most efficiently done at relatively high voltages. The vast majority of end users can’t utilize high voltage power for any practical purpose. Accordingly, the grid relies on huge step-down transformers to reduce voltage and thus make affordable, usable power to its customers.
There are something around 300 large, critical transformers currently in service in the United States. The vast majority of these would be rendered permanently inoperable should a massive solar flare hit the earth, or should fanatic opponents utilize an EMP pulse to cripple electrical infrastructure. If that happened, America would be powerless. We don’t have back up transformers available at that size and building new ones would take years. Taking out those transformers would destroy American and all it has stood for.
There is a cost effective prevention measure available. We know which transformers are critical to the survival of the electrical grid in America, we know how to armor them so they are invulnerable to solar flares of terrorist EMP attacks. The only thing that is lacking is uniting the parties and their ideological champions on this issue so we can do what desperately needs to be done, as quickly as we can possibly do it.
For more information, please visit armorgrid.org, Ken Hoagland’s non-partisan website that he uses to raise awareness of the needed to harden our grid and the many threats that could exploit any of its current vulnerabilities.