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David Brin

David Brin
San Diego, California, USA
October 06
Bio David Brin’s novels have been translated into more than twenty languages, including New York Times Best-sellers that won Hugo and Nebula awards. His 1989 ecological thriller, Earth, foreshadowed cyberwarfare, the World Wide Web, global warming and Gulf Coast flooding. A 1998 Kevin Costner film was loosely adapted from his post-apocalyptic novel, The Postman. ............................................ Brin is a noted scientist, futurist and speaker who appears frequently on television (Life After People, The Universe), discussing trends in the near and far future, on subjects such as surveillance, technology, astronomy, and SETI. His non-fiction book, The Transparent Society, deals with issues of openness and security in the wired-age. ............................................. David Brin web site: Twitter: Facbook:

APRIL 14, 2011 3:30PM

Our Worst Frailty - An Electro Magnetic "Hit"

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The Electric Infrastructure Security (EIS) Council agitates for better infrastructure protection against electromagnetic threats.  EMPACT America is a bipartisan, non-profit NGO for citizens concerned about protecting the American people from a nuclear or natural electromagnetic pulse (EMP) catastrophe.  

This is serious and sobering stuff. The EMP-vulnerability of our electric grid, our machines, transportation systems, tools and homes, is probably the most glaring, "acute-impact" threat on our horizon.6a0133ecdff3fb970b0133f2d85da1970b-800wi

To be clear, we face other dangers of a chronic nature, for example the need to develop sustainable energy to escape dependence upon foreign oil-masters and to possibly save the planet. Educating a smarter generation and rescuing our decaying infrastructure also matter a great deal, over the longer time scale. But acute-impact threats fall into another category. They are events that could possibly knock us flat in a single day, or instant. Those of us with memories of the Cold War know how it feels to be constantly aware of a Damoclean Sword, hanging overhead..

 By that standard, an EMP calamity ranks higher than anything else visible on the horizon - unlike the trumped-up panic and distraction that were foisted upon us over "terrorism."*  (We could have suffered a 9/11 hit every month for the last ten years and still maintained a vibrant, healthy civilization. Our parents suffered worse in WWII. It was one long scam.)

There are two possible ways that we might be hit by an EMP pulse strong enough to cripple a continent.

1) Natural cycles can apparently lead to the sort of solar flares that did little to disturb our ancestors - other than creating scary-gorgeous aurorae - but that could devastate an electricity-dependent civilization. For example, the "Carrington Event" of 1859 and another large solar storm in 1921 show that such things happen fairly frequently, and we've been lucky, so far.

Even lesser events can wreak havoc. According to a report in IEEE Spectrum: "In March 1989, such a geomagnetic disturbance took down the entire Hydro-Québec power grid, leaving six million customers in the Canadian province without electricity for 9 hours, and also knocked out power stations in the Northeastern United States. That disturbance occurred at one peak of an 11-year solar cycle,"

A Congressional EMP Commission report recently estimated that a once-in-a-hundred- years solar flare could cause $1-2 trillion worth of damage, if the electric grid went down for weeks. Worse, if most truck transport failed, millions of Americans might simply starve.

2) A devastating electromagnetic pulse can also be man-made. Already, more than half a dozen nuclear-armed nations have missile capabilities that - now or soon - would tempt them to try knocking out Pax Americana with a single blow.  Just one warhead, detonated high over North America, could cause untold amounts of EMP chaos. Weighing the scenarios, this is a no-brainer. Sending such a missile to take out one US city would be a nasty hit, but it would leave us almost intact and ready for vengeance. But knocking us back to the stone age? Far more tempting, whether it is realistic or not.  

With the number of nuclear armed states rising, is that a temptation we really want to be left on the table?

At recent congressional hearings on the matter, several agency heads agreed with the assessment that "it is now a matter of if, but of when." According to Lifeboat Foundation member Paul Werbos: "One official said, after looking at the report, that $1-2 trillion was a ridiculously low estimate of the risk. 'Yes, we
have three months food stockpiled, but with electricity out for more than three days, it will all go bad. And how long can we live without water?"

"So there was serious talk of the end of civilization (their words) and of more than half the US population dying (and likewise other nations), and so on. Franks, a staunch conservative from the oil business, basically said "hey folks, this is no CO2 thing, this is real..."

Werbos continues: "And so stakeholders will take strong and vigorous action. In the face of 2012, there will be stakeholder' s meetings. And maybe some education campaigns. And a few more spare transformers. But will anyone install the relatively simple isolators to protect transformers? Will the planning include anyone who knows what a transformer IS? And all of the usual complex ways of doing nothing useful all come into play, in all the usual myriad of ways. It will be interesting to see whether a few meager bits of light can help.... maybe..."

Now, in full disclosure, let me say that I haven't really pored through the thousands of pages of material, and there is certainly a lot I still have to learn about this topic, as it has evolved since I last studied it.

But I have been talking about this general danger for 30 years, urging that a very small annual investment - perhaps as little as fifty million dollars a year, plus some arm-twisting with industry - could equip our grid and our vital tools to bear the brunt of such an event.

The best time to act on this was decades ago.  The second best time is now.


*Other than a contractor greed-fest and wasting a trillion dollars on draining, debilitating "nation-building" land wars of attrition in Asia.

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This was very interesting and points out vulnerabilities that few seem to have thought of. I have personally thought ahead in many ways and even had discussions with others about the "day" everything grinds to a halt, and how it would be. Not much sense in balancing the budget if the lights go out.

I used to invest in a company called Distributed Enegry Systems Corporation (DESC).
Their product converted either water to hydrogen and oxygen given electrical stimulation or stored hydrogen and air to electricity both via it's patented proprietary "PEM" or "Proton Exchange Membrane".
First the CEO of Oxbow Energy, a massive and very highly capitalized company resigned to take over as CEO of DESC
for no apparent reason, then the chief investor in Oxbow, one T. Boone Pickens fought over it for about a year with Perseus LLC
Financial Group (George Soros money) and then the company under the former Oxbow CEO John Cherry folded being taken over by un-named lien holders, leaving the stock-holders (like me) holding the bag.
The point is once again a technology that produced storable energy for reconversion to actual power for use on-site was warehoused into oblivion.
If energy production didn't then need to be distributed because it's on site of use already then national security is incredibly strengthened by that decentralization, but the control-freaks can't control you with it either.
EMPs range the whole spectrum of amplitude and frequencies.

Neutron bombs were developed in the US American psychosis era of militant anti-communism. They were developed so that only a target area's living organisms were annihilated , not buildings, roads, dams and physical infrastructures. Who knows, maybe the U.S. government legal staff has therefore not designated neutron bombs to be weapons of mass destruction because the only mass materially, constitutionally transformed by a neutron bomb EMP is the bomb itself.

But then that may not be true...a neutron bomb exploded close enough to a nuclear reactor and or a nuclear waste storage area could conceivably initiate an explosion whose effects on the evolution of Life on Earth could be more drastically consequential than have been the effects of the alleged asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.
The most severe Life-consequential EMPs are from Space...gamma-ray bursts from imploding/exploding stars and galaxies years, likely millions of years, ago could instantaneously wipe all of Life off the incoming face of Earth any series of seconds now, beginning yesterday or many thousands of years ago, with no no warning whatsover...only after the initial gamma ray pulse would visible light from the long ago galactic event pass by Earth.

EMP "bombs" can be used to render useless any microchip dependent device or machine...not just temporarily, but until all the corrupted chips are replaced.
There are recent developments in solar power technology to increase its efficiency and reduce its costs and move to alternate techniques for converting solar radiation to electricity so that the current dependence on centralized electrical distribution may become obsolete in the very long run. If course, this does not mitigate the danger to operating electronic devices from military radiation but decentralization might make the disaster repairable more easily and quickly.
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This is an awesome site, very informative. I wanted to let you guys know, there's a guy named Bronius Cikotas, he was a regular Armed Forces Staff College guest lecturer on EMP threat and survivability issues. He's going to be on a Radio Show Wednesday the 20th. I know he's going to be talking about ways to survive EMP hits and different things with food and stuff. If you want to check it out, here's the link!!