The Daily Gamecock

Congress disregards scientific community

Possible solar flare could cause massive damage, interrupt daily life

Sometime next year, scientists are predicting a solar maximum will hit the earth. It could shut down GPS, cellphones, airline communications, the power grid and even cause nuclear power plants to melt down if the maximum is big enough. Congress recently voted down a bill that would have protected the power grid for roughly $300 million. Scientists know this event is going to occur, the only question is how large it will be.
The sun runs on an 11-year cycle, and the sun is more active for roughly 5.5 years out of that cycle. While the sun is more active, the sun produces more sunspots and energy. Towards the end of the active period a large solar flare, called a solar maximum, is sometimes emitted. It’s essentially a huge magnetic storm with potentially harmful effects.
Scientists estimate if the solar maximum is as big as the one in 1859, called the Carrington Event, it could cause $1 trillion to $2 trillion in damage. In comparison, Hurricane Katrina caused $125 billion in damage. So it would seem that Congress should have some interest in protecting us from a possible disaster that could cause 10 times more damage than Hurricane Katrina.
The potential power emitted from this cosmic phenomenon is awe-inspiring. In fact, the Carrington Event caused such a surge in energy that telegraph machines could still send signals even after being unplugged from the wall. More recently, in 1989, a solar flare caused a geomagnetic storm that shut down a Quebec power station for 9 hours, and left 6 million people without power.
Now consider the consequences of a geomagnetic storm like the one in 1859 occurring now. With how integral energy is to everyday life, it could cause widespread chaos. Imagine no electricity, phones, computers or Internet. Transport of important goods like gas would become difficult with no way to communicate, and with no gas, this country would come to a standstill.
For these reasons, it makes sense that Congress would strongly look into protecting our power grid and store up extra transformers in case of a disaster.
Even if the solar maximum isn’t as devastating as it could be, we will have protected and modernized our power grid, which could have some other beneficial effects. First, our antiquated power grid could benefit from security and added redundancy in case of more common natural disasters like hurricanes and winter storms. Also, an updated power grid is crucial to preventing successful terrorist attacks utilizing Electromagnetic Pulses (EMP). Passing this bill would be a win-win situation for Congress with a very high benefit-to-cost ratio.
If this solar event is bad, politicians can boast exceptional foresight, and if not, then we are still well-prepared for possible technological warfare.


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