Earth

earth

 

 

Those who no longer relate to the Earth must change or we all perish

 

Montague Plains

The Montague Plain

drives some of us insane

not much to look at

blessed habitat

alluvial plain without

capital gain

green, serene

no infernal machine

and the pain of loss

will not be condoned.

This human cannot speak

for the land

only of the land

there is no rhyme

no sensible reason

takers looming

colonial concepts

own the water

scar the land

split the atoms!

Enough failed ideas

to fill a pipeline

one end to another

one that will not be

laid here, in this ground

as long as we stand here.

 

– d.o.

 

 

#########################

So Much Faith in Electrons

by D.O. Ogden

When the great library of Alexandria was burned, twice, we can only
imagine the results of such a loss of knowledge to the world. It seems
both the pagan, Julies Caesar and a horde of fanatic Christians can be
blamed for these violations, but regardless of the perpetrators the
acts were atrocities of unimaginable consequences. Six hundred years
of collective knowledge going back countless generations, lost. What
could be compared to that? Where else in the so-called Cradle of
Civilization could such a wealth of information exist? It must have
seemed as if the world had, in some way, ended.

You may be thinking something like that could never happen today given
the distribution and duplication of information in the Digital Age is
so pervasive. You may be correct. However, much of the printed
material that has built up over the centuries is now either being
uploaded digitally (some of it already having been microfilmed) or
being inadequately stored or simply dumped. We can only wonder at how
many publications or public records have been shredded and turned into
cellulose insulation or pulp for new issues of say, “The Paper of
Record”? It is conceivable that the insulation sitting in the rafters
of some new or remodeled library is made of materials that were once
on the shelves.

This is indeed The Age of Information, but much of it is increasingly
found in an unsubstantial form. Something you cannot put your hands
upon. You can put your hands on an E-book (in fact one third of all
new books sold these days in the western world are electronic), but
you cannot touch the contents. All those sentences, all those words
and the order they are put in are intangible, ghosts of the written
word. This is also the case with our own personal histories, our notes
and family photos are often found on devices rather than in diaries,
letters and family albums. Likewise, records of personal information
such as birth, marriage and death certificates; licenses; permits;
applications; so much of it transferred from paper (if it ever existed
on paper) to electrons.

Information corporations like Google boast of uploading every book
ever written into the cloud or wherever. That’s a fascinating
endeavor, adding all the more to the growing mystique surrounding our
digital existence. Of course it’s not just a sense of awe that
supports and promotes the increasing use of electronics to move and
store information and media in the 21st century. We have also
developed an all too familiar trust, even arrogance concerning the
reliability and permanence of digitally accessible information. Just
as we labor under the notion that our daily routines will pretty much
continue as they have for the foreseeable future, that our communities
will remain, our homes still stand, our family and friends live on, we
also believe our technologies will carry on…..until they don’t. A
tornado takes out our house or half the neighborhood. Dear friends
drop dead without warning. Employers outsource our jobs. Nothing is
forever, except perhaps the Sun rising and setting every day, though
we’re told even that will end at some distant point in time.

For now, the Sun goes on shinning, sometimes more than others. We know
it’s a really bad idea to look directly at the Sun for more than a few
seconds. It is so powerful that it can literally blind you. If you
stay out in the sunshine for too long without protective clothing it
can also burn your skin. The Sun fades your fabrics, degrades your
roof, cracks your paint or, on a more positive note, it warms you,
powers your home and heats your water. But there is something else the
Sun can do that brings us back to the beginning: it can burn down your
digital library.

In 1859, when some of us texted each other through telegraph wires,
something truly unexpected happened. The largest geomagnetic storm in
history took place in the wake of solar flares and what is called a
coronal mass ejection (CME) observed by British astronomer Richard
Carrington. The giant magnetic storm, that later bore his name, took
out telegraph systems all over Europe and North America, in some cases
burning up equipment. A large CME in which billions of tons of charged
particles blasts away from the Sun at millions of miles per hour,
warps the Earth’s magnetic field and injects trillions of watts of
electricity into the planet’s upper atmosphere, in turn overloading
power lines, blowing out transformers and substations and frying
electronics that today run just about everything. This is not science
fiction. Less powerful “extreme space weather events” (1) also took
place in 1921 and more recently in 1989 creating mass blackouts. But
all those events happened before we became so totally dependent on
electronics, before the digital divide, before our communication
systems were dominated by satellites and cell towers, before we were
so entirely plugged in, before libraries and the institutions we may
rely on turned their printed records into scrap paper.

Imagine your life with all systems down……for years. A massive
geomagnetic storm made of electrons (yes, electrons), protons and
heavy ions has the potential to take out some three hundred and fifty
major electrical transformers in the U.S. alone. Industry observers
tell us there aren’t a lot of these things lying around. By some
estimates large substation transformers could take years to be built
and installed. That’s one major problem for the so-called developed or
developing world, burnt out hi-tension lines on the grid is another.
Burnt out communication devices is yet another problem, even with
auxiliary power they remain useless. Destroyed communication
satellites are another, as are damaged land lines. In short, we could
be back to square one in terms of communication. Without power for
such extended periods, fuel becomes a problem. Without fuel,
transportation of food and water is an issue. Without fuel for back-up
systems the world’s nuclear reactors begin to fail (think Fukushima
writ large) creating the potential for vast releases of radiation, a
problem even larger than the magnetic storm itself (2). Emergency
response and governing institutions would be hard pressed to deal with
such catastrophic circumstances. The developed and developing
societies, as we know them, could begin to breakdown. This may seem to
some (and for many non-human species is) an excellent opportunity for
a turning point in humanity’s destruction of the natural world.
“Visualize industrial collapse” is an alternative paradigm among many
of us more radical enviros, but what about all those nukes melting
down, what about loss of power at chemical plants and laboratories?
Those potential catastrophes could effect all life on the planet
regardless of where one lives. In view of this, the end of libraries
maybe doesn’t seem all that important, unless of course, vital
information you need to survive is no longer available.

It wasn’t until fairy recently that awareness of this
catastrophe-in-waiting came to the attention of government*. When it
became apparent that 2012 marked the beginning of a new active cycle
in solar activity some people began to take notice. Following a few
scientific studies and conferences, Congressman Franks, Republican of
Arizona introduced a bill in the U.S. House, “To amend the Federal
Power Act to protect the bulk-power system and electric infrastructure
critical to the defense and well-being of the United States against
natural and man-made electromagnetic pulse (`EMP’) threats and
vulnerabilities”. Apparently some hawkish Republicans are concerned
about weaponized magnetic storms from perceived enemies as well as
from the Sun. Be that as it may, the “Secure High-voltage
Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act” now languishes
in the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power in a do-nothing U.S.
Congress. In the UK, the Science and Technology Facilities Council is
just now calling for ways to improve estimates of geomagnetic storm
size. In Australia the government’s Regional Natural Disaster and Risk
Mitigation Strategy doesn’t list geomagnetic storms. At the UN the
terms “extreme space weather events” or “geomagnetic storms” don’t
even come up on their search function. If you walked in the door and
asked you would probably be met with blank stares.

Maybe none of this matters. Maybe no massive geomagnetic storm will
send us back to the 19th century or beyond. Perhaps we all will merely
have some lovely light shows in the evenings from an enhanced Aurora
Borealis. Even so, it seems our faith in electrons is not unlike our
faith in fire: it can warm us when we are cold and cook our food, or
destroy everything around us. It’s for that reason we have inflammable
material, fire extinguishers and fire departments. We need back-up.
The Sun, like fire, can give or take. Electrons are not always
friendly or reliable. Without tangible hard copies of information and
without a shielded electrical infrastructure and devices, we are at
the mercy of the Sun and victims of our own blind faith in electrons
and to our foolish presumptions in the Age of Information.

######

[Given the subject matter, my intention was to write this piece
without the use of any digital device except perhaps in submitting it.
However it did not take long to realize how far along we, as a
society, had traveled into uncharted territory. The main point of this
essay came home to me in spades when I began to attempt researching
information without the aid of a computer. The Age of Information has
left countless bridges burned in its wake. Libraries no longer have
card catalogs (it was a local librarian who told me the old cards were
being used for scrap paper). Encyclopedias are no longer on the
shelves. Phone books are getting harder to find. The message could not
have been more obvious: the Age of Information has no real back-up.]

Notes….only accessible electronically! :

(1) http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/21jan_severespaceweather/

(2) Four Hundred Chernobyls: Solar Flares, Electromagnetic Pulses and
Nuclear Armageddon. Saturday, 24 March 2012 00:00 By Matthew Stein,
Truthout

* The NOAA Space Weather Scales were introduced as a way to
communicate to the general public the current and future space weather
conditions and their possible effects on people and systems. See:
http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/

#####

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