Most of my friends know how to “reset” or “restart” a computer. They know that it wipes the short-term memory clean, but leaves the underlying machinery intact, and leaves intact work they have done, that they have saved a copy of.
Well, it turns out Gaia is capable of a comparable reset process, where her equivalent of short-term memory is electronic devices and many parts of the global electrical system.
This has been known at least since 1958 when a hundred planes suddenly lost radio contact with the ground, all at once.
The National Geographic Society is concerned enough about this that it publishes regularly on the topic, including a cover story in the June 2012 issue of the magazine. The text of that article can be found here, and the photos here.
My take on this, for those of us who are looking for a dramatic downsizing of Industrial Civilization’s environmental footprint is:
Here is a valuable parameter for what life on Earth needs to be like!
And this paramater is…? ? ?
Solar storms, the big ones.
They are one of the fundamentals of life here. Like oceans. And polar ice caps. One of the realities of Gaia –life on earth– is whether a lot of Earth’s water is solid and stored in ice caps at the poles, or whether it is mostly liquid and fills the oceans to overflowing. It makes a big difference to everything else that is going on, here on Earth.
Likewise, solar storms are a fact of Gaia’s life that cannot be argued with, successfully.
Some background. One of the characteristics of the sun is that it’s an electromagnetic dynamo, in addition to being the source of light and gravity. Gaia, our living earth, and humans, as a species, grew up knowing about Sun’s light. It is a given for us. Humans have been slower to understand Sun’s gravity. Of course we know how to use Earth’s gravity, as all animals do, jumping down from things, lying down to rest. And for as long as humans have lived near the sea, we have reckoned with the tides. But in terms of a cognitive understanding of what Sun’s gravity is, like how it creates Earth’s orbit, our understanding is only a few centuries old.
And similarly now, with the Sun’s electromagnetic pulses, we are just beginning to understand what we have been living with, since life on earth began. We have learned that the Sun is constantly storming. And that when the Sunstorm pulses surge out to impact Gaia that their blows are much softened by Earth’s magnetosphere, where the planet’s magnetic field interacts with the solar wind.
However, every few hundred years the magnetosphere is significantly less protection when one of Sun’s electromagnetic rumblings is more powerful than most: what we call “a solar super-storm.”
Storms on Earth have created the beaches and the arroyos. We love them and visit them often, but only the foolish try to live there. Solar storms give us auroras like the Northern Lights, which we love. Solar super-storms are powerful disrupters of our electrical grid, blowing out transformers, and our electronics, disabling GPS and short wave transmissions.
This is nothing new. The Sun has been storming like this since before Gaia was born. We animals have evolved, shaped by that reality. Solar pulses may affect human minds and bodies in ways we do not yet understand, but they appear not to harm us. Like beaches, Gaia has grown up shaped by this reality in ways deeper, more profound, than thought.
What is new is that humans now use electricity. National Geographic is telling us to be careful about building our technology into areas where there will be electromagnetic storm surges. We can fish in and enjoy the electromagnetic equivalent of salt marshes and beaches, but we shouldn’t try to live there. Of course we do build jetties and light houses right at the ocean’s waterline, but we know they need to be hardened to withstand storms. Similarly we know our satellites need to be hardened against the Sun’s pulses because they are less protected by the magnetosphere. But it’s expensive, and we haven’t been doing it here on land.
And why am I telling you all this?
You, who share with me a concern for human life and human culture?
You, who want humans to live within Gaia in ways that are much less destructive?
You, who have little expertise in magnetic fields, and little concern about them?
You and I have our instincts about what a good life looks like. We believe a good life has many supportive human relationships. Lots of face to face relationships which allow us to be open to the full humanity of others, especially those who are a bit different from ourselves. THAT kind of magnetism, we get. We have trouble talking to the engineer-types when they are talking about “the magnetosphere” and “critical failure ratios” and that kind of stuff.
I am sharing this with you because this is an area where we can talk to the engineering-types. Gaia’s regular system reset every few centuries favors the organic, local world of neighborhoods, because that’s what will be left after one of them. We who hold our particular vision of a better world are strengthened in our discussion with the technocrats by this detail of our evolutionary environment.
Do we create a world-wide database containing scans of everyone convicted of a misdemeanor, from middle school on?
Or do we develop community cultures of restorative justice where petty violators live in local cultures which know how to bring accused offenders to a circle of their neighbors, take extenuating circumstances into account, and sometimes reach an emotionally satisfying resolution for all concerned?
We can say, “Don’t put too much faith in that database; remember the system reset.” The centralized power folks and the total-information-awareness folks won’t like it when we say that, but the evidence presented by National Geographic and NASA and a bunch of other engineers speaks their language.
What about a global food system, shipping protein and carbohydrates from the locations where they are most economically produced?
Vs. a less-coordinated patchwork of local and regional systems, linked by shorter trade routes that allow low-fuel transport?
We’re going to feel safer with a food system less vulnerable to global system-reset.
Maybe a health system consisting of three Mayo Clinics on each continent or major landmass, linked to a system of level III trauma centers, linked to local hospitals, linked to clinics, midwives, etc. Each subsystem could survey the number of births expected to take place in the next 48 hours, and using standard ratios for the number of emergencies per 100 births calculate appropriate staffing levels up through the system for the next 24 hour period.
Hmm… so we have a system staffed with medical personnel who feel confident that they can call a helicopter if things go beyond their calibrated level of competence? And then “system reset?”
Or take myself, for example. A year ago I was really excited about “cloud computing.” (If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry.) I’m still excited, but now that I know about the effects of solar super-storms on our electrical infrastructure, I no longer see the internet as the “nervous system” of a future global society. I’m not sure what to think, what to hope for, but it’s clear it’s not that.
If you think this is important and want a dimmed-down copy of the June 2012 National Geographic cover story to carry around with you, I’ve posted an abbreviated version here.