Forget market crashes we will lose everything if this happens!

Published: July 10, 2019 at 11:04 am

So much for financial goal planning, the right asset allocation, risk management, market timing and dreams of early retirement. Everything, everything will be lost if the event described below were to occur.  Not just all our money, but our very existence! I can assure you that this is a real possibility, this is a well known, well-studied problem and there is probably no solution for it.

Everything that follows is true and scary. Knowing about it will give some perspective of how fragile our existence is and how it is just sheer dumb luck. Ever since I learnt about it in a Nat Geo documentary, I have been deeply troubled by it.  You might remember Brad Pitt’s character in the Big Short save seeds as a hedge from economic disaster. Well, this is one such instance, although I am not sure if those are enough.

Remember those “end of the world” predictions? Those would seem timid compared to this. If we die, or if all of us were to die because a comet hit the Earth, at least our misery would be over! If the sun sneezes hard in our direction, we may not die, but the internet will die, power will die, telecommunications will die, all our net worth will be gone, there will no access to food or water. It will be just like how the movies show it.

Yes, I am referring to the sun, that star we revolve around. Every now and then the sun sneezes – gives out a solar flare. The following was recorded on June 7th 2011.

A solar flare is a burst of energy streaming out from the sun. Sometimes these are accompanied by the ejection of huge amounts of particles (matter) and electromagnetic radiation. In July 2012. there was one such extreme solar storm that narrowly missed us by nine days! The probability of such an event affecting Earth is a good 12%!!

If it had hit, the radiation (which will arrive much later after the actual event) will cause massive power breakdowns. All internet installations will be down. This is essentially a Solar EMP – electromagnetic pulse. You have heard about it in the movies (Matix series for example) or read about it after Pokhran. Now that is not the scary part.

The scary part is that it will take years, yes years to recover all such facilities. In the meantime, the money in banks, mutual funds, stocks everything electronic is essentially zero.

There will be no running water. No food available in shops because all telecommunications will be dead. It will cost each country billions of dollars to repair installations. How will they pay? Most money is digital anyway. There is no power to print more money. The gold reserves will not last long.

Even if the workers can be compensated, how will they work without food and water?! There will be chaos, looting and murder.  Life, as we know, will cease to exist, almost immediately.

Do you think I am making this up? Exaggerating it? I wish you were right, but sadly no. We came close in July 2012 but on 1st Sep 1859 (less than two months after the Sepoy Mutiny was officially declared as over), the biggest solar storm ever recorded was observed and it hit Earth destroying telegraph systems all over North Americ and Europe. You can read more about all the interesting events that occurred as a result here: The Carrington Event. The telegraph network was only down for a few days and it did not disrupt life at all. Today even a single day without the internet can cause chaos.

Solar storms of lesser magnitudes knocked out power stations and radio communication in 1920, 1969 and 1989. It is simply a matter of time! If you have a HotStar subscription do watch the NatGeo documentary “Mission to the Sun”. A bootleg copy is available on Youtube

Is there any hope?

The only way to handle this problem, as mentioned in the documentary, is to power down all electrical systems, well before the actual solar flare and wait for a few days until all the EM radiation dies outs.

This is the main goal of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) created by NASA. The only silver lining is that there will be a 20-24 hours window between the extreme solar event and destruction of all power-dependent systems on Earth. I think a warning is possible today but it may several hours to sink in and propagate making it too late for some portions of the globe. Thus the warning has to be well in advance.

For this scientists need data and hence the Parker Solar probe (see video) was launched in 2018. It will still take a little more than six years for it to reach the sun (if successful). So a there is hope, but it is hanging by a thread and is a few years away.

Let us pray that the probe is successful and scientists can prefer the early warning system. Else our existence, our goals, our money is all riding on luck.

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About the Author Pattabiraman editor freefincalM. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. since Aug 2006. Connect with him via Twitter or Linkedin Pattabiraman has co-authored two print-books, You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) and Gamechanger and seven other free e-books on various topics of money management. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India” an organisation to promote unbiased, commission-free investment advice. He conducts free money management sessions for corporates and associations on the basis of money management. Previous engagements include World Bank, RBI, BHEL, Asian Paints, Cognizant, Madras Atomic Power Station, Honeywell, Tamil Nadu Investors Association. For speaking engagements write to pattu [at] freefincal [dot] com
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