Sunglasses Wont Help

by Einar Du Rietz

Just like Icarus, the UNFCCC and several NGO’s attempts at controlling the climate sometimes feels like the height of pretentiousness. When this permanent crowd is flying around the globe telling ordinary people to change their lifestyles and pay more for necessities, like electricity, it’s nice to find some other perspective.

Madhulika Guhathakurta, a solar physicist at NASA and Daniel N. Baker, the director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, highlights the, for a long time seldom mentioned, impact of something we definitely can’t control; solar activity.

Most informed readers probably know this, but it feels important to highlight these observations:

“Modern society depends on a variety of technologies that are susceptible to the extremes of space weather. Spectacular explosions on the Sun’s surface produce solar storms of intense magnetism and radiation. These events can disrupt the operation of power grids, railway signaling, magnetic surveying and drilling for oil and gas. Magnetic storms also heat the upper atmosphere, changing its density and composition and disrupting radio communications and GPS units. The storms’ charged particles can be a hazard to the health of astronauts and passengers on high altitude flights.

Severe storms in 1989 and 2003 caused blackouts in Canada and Sweden. In 1859, a solar super storm sparked fires in telegraph offices. Such storms are predicted every century or so, and perhaps we’re overdue. According to a 2008 National Academies report, a once-in-a-century solar storm could cause the financial damage of 20 Hurricane Katrinas.”

But, there is hope.

“The more we know about solar activity, the better we can protect ourselves. The Sun is surrounded by a fleet of spacecraft that can see sunspots forming, flares crackling and a solar storm about 30 minutes before it hits Earth. NASA and the National Science Foundation have also developed sophisticated models to predict where solar storms will go once they leave the Sun, akin to National Weather Service programs that track hurricanes and tornadoes on Earth. Thanks to these sentries, it is increasingly difficult for the Sun to take us by surprise.”

Sounds a lot more important than the recent conference in Bonn. And a reminder that climate can change and that we should be prepared, by letting industry develop and manufacture. Not take every opportunity to curb development.

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About the Author: Einar Du Rietz

Einar Du Rietz is a journalist and communications consultant based in Europe. He has authored several environmental reports for the Electrolux Group and written many blogs for the Center for the New Europe at CNE Environment.