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A few thoughts about our dependency on modern logistics
Published on October 14, 2003 By Draginol In Philosophy

The other day I was talking about just how precarious life on this planet is. Modern human civilization is a tremendous logistical achievement. The amount of uninterrupted energy and food production to sustain it is enormous. Even the slightest interruption can cause the deaths of thousands if not millions.

This past summer, the American north east experienced a 24 hour black out. I don't know how many people died (if any) but it caused a massive economic hit.  Imagine the results of something that caused a power outage for say a week? Or a month? How well would you do? Do you have enough food to last for more than a few days? How much fresh water do you keep stocked in your home?

If you're like most people, the answer is, you probably have enough drinking water for maybe 2 or 3 days and enough food to last a bit longer if rationed. But beyond that, you'd be out of luck. Which is amazing, if you think about it. The modern world has only had universal electrical power for less than a 100 years. Yet now we are totally dependent on it. Hence, it wouldn't really take a major natural catastrophe to bring about a human catastrophe. Maybe a major volcanic eruption, a massive solar flair, a huge earth quake would cause week or two long power outages across an entire continent.

Consider this: Ever been to Yellowstone national park? The geysers and pools of boiling water are pretty neat. Ever wondered what their source is? It turns out, Yellowstone national park -- all of it, is the mouth of a gigantic volcano that happens to erupt on occasion. And it's overdue. When it blows, it sends millions of tons of ash into the atmosphere. If you're in the United States, don't worry, you'd likely die quite early on. But if you're in Europe, things get less fun due to massive food shortages from a year or two of darkness that causes massive crop failures and goodness knows what.  Less developed areas would suffer too but their lower dependence on the modern logistical miracle would enable more survivors -- though millions would still die.

And so 80 or so years of reliable electrical power have turned the industrialized world into dependents. We make the assumption that it will always be reliable -- 24/7 or nearly.  In fact, we don't just make that assumption, we have literally bet our lives on it.  But history has shown that over the long haul (i.e. centuries) that periodic minor natural disasters occur. Disasters that would certainly disrupt the kind predictable we have grown accustom to.

 


Comments
on Oct 15, 2003
It is the nightmare we all think about from time to time. What bothers me more is the ultimate impact of 10+ billion people on the environment and ultimate state of this planet. The Calcuttaization of the world. It is something that is going to happen and very soon. Maybe Yellow Stone would be a blessing for this poor planet. I am glad I am living now and already 50 years old. We are a species that deserves extinction.
on Oct 15, 2003
From

http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/faqs.html

http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/faqs4.html#12

Is it true that the next eruption of Yellowstone is overdue?

"No. The fact that two eruptive intervals (2.1 million to 1.3 million and 1.3 million to 640,000 years ago) are of similar length does not mean that the next eruption will necessarily occur after another similar interval. The physical mechanisms may have changed with time. Furthermore, any inferences based on these two intervals would take into account too few data to be statistically meaningful. To say that an eruption that might happen in ten's or hundred's of thousand's of years is "overdue" would be a gross overstatement. On the other hand we cannot discount the possibility of such an event occurring some time in the future, given Yellowstone's volcanic history and the continued presence of magma beneath the Yellowstone caldera."

John Crawford
on Oct 15, 2003
I stand corrected. But Yellowstone is, as a whole, showing a slight bulging that has begun in recent years. It may not be "overdue" but it could go up any time.
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