The issue of why 1800s technology matters is one that was discussed a lot in the early days of the Survival Library. That was several years ago and the subject probably needs to be revisited.
First let’s address EMP as an event and it’s consequences. Whether we’re talking about an EMP event which occurs as a result of a Solar event or a Manmade EMP event caused by high altitude nuclear bursts doesn’t really change the results other than the geographical scope of the effects.
In the event of a solar sourced EMP the affect (i.e. the EMP destruction of electronic circuits) will be pretty much worldwide. The effects of that destruction however will vary greatly depending on the particular region or country’s reliance on a technological infrastructure.
The Industrialized World will bear the brunt of the destructive affects. (North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Industrialized Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, some South American countries like Argentina and a few African countries like South Africa)
DESTRUCTION OF COMPUTER CIRCUITS
The basic effect of an EMP even that is the great danger is that an EMP large enough will essentially destroy pretty much all unshielded computer circuits. Destroy in the sense of burn out the circuits inside the chips themselves and potentially even the macro circuits themselves. The Carrington Event of 1859 was strong enough to start fires in telegraph offices and the wires used in 1800s telegraph circuits was more similar to what we think of today as fence wire than what we use in electronic devices. Such an event occurring today would destroy virtually all unshielded electronic circuits from computers (including those in automobiles, planes, ships and locomotives) to televisions to phones to radio to the control systems in power plants. They would need to be completely replaced before the equipment containing them could be used again.
Unfortunately computer manufacturing itself is an advanced technology and requires extensive computer support to operate.
LOSS OF THE POWER GRID
The most profound of those effects is the destruction of the electrical power grid in Industrialized counties. When the computers go down, the power plants stop producing electricity. The other effects of an EMP of the scale of the Carrington Event is that likely destruction of most electrical transformers used in modern power grids.
These transformers are expensive and are only produced in a few European factories with a lead time of over a year for the larger ones. Few spares are kept by modern power utilities because of the expense and the low failure rate of transformers UNDER NORMAL CONDITIONS.
In the event of an EMP like the Carrington Event it’s a safe assumption that 99% of the transformers in modern electrical grids would require replacement in order to restart the grid even if the plants could produce power.
Let’s look at some of the immediate ramifications of the loss of electrical power and the destruction of computer circuitry.
In the industrialized countries the vast majority of the population is completely reliant on modern technology for even the most basic of services. Water for most people is provided by a large water system which relies on electrical power. Without that power the water stops. Those folks who receive water from a water tower would have gravity fed water until the tank is dry because no more water will be pumped into it.
Those whose water comes from wells on their own property rely on water pumps powered by electricity. Very few well owners have additional manual pumps installed. Once electrical power is no longer available the pumps (and the water) stops. Those with shallow wells and a bit of mechanical skill could probably rig up a manual pump. Those with deep wells (i.e. deeper than 20’-25’) won’t have as easy of a time of it.
Once any stored water in the house is exhausted, including what is in the water heater, the pipes, toilet tanks, etc , there is no longer a local source of clean water.
The food stores in most modern industrialized countries only have a few days of food on hand in the store. They rely on constant deliveries of additional stock from regional warehouses brought by truck. That few days supply is measured assuming “normal” purchases levels. In the event of an emergency the food in stores can be sold out in a day or even a few hours. When the most recent hurricane threatened to make landfall her in North Carolina earlier this year by the day before the storm it was virtually impossible to find batteries, candles, generators, gas cans, and similar items. Many types of food were in short supply or unavailable. With the power out in some areas for several days after the storm many of these stores were closed. They all started receiving stock again within a couple days.
With the destruction of computer circuits which are in virtually all modern trucks those trucks are large piles of scrap metal. The locomotives which would move large quantities of food and other good from one part of the country to another would be dead. The ships which bring food from other parts of the world would be simply dead in the water.
Most importantly the trucks, the ubiquitous 18 wheelers that surround us but which we take for granted, would be idle. Most people don’t realize that the vast and overwhelming majority of the goods and supplies are delivered by a flexible and fluid trucking industry. It is the circulatory system of modern industrialized society and a system upon which virtually all functions rely.
Pipelines and rail carry the majority of liquid and gas fuels but only from its point of origin to the general area where it will be used. Trucks carry I from distribution points to retail and commercial locations. Few gas stations have more than a few day’s supply on hand. Coal is used almost exclusively in power generation and is delivered to the user by rail.
With the destruction of electronic circuitry and the power grid which distributes electricity the trucks stop. The rail locomotives stop. The power plants stop.
The local supply of fuel will be quickly used up and that is assuming someone is enterprising enough to work out a way to pump gas/diesel out of the underground tanks at a gas station which has stopped working with no electricity to power the pumps.
People who keep emergency supplies on hand or perhaps run a farm and maintain a large supply of fuel for operational reasons will have a fuel supply until it is used up. Once it’s gone there is no more.
Liquid fuels have a limited shelf life, generally not more than a year to two. Coal has an indefinite storage life but requires modern technology to produce and a modern transportation system to distribute.
Those are just a few of the immediate effects of an EMP.
They are enough to ponder for the moment.
In Part 2 I’ll address the second level effects of the primary effects described in Part 1.