Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead - Robert Brockway (2010)

SPACE DISASTERS

Chapter 14. POLE SHIFT

SOMETIME IN THE very near future, the Earth’s magnetic field will reverse. North will literally become south, and the consequences of this shift are not yet fully known. Experts cite potential side effects that range from the lovely sounding “northern lights in Cuba” to the slightly less endearing “everybody gets cancer and the Earth spits you into space.”

But while nobody is really certain what will happen when it comes, what is sure is its imminent arrival: Earth’s poles reverse every quarter million years or so, and it’s been around 700,000 years since the last one. Like an unwed, pregnant, teenage library book, we are both long overdue and seriously fucked. The Earth’s magnetic field is caused by the rotation of the molten metal in the upper core, just below the Earth’s surface. That magnetic field diverts harmful particles and radiation from space (everything from dust to gamma rays) away from the bulk of the Earth. Most of us probably don’t have a solid idea of what the various fields and layers of atmosphere actually do for the Earth; to your average Joe, it’s all just so much invisible space magic. That could particularly describe the magnetosphere that surrounds the whole planet and reaches far out into space. The poles, being the strongest points of the field, work like giant magnets, dragging foreign particles toward them and depositing them at the extreme ends of Earth. You can even see this process happening: The light reflecting off of these particles is why we have the aurora borealis, or for those who you hate excessive vowel usage, “the northern lights.” Setting aside the somewhat disturbing realization that those pretty green ribbons in the sky are actually a perpetual rain of tiny space bullets, this means that the purpose of the pole is to protect the rest of the world from harm at the expense of the northern and southern extremes. Considering that the southern extreme is Antarctica, which is sparsely populated at best (save for adorable penguins, but do try to avoid thinking about radiated particles giving cancer to baby penguins; it’s just too sad to fully contemplate), and considering that—according to the stereotypes that make up my entire base of knowledge—the northern extremes are exclusively populated by Canadians, Eskimos, and Santa Claus, depositing all this space death at the poles isn’t really affecting anybody that matters (sorry, Santa).

Average Joe’s Understanding of Atmospheric Layers

Troposphere: Really warm, sandy sphere.

Stratosphere: Planes go here, also guitars.

Mesosphere: Me so sphere-y?

Thermosphere: Where nuclear power comes from.

Exosphere: A sphere with its bones on the outside like a bug.

But that magnetic field is long overdue for a flip, and that could mean some very bad things for us. While the shift is happening, the protection offered by the magnetic field will be drastically weakened—if not absent entirely—during a process known as a “fade.” And with that field gone, expect cancer and mutation rates to rise dramatically. If it helps, think of the magnetic field as a sort of space sunblock … except instead of shielding your pasty ass at the beach, it shields the entire planet, and instead of getting sunburned if it fails, you get supercancer and flipper children.

Groups I Owe an Apology to After That Joke

·        Eskimos

·        Canadians

·        Children

·        PETA (unrelated)

Thus far this has been a “wouldn’t that suck if that happened” scenario and, though the timing dictates that it should be happening soon, that “soon” could well be anytime over the span of the next thousand years. The odds of the shift happening within your, or your children’s, or your children’s children’s lifetimes has to be pretty low, right? Living through something as rare as this is so unlikely it would be like winning a particularly shitty cosmic lottery of death. But then, this is a book about the end of the world, so you probably see where I’m going with this….

That’s right! You’ve won the cosmic shit-death lotto!

The magnetic field has been fading at an ever-increasing pace for the last three hundred years or so, and right now it’s already down to about three-quarter strength. Just judging by the numbers so far, even if it continues at this rate, it shouldn’t really matter to you: We should all still have a few hundred years minimum before it’s low enough to affect life on Earth. But that mentality, in addition to being relatively dickish to your great-great-grandchildren, also isn’t entirely accurate. We can’t rely on the rate of change to be slow and steady. There’s an anomaly that exists right now in the south Atlantic called the South Atlantic Anomaly (because they’re scientists, not advertising executives; sexy names ain’t in their repertoire) that has already started the shift. It is a huge chunk of Earth beneath the ocean where the field is not just absent, but actively switching its magnetic polarity. Apart from fucking up all the mermaids’ computers, this particular anomaly isn’t going to really do anything, but it does confirm that the shift is going to happen in pieces, and in a nonlinear fashion.

So the rate the field is decreasing has been roughly mapped out. It will be completely gone—as in everywhere—in less than a thousand years, but vast swaths of the planet will also be losing their field in chunks well before that time. But even the areas with still-functioning magnetic fields will be operating at partial strength, and partial protection is just that: incomplete. Every percentage point that the field weakens makes it just a little more likely that you’ll be catching tiny molecular comets of radiation with your major organs. So instead of having full protection, like a Kevlar vest, right now you have a Kevlar tube top: spotty coverage at best. Soon, you’ll be down to a Kevlar bra as the field drops further in strength, and then before you know it all you’re left with is Kevlar pasties: It’s still protection, technically, but unless your nipples have some serious enemies, it may not be where you need it, when you need it. It’s a pan-global game of strip poker against space cancer, and the game is rigged against you.

While the more reasonable theories argue that the flip is a long and intricate process taking thousands of years to fully complete, a few people insist that the only way a magnetic shift this large can occur is from a huge planetary body passing so close to the Earth that the torque from its influence literally shifts the geographical locations of the poles—sending Sweden to South Africa and vice versa. The continents themselves would shift on the liquid base supporting them, sliding like gargantuan air hockey pucks across the molten interior of the globe. Obviously, this would be catastrophic. It would be exactly like pulling the rug out from underneath somebody … if by “rug” you mean planet, and by “somebody” you mean everybody. We would hurl across entire hemispheres at the speed of sound, or be spit out into space like watermelon seeds … if watermelon seeds were capable of feeling intense terror and incredibly brief but fantastic confusion. Several notable psychics and New Age philosophers have said that this scenario is “incredibly likely in the very near future,” while respected scientists and geologists have gone on record as saying that this situation is “so retarded” that it has actually “cost them valuable IQ points just hearing about it.”

But the New Age dipshits do have a little something right: They cite the timeline for this event around the year 2012. As mentioned in the introduction to this book, 2012 is the last, best hope for apocalyptic fanboys and fangirls out there just jonesing for some rapture. This is on account of the Mayan calendar, one of the most bafflingly accurate and intricate calendar systems of the ancient world, which ends abruptly in the year 2012. The Mayans believed that the current “phase” of life will end in 2012, and that nothing will ever be the same afterward. Now, as apocalyptic prophecies go, that particular foretelling of the end-times is downright flirtatious when compared to apocalypses prophesied by the other major religions. From Christianity to Scientology, most major religious texts set up the end of the world like it’s an opportunity for a special effects bonanza: Blood, lightning, explosions, plagues, demons, spaceships; it’s like an ’80s metal video come to life, and God is going to play a bitchin’ solo before he trashes his instruments—those instruments being all life on Earth.

Real Science’s Opinion on the “Geological Pole Shift” Theory

·        Poorly outlined

·        Not plausible

·        Not possible

·        Not unretarded

·        Fuck that noise

So while some interpret it as the end of the world, others believe it’s merely the end of the world as we know it (see: Michael Stipe). It could just herald a new era of knowledge and peace unforeseen in the history of mankind, and that’s what the Mayans meant by “the end of the current cycle of life.” Some people—good, hopeful, optimistic people—would agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. You know who doesn’t believe that? Science. For once, science and religion agree; if anything big does go down in 2012, it’s probably not going to be an interplanetary group hug.

It just so happens that 2012 very neatly syncs up with the sun’s own regular pole shift. Like clockwork, the sun’s magnetic poles shift every eleven years, peaking with an increase in electromagnetic solar storms, and if you were paying attention at the time, you’ll remember these periods as being responsible for everything from mysterious fires to fucking with your television reception. But if a sun flip occurred when the Earth’s magnetic field was weakening, the energy released by the sun could act like a catalyst, thus kick-starting the process.

It’s comforting to operate under the assumption that pole shifts take thousands of years to complete, but other evidence has recently been turned up to the contrary. Samples taken from the Steens Mountain lava beds in Oregon indicate that at the time those lava flows were active, the geomagnetic poles were moving by as much as 8 degrees a day! If it kept up at that rate, the poles could’ve completely flipped in a month. Still others believe that the field does more than turn over in chunks, as was indicated by the South Atlantic Anomaly. They think that for thousands of years during the transition, the bipolar nature of the Earth actually splits into several rogue, roving poles that wander at random across the surface of the Earth. Eight norths! Moving souths! Navigation will be useless and constantly changing! One day you’ll wake up in North America, the next day South! Brazilians will enjoy Budweiser while Wisconsinites guzzle Fanta by the case! Anarchy!

Things You Want Kick-Started

·        Motorcycles

·        Soccer games

·        My heart

Things You Do Not Want Kick-Started

·        Hungry lions

·        Your crotch

·        The Earth

And finally, one of the more credible theories for pole shift revolves around something called the Jupiter Wind. Though it sounds like a particularly hackish John Grisham novel, it refers to the influence of Jupiter’s “winds” on the Earth’s magnetic field. Astrophysicist Frances Bagenal has shown that “magnetospheres of rapidly rotating planets with strong magnetic fields [e.g., Jupiter and Saturn] are dominated by rotation, while the solar wind controls the plasma flow in smaller magnetospheres of slowly rotating planets [e.g., Earth].” This just means that Earth’s magnetic field isn’t large enough to be completely independent, so a huge factor of its stability is outside influence, namely the sun.

And here comes that troublesome date again, 2012: Not only is it the next cycle of solar magnetic activity, but it also takes place in a window where Jupiter, the Earth, and the sun are all in perfect alignment. Jupiter’s self-generated electromagnetic field is normally pushed into the far reaches of the solar system by the constant solar wind; with Earth blocking the sun’s influence, Jupiter’s magnetic field would respond to the lack of pressure from the sudden absence of solar winds by sending a massive surge of its electromagnetism in the direction in which that pressure was blocked. That’s Earth.

Think of it like this: You’re a skinny asthmatic nerd child (with a weakened magnetic field), already extremely prone to beatings on the best of days, but today you’ve accidentally picked a fight with the biggest, baddest motherfucker on the playground (that’s Jupiter). As long as the teacher is watching, exerting an external pressure on both of you, you both keep to yourselves. Your magnetic field (in this analogy that’s your face) remains intact only because the teacher is suppressing the bad motherfucker. Now the teacher leaves for a smoke break, creating a sudden lack of restraint in the behemoth, and he’s pointing right at you … with his fist (or the Jupiter Wind).

Now we have a space tsunami hitting a weakened magnetic field from one side at the same time that the Earth is under assault by the powerful solar winds generated by the sun’s own pole shift on the other side. It’s a perfect storm that batters the Earth with unbelievable force and could potentially wipe out our planet’s weakened magnetic field instantly. So let’s go back to our metaphor one last time: You’re a weak, feeble child, and the teacher is nowhere to be seen. What is to be seen, however, is the giant fist (or electromagnetic wave) hurtling at your face. You cannot dodge this fist; you can only take the hit and all of its consequences. That would be bad enough, but hey, you’ll live, right? Well, no, because this time a miracle happens: This time an errant delivery van (in the form of solar storms) comes careening through the playground fence and heads straight for the bully. As the bully swings his fist at you, the van slams full speed into the elbow of his punching arm, sending the already devastating blow at you with unimaginable force (both solar storms and Jupiter winds hitting simultaneously). Due to freak coincidence, you’re no longer just getting punched; now you’re getting punched with a truck.

Now that we know we can’t avoid it, we should at least know some of the expected consequences. For starters, because a pole shift can happen in stages, we could have a series of temporary magnetic poles wandering the Earth at random. So not only would people have no idea where north is, but even more confusingly, there could be multiple norths. Obviously this would play havoc with all modern navigation, and anything relying on compass directions would be little better than a confused, lost male stereotype, unable to ask directions even if they wanted to.

This means that all migrating animals would also lose their direction, which could lead to such wacky scenarios as Canada geese migrating to the Bahamas for the summer! And the subsequently less wacky following side effects of that migration:

The total extinction of Canada geese.

Reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field would also affect the electrical conduction of the Earth’s molten outer core, which in turn might lead to heretofore unseen volcanic activity. It wouldn’t necessarily lead to supervolcanoes, but everything that might be about to erupt would immediately do so. The shift could also act as a catalyst for earthquake activity, but really, at this point? It’s just showing off. Everybody’s already on fire or flying their planes into the ground. You don’t have to be a dick about it, geomagnetic field.

The Geomagnetic Field

Kicking you while you’re down, then putting you down lower while continuing to kick you, then burying you and digging you back up just to kick you some more.

But hell, even if we survive the Earth self-destructing, the magnetic field can have serious effects on the human body all by its lonesome.

With our atmospheric shield down, all the harmful space particles are allowed through at full strength. Gamma rays, cosmic rays, and solar radiation will all come blasting right in and—aside from sounding like ammunition for supervillain weaponry—all of these particles have one thing in common: They’re potentially deadly. They can cause genetic mutation, cell death, and cancer in any and every little thing, just by their mere presence. So when the pole shift happens, we will no longer have any defenses left against the cancer-causing, DNA-mutating particles from outer space spawned by the cosmic forces plotting our demise. OK, so that may be a bit overblown; space doesn’t necessarily want you dead, but it will kill you regardless. At least you can pretend it’s got a motive, and maybe give your impending murder a little meaning.

And remember those wacky Canada geese who basically lost themselves out of existence? They did that because they have extremely small amounts of a mineral called magnetite that syncs their brains with the magnetic field, thus giving them their sense of direction. What other animals have this same direction-giving mineral in their brains? Why, you do! One researcher, focused on the effects a changing magnetic field can have on the human body, found that by varying the strength of or entirely removing the magnetic fields from her subjects, serious coordination problems arose. The subjects immediately became disoriented and clumsy, falling down more easily. They couldn’t even complete simple body tasks, like touching their fingers to their noses or standing on one foot. Some became motion sick, and all reported serious difficulty concentrating.

The decreasing magnetic field, the one we’re living with now, could very well have similar, if not more profound, effects. After all, the subjects in this study were subjected to weakened fields for only a short time, whereas the real pole shift could take hundreds of years to complete. How many generations of a stumbling, half-retarded human population tripping comically down stairways can occur before we, as a species, just cease to exist? It could be death for us all. Death, by mass pratfall. But hey, on the plus side, if there is an America left after all of this, America’s Funniest Home Videos will have material until the end of time.